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Canon: © Anne Bishop
Board's Plot: Blood Rites
Points Scheme: Mother Night
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Dena Nehele / Re: body of proof
« Last post by Sorinna Roman on Nov 10, 19, 03:04:28 AM »
Sora was glad that she was able to take Jude’s direction and focus on the conversation. She showed Artej’s corpse the same respect and care that she’d show him if he was still alive. It still bothered her that a young life ended so suddenly. These were things that she’d become a Healer to ameliorate or stop altogether. Sora knew that she couldn’t stop people from dying, but if she could help people live better and healthier lives, it would be worth all of the things she’d seen and done to make that world a reality.

She worried a little more about Sebastian as Jude spoke. The Prince lost a Jewel in the Decimation, which was a terrible fate for anyone. Fatherhood was a joy but also a stress when combined with his service to the Court. Sora hoped he was really ready to come back. Riley’s Triangle had already taken a major blow with Valeriu’s loss. Seeing Sebastian depart or injure himself further would deeply upset Riley, too.

“No, your questions are good. It’s made me do some of my own thinking. Riley was the only Queen that I really knew for a long time. It’s still amazing to me that we have so many back in the Territory now.” Sora said. Ten Queens seemed like a lot, until Sora considered how many Dena Nehele probably had once upon a time. Maybe the dearth of Queens would be a memory in a century or two. Sora would be glad if that was the case.

Sora nodded when Jude asked if Nova could be invited to Dena Nehele for the next rite. Aside from the boon of having an Ebon Gray Queen in residence, it would help Sebastian even if he never asked.

“If she’s in Askavi, that’s great. I can write Nova  in care of Lady Kriat. If it was one of my males, I’d want to know. Even if I couldn’t be there for some reasons, I’d want to know that someone was looking out for him.” she said.

“Besides, I’ve learned that a male will ask for what he thinks he can get, rather than what he actually needs. So many of them are already terrified of the idea of the bond. They don’t want to be seen as a burden. They don’t want to be seen as needing anyone…”

Sora paused for a moment. That was how she’d get through to him. Why in Night’s name didn’t she think of that before?

Thank you, Jude. You just helped me solve another, unrelated problem.” Sora said, looking at the work they’d already done on Artej. Her pen and parchment lifted from the nearby table on their own  while Sora made notations on what she saw. She looked over the organs in question for any signs of poison or other damage that might have traveled to the brain. They would be going there next, but Sora wanted to eliminate any other causes before they moved on.

Do you know how old Artej’s son is?” Sora asked suddenly.
Dena Nehele / Re: Searching for a precedent
« Last post by Hanaki Hisakawa on Nov 10, 19, 02:58:40 AM »
Hanaki Hisakawa brought two letters with him from Tacea. The first had been surrendered upon his arrival in Darkwater. Once read, it was couriered south by the Guardsman who had taken it from him, and delivered into the care of the Territory Court. Its contents were not written in the hand of Xiong Teng; it had been a short missive, introducing Hanaki and confirming his identity. Upon his arrival in Bidea properly, there had been a formal dinner to celebrate and introduce him to the Court. Throughout the meal, he had been nothing but unfailingly pleasing and polite, though his manners were foreign and he was apparently entirely too given to bowing.

Now the meal had been cleared away, the guests had departed, and Hanaki handed over the second letter of the pair. This one was in the familiar hand of Xiong Teng, the Queen of Tacea. As the letter was read, he sat uncomfortably, lacking the graceful poise of the long meal. His dark-eyed gaze remained on Sora, unerring and anxious.

Rather than waiting for the letter to be passed around the circle, the Master of the Guard--Sebastian Bane, Hana thought--had cracked the seal and read it aloud.

To Lady Rilandra Vlas, Queen of Dena Nehele, in the care of Lady Sorinna Roman, Queen of the First Circle of Dena Nehele.

Madame my sister,
Your letter arrived as the first spring dawn, bringing light and hope back to dark days. My people are heart-sick of war, and it would grieve me to watch the life-sparks of our territories dwindle in a pointless battle. This is not the legacy I wish for myself, and I am sure that you desire peace and cooperation in which to sow your future. I shall await the arrival of your ambassadors, and make ready a space for them in my Court.

On the matter of blood bonding our Territories, I understand your trepidation as to the match of our male and your heiress. Dragons and bears are not the most natural of bedmates. Long-lasting ties are best built upon bases of blood and bone, even as roses are, yet it is possible for beautiful blooms to arise from the most inhospitable climes. I will send my representative, and we shall see what the Night Mother has in store for them. May she look favorably upon this pairing; but if she does not, I would still see him blood bonded to Lady Roman, that she would know that he can be trusted in her sight.

(Not much chance of her doubting that now, he thought.)

Prince Hanaki Hisakawa, who has delivered this letter into your hands, is the firstborn son of a vassal family to my allies to the west, the Izayoi. He is literate, cultured, and kind; a decent match for a Queen in a Territory that has been unkind to them. I cannot recommend him more highly without wishing to claim him for my own Court. It is my hope that he will serve Lady Roman well.

The Price you demand for the crimes Lady Ariake committed against the sanctity of your Court is just. However, I have reached an impasse; I cannot justify, at this moment, the breaking of a Queen when my people yet recover from a disaster not of their making. Her Gift is too critical to the survival of several thousand refugees, who do not deserve to suffer for her hubris when the perpetrators are already punished and she has been so neatly defanged. But perhaps I may make a counter-offer, as you have.

Word has reached me, even in so distant a constellation as Tacea, that your land hungers for Queens, and that certain areas of your land are without a Queen to gift them. Perhaps, in lieu of an experienced Queen's shattered stars, I may make a gift of one. There is a young Queen who burns to see the world here who would serve you well, and who would benefit from such experiences as would be rendered in a new land. In exchange for this young woman's service for some five years and the loan of a trusted mind healer, will you set aside your claim upon Yuina no Ariake's Jewels?

I look forward to this new dawn rising, and hope it will bring blessings upon both of our lands.

In faith, your good sister,
Xiong Teng,
Queen of Tacea

Hanaki's hands were clenched tight into fists by the time Prince Bane folded the letter again and set it down on the table. "Well, she's not happy," said the Master of the Guard.

Tell me something I don't know, he thought. His palms were sweating through his fingers to the brocade of his kimono.

"But at least she's not threatening to blow us up."

Had that even been a concern??
Dena Nehele / Searching for a precedent
« Last post by Hanaki Hisakawa on Nov 10, 19, 02:57:53 AM »
The Tang Queen of Tacea would've looked a Tacean Queen to any outsider, but to any Tacean of the mainland, she looked like an outsider herself. It was clear in the way she knelt atop the throne platform that she would've preferred a more standard chair. The kimono she wore fit her well and accented her delicate beauty, but it constrained her. She was discomfited by pretending to be a Queen of the Four Clans of Tacea, and Hana understood. It made him uncomfortable to pretend to be a male of the Four Clans of Tacea, too.

It didn't matter either way. The lives of his family depended upon his ability to convince the Hisakawa line that he was a useful male. Even if the monks could hold the Hisakawa mercenaries off, he knew that it would cost too many lives. It would hurt the people he loved, too, and he couldn't have that. So he'd behave, and go where Xiong Teng sent him. Perhaps to the south, to help the archaeological dig that some Ariake was performing in the ruins of Chang'an. His mother would prefer that: a quiet life or a silent execution. The price of his mother's support for the Flower Queen was Hanaki's honorable disappearance from the Territory stage.

He understood. That was simply how it was. Men were bargaining chips to be moved down here among the mainlanders.

Ready to hear his sentence, if not exactly eager, Hana knelt just behind his mother. "Lady Hisakawa," said Xiong Teng to his mother. She had a low voice that dripped the Tang accent like honey. "Prince Hanaki-san. I've found a place for you to serve the motherland, if you are prepared to hear it."

He genuflected, touching his forehead to the tatami floor. "I serve at the Dragon Mother's whim," he said. He even meant it, a little. He pushed himself back up and folded his hands properly in his lap, small and forgettable.

Xiong Teng smiled thinly. "You do. I have secured for you a place of honor. You will go to Dena Nehele to serve in the Territory Court. Specifically, to serve the heiress of the Territory Queen, a young woman named Sorinna Roman." She made a ritual gesture to the Steward, where he stood before the high dais. "Prince Corro has the details for you."

Hanaki genuflected again, then rose to his feet. His mother's triumphant smile passed by in his peripheral vision as he exited the throne room behind Prince Corro.

So... it was death, then. A shame. For some reason, he had thought a Tang Queen would be different.
Dena Nehele / Re: Just guys being dudes being bros
« Last post by Scar Kalashnikov on Nov 10, 19, 02:08:54 AM »
Yeah... Tacea. Eugh. Scar tried not to think too hard about the Black-Jeweled Decimation-ing Healer that lived in the same building as him. But he always ended up circling back around to the Decimation-causing one whenever he thought about Tacea, which was more and more often lately what with all the minor drama the island Territory kept causing. Seriously, for a place so far away, it caused a truly unholy amount of drama. Scar scratched one stubble-less cheek, and said something inane about Minerva Tailor. "Yeah, uh, Lady Tailor," he thought, maybe, might've come out of his face.

He kinda liked Minerva Tailor. Even if she reminded him, a lot of the ruler of Snow Cliff Province, which was not a compliment.

His eyes went squinty-narrow at the purpose to Prince Cutrov's visit. Talking about Askavi was one thing, he did that all the time with Riley, but he wasn't sure how to teach Askavi to somebody like the Red Prince. What kind of Askavi would he even talk about? The Askavi he'd grown up in was pretty different to the Askavi that he was pretty sure Lady Kriat believed in and lived in. Gravesend could be very... different... to the rest of the Territory sometimes, as sheltered as it was from the chaos of the years before Scar's birth. "Uh, yeah, I can do that," he said, all awkward with uncertainty. He rustled his wings to resettle them, and maybe also as a personal comfort thing. "And can probably write you some letters of introduction if you need 'em. Warriors can get restless and all. But..."

Also, he didn't really approve of this whole bonding to the short-lived thing. He didn't like that it'd happened to him, even though he loved the shit out of Riley and would kill a city for her if she asked him to. (Maybe he loved her because he knew she wouldn't ever ask him to kill a city?)

He made a face. This discussion was not going politic at all. "Not that I don't remember how you fought at Hunedoara," he said. "But I'm not sure you're gonna have an easy time out of visiting Askavi. It's not a great place to travel if you don't have wings. The mountains and all don't really have paths."
Dena Nehele / Re: Just guys being dudes being bros
« Last post by Dragos Cutrov on Nov 10, 19, 01:51:13 AM »
Dragos Cutrov was crawling out of his skin.

Riley was good. She was better than she’d ever been. For a woman who never wanted children, motherhood agreed with her. Codrin brought her immense joy and Riley never failed to alert Drake to every one of Codrin’s first. She was logging and noting them with the accuracy of a Prince and Drake told himself, with not a little pride, that he was the reason for that. Jeremiah and Sora helped as well,. Sometimes, watching the four of them together was a little too much for Drake and he’d excuse himself to go and put his words to paper.

Gabriella was good, too. Livada had its own challenges, but the Green Jeweled Queen seemed to navigate them well. More than once, her letters contained subtle requests that he come to Livada to see how things were working out, “as a representative of the Queen”. He knew that Gabreilla’s Court would show him every courtesy and that he’d learn a great deal about Moesia by spending some time there. But Drake also knew that if he went to Moesia, he’d spent half the trip fending off favor-seekers and the other half railing Gabriella unconscious. The latter thought nearly had him on the Red Wind to the eastern part of the Territory, but Drake always found a reason not to. So his letters told Gabriella that they would see each other soon.

But when he wasn’t thinking about Riley or Gabriella, Drake understood the truth of his distraction.

He needed Illyrian.

Askavi wouldn’t be the first time he’d ever climbed a mountain. It wouldn’t even be the first time he climbed under the pain of death. It was the first time, however, he would climb an unfamiliar mountain in a Territory full of people who could fly and throw him off said mountain if they wanted to. Not to mention that the real danger wasn’t even falling off the mountain.

It was the guy at the top of the mountain between himself and his Queen.

The Red Prince needed information and he needed it from a native. So he set an appointment to speak with Prince Kalashnikov. The man would be his bond-brother eventually. It seemed like a good idea to get to know him. Maybe they’d get along the way he and Jeremiah did. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Either way, Drake would have to work with it.

Prince Kalashnikov, thank you for meeting with me. And yes, the last meeting went well. No cities were razed in the process of those discussions, so we all have significantly less Minerva Tailor in our lives.” he joked. Minerva Tailor was a good ruler, but she was also, apparently, a screaming harpy. Or maybe that was just the way Sebastian painted her. Drake didn’t much care. She was still a walk in the park compared to Lady Ice-Pants, whom Drake was was fucking glad to see being relocated to Tacea.

Anyway, I’m actually here to learn from you. I’m planning to visit Askavi in the near future to meet with Lady Kriat. I’m hoping you can tell me a little bit about her Court and Askavi in general. We’ve already got enough trouble with Tacea, so I’d like to avoid any inter-territory incidents.” Drake said.
Tacea / Re: For the eyes are never tired of seeing
« Last post by Yumi no Kagen on Nov 10, 19, 01:46:56 AM »
With her newest acquaintance seen off to their fate at the feet of the Dragon Queen, Yumi returned to talking to one guest after another. Some of them wished to ascertain her health and survival for themselves; others wanted to discuss trading with the Kagen conglomerates, and the prospective crop yields beneath a Rose Queen as opposed to the Opal that had led them for decades. Yumi didn't let her frustration at the veiled slights against her Jewel bother her. The Kagen shortfalls this year could not be laid at her feet when the land was burdened by thousands of refugees and the long-term effects of the volcanoes on growth. For all that, there wasn't much shortfall, and she could be reasonably assured that the attentions of a Dragon Queen would make them up next year.

Finally, a familiar figure caught her eye. His broad shoulders and cap of ink-dark hair wove effortlessly through the crowd. Her breath caught in her throat and she shivered as she strained not to lean upwards, like Shirodaizu when he scented a squirrel or field-mouse. Her painted lips formed a small o as he came closer. Was he coming here? Oh, it was so risky, to be seen in public where anyone could realize their bond. Yet the thought thrilled her down to the core. It was like a fairy-story.

Ryuki smirked, and rolled his eyes as he hopped down from the dais and skated away through the throngs. No doubt he wasn't seeking Ryuuen, but rather Zhihao.

"Lord Kirijo," she said, just as idly courteous. "It is. I've recovered well from the attack on my person. No doubt the culprits will be brought to justice sooner, rather than later." Her lips formed meaningless conversations, allusions to the beauty of the ceremony, but her thoughts were elsewhere: locked on that psychic thread with her Naoji.

*And I have missed you, my faithful Naoji-kun,* she said, a groundswell of delight at seeing him again following along after her words. *I wore your necklace every day. Did you dream of me, as I did of you, my moon?*
Tacea / Re: For the eyes are never tired of seeing
« Last post by Iwai no Izayoi on Nov 10, 19, 01:24:04 AM »
There was a spot at the table where the Dragon Queen sat that was Iwai's. Sometimes his mind still boggled at being First Escort. (Especially as he had expected Steward or even the Red Handmaiden. Perhaps it had never meant to be as he had not even given consideration to this future.) Oh, he considered it more in name than anything else. Tae Yeon Yang was the true First Escort and his placement was nothing more than political maneuvering to ensure that the Clans (and the Izayoi) bit their tongue.

Would the Izayoi hold it, he wondered, once he was no longer hiding? Iwai did not focus on that too long if only because he did not need to give rise to anger (that boiled still in the face of what they had tried to do). So with Tae Yeon Yang seated next to Xiong, Iwai had been able to move about. It was to their advantage, in any case, as he was able to sample the political climates from those who were willing to treat with the First Escort of the Dragon Queen.

Many would, especially those who were hoping to get a feel for the shape of the new Territory Court (and he, in turn, would use that to fuel his own insights to serve his Queen). Iwai had finished speaking with a member of the Thousand Swords--curious as always--and had caught sight of the--

Was it surprising that he had to quickly hide the catch in his throat at Ryuki? No, probably not. A touch of Sapphire and the flush to his ears would never be seen. More than that the dual-caste that was with the Kagen and moved to meet with Xiong ... Something hummed in the air, someone far more in tune with the ineffable nature of both their castes. Perhaps later, once the private audience was over, he would rejoin and speak.

For now, however, he only briefly glanced towards the Kagen--its Queen and her Sword both beautiful, though he clearly favored one over the other even if they had specific rules in place for interaction--and moved towards the Izayoi. Oh, he despised them, but he knew how to play the game and tempered himself to continue to do so. Especially here and now, as First Escort to the Dragon Mother was advantageous to the Izayoi (or could be if they could ever truly come to understand Iwai).
Dena Nehele / Re: new life ahead of us
« Last post by Samira al-Hague on Nov 10, 19, 01:21:09 AM »
Samira nodded, agreeing with Qadira’s assessment. Qadira’s skill would find them easy work. So long as they didn’t upset anyone by taking on an odd job here and there to keep themselves fed and housed, they’d be in good shape. The last thing that Samira wanted to do was present herself to a Court, begging for a job. Her Green Jewel had opened doors for her before, however, and she’d lean on it again if she needed to.

Qadira scowled at the idea of changing seasons and new clothes, earning a gentle smile from the Warlord. That smile dimmed a fraction when Samira considered how many people would call her Lady by default. She missed Pruul already, as her reputation had been supported by her work and the rings that hung from her neck--nine in total now, since saving Lady Shadya--meant that she wasn’t to be trifled with. The people of Dena Nehele, however, wouldn’t know that about her. She wondered where Shadya ended up. Samira still had grave misgivings about Black Widows, but Shadya was a decent one.

Well, no one ever had to teach us about the Winds. Using Craft in Pruul is basically asking for the sandworms to attack. After what happened in Onn... “ Samira trailed off. They’d both lost people they loved in the sandworm attack, even before Clan Sabbah lost its collective mind. The al-Hague had been nearly decimated. There was no way to know if they’d ever recover.

I don’t think things will ever be the same back home.” Samira said wistfully.

Samira’s gaze turned toward the window for a time before Qadira offered her food. She was hungry, yes, but she did not like eating by herself and especially not when Qadira was nearby.

I could eat something. Let’s eat something. Then we’ll have to find a place that does a good stew when we touch down.” she said.

My contact in Raej recommended a good inn. I’m sure we can still find some reasonably-priced lodging. We can take inventory of our supplies once we arrive.” she said.

It’s unnerving that Healers and Queens are scarce here. Or anywhere. Both castes are so important. I’d sooner think that Black Widows were endangered. Not everyone can be a Black Widow and their abilities are ...unnerving.” Samira said.

Let’s hope no one gets any ideas.
Tacea / Re: For the eyes are never tired of seeing
« Last post by Kei no Zazen-ji on Nov 10, 19, 01:18:31 AM »
Kei had certainly not expected to end the night on first-name terms with the Queen of the entire territory, but it was happening and they would just need to be adaptable. Mother Night wouldn’t set a challenge before them that they were incapable of overcoming - right? Already the world was reorienting itself around Xiong Teng and the offer on her painted lips.

They followed her gesture to the assembled court. It was slimly populated by males and females alike - the delayed tournament was a source of consternation for many geisha, Ryuki and Eiji included along with others who visited the altar in the Flower District. But surely that wasn’t what Kei was meant to realize…

…No, it seemed obvious they were meant to notice that there wasn’t a single Priestess among the loyal retainers Xiong Teng had assembled. An unorthodox nomination?

“I- I think Sister Kitsue would miss me,” they stammered, because after so long awaiting guidance it was terrifying to have it finally revealed. The path that stretched out before Kei might have led back to the walls of Zazen-ji, or it might not have. Xiong seemed to be allowing for it, but… How many blood ever willingly parted from their Queens?

They could leave tonight, they thought, panicked. They could be back at Zazen-ji by morning, vowing to abstain from killing and theft and drunken stupors. Easy vows. Common sense. Kei was not a killer or a thief or a drunkard.

The vows were not their words, and Mother Night had not guided them to any one of them. She had guided Kei here, to Xiong Teng and her bare-branched court. “You make a generous offer, Xiong,” they said quietly. “One I know I would be wise to accept, but I’m not sure I can commit to it just now. I’ve never served in a court before, and I am anxious to return home…”

But they could not take what was not willfully given, and Zazen-ji was held beyond their grasp.

“All of this is very new to me,” they concluded, hoping she understood.
Tacea / Re: not quite so belated
« Last post by Motoko Ueda on Nov 10, 19, 12:47:00 AM »
There was something both humbling and humiliating about being told to sit back down. Motoko did as she was told, cheeks burning and gaze lowered. Xiong had noticed what she’d been fishing for and been kind enough to provide it, but it felt as though she was being chided. She’d had a moment of weakness and needed reassurance, but she shouldn’t have, and now she was wasting Xiong’s time…

And for what, really? For different ways of saying what she already understood - that their bond, the way Motoko’s soul saw fit to prostrate itself before Xiong’s, won her special dispensation? She’d had bonded of her own before. She knew how it worked - how easy it was to excuse things, how strong the desire to keep them close at hand could be. And the rest was… pretty words. Pity and understanding Motoko was uncertain she deserved.

A more straightforward punishment would at least have been easier to understand. This was just… confusing. She was in purgatory but she’d also been released blinking back into the bright land of the living. She was repentant. She was forgiven. And she was guilty, guilty, guilty.

Motoko swallowed the knot in her throat. There was nothing she could say now that she had not said before. She had sworn her sorriness until her voice cracked already.

“I will strive to prove worthy of the faith you’ve put in me, my lady,” she said measuredly, eyes going to the hand that lingered on her knee. She had begun to have a sense for the ways Xiong disguised her frailty, little gestures that someone less familiar with the Queen might overlook. It felt like knowing a secret she wasn’t supposed to know and couldn’t unlearn.

“I… I am glad to be here,” she added, looking away from Xiong’s hand. She would pay it no more attention until it was moved, as seemed only polite. “And not in the mountains with my brother and sister.”

She could not even bring their names across her lips, and they would have taken on new ones in their orders, besides.

(If Motoko had gone to the mountains, she would have gotten her wish of losing Ueda, losing Motoko, but that wish seemed very fleeting in retrospect. She could downplay their bond no more than Xiong could.)

“Please, my lady,” she said plaintively. “It is getting late. How may I be of service?”
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