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* Plot Information for Tacea

Tensions are rising in Tacea after the destruction of their Territory Court at the hands of its Queen. Unable to continue their traditional cycle of succession because of accusations of treason, Tacea must find a Queen capable of uniting the land while building bridges to the world outside its borders.
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Author Topic: remind me how it feels to hear your voice  (Read 265 times)

Description: Xiong

Offline Motoko Ueda

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remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« on: May 11, 19, 12:42:47 AM »
After Sakura left, Motoko carried on as she had been. If her attendants (guards) groused about her being weepy, she did not think she was much weepier than she’d been before. Sakura had not taken anything that Motoko hadn’t already guessed might be lost. Even if she’d been a closer cousin, even if her no Shingetsu had been hers by rights and not by permission, the clan would have taken it. As a healer, she understood their reasoning - it was an easy choice. Lose the finger, save the limb.

Well, perhaps not an easy choice. Motoko was dual-casted and dark-Jeweled. These two things - and her willingness to come clean when her own neck was on the line - seemed to be the only redeeming qualities anyone saw in her. It was fitting. They had been her only value to Teiko, too.

(What would her life have been like if she’d been born uncasted and light-Jeweled like Natsue? If Teiko had never gotten her Queen daughter? Would her mother have ripped the world open for someone else’s child?)

She sank back into her routine. The sameness was not comforting, but there was a gentle numbness to it. Potion-making took concentration. She could keep her mind from wandering elsewhere. And when they took the kit away for the night, she could pace her tiny room and do all of the conditioning exercises from her dance training and exhaust herself so that when she collapsed onto her futon, she could not think about al the ways she’d wasted her tremendous gifts.

It was not enough. It would never be enough.

Three days after Sakura left, Xiong came first thing in the morning, arriving with the breakfast trays. Motoko finished dressing, her obi tied sloppily, and fell to her knees before the Dragon Mother-Ascendant. (Surely she had not been enthroned yet? They would have told her.) It had been two weeks since Xiong’s poisoning, and she looked far better than she had last Motoko had seen her, lying prone on the tea table.

“My lady,” Motoko said, appealing to their bond. No doubt Xiong was here to name her price. Motoko could not decide - would death be a kindness at this point? “You look well.”


Offline Xiong Teng

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #1 on: Jun 18, 19, 05:57:52 AM »
Xiong survived the attack, and over the past two weeks she'd been quite busy. Assembling her Court took priority over justice, especially when that justice was currently subject to investigation. It would be easy to yield to the voices that cried for blood, and offer them an easy out. Teiko Ueda's blood pouring down the steps of the temple would sate the hunger of her people, but it was not justice if the rot was not fully excised. Her husband's blood was already spilt, and that was no doing of Xiong's, but she'd thought that she owed it to Motoko that no stranger would carry that news.

She looked down her nose at the kneeling Healer Queen. It was only proper that Motoko Ueda debase herself this way, Xiong thought, it was owed. A bonded Queen ought to know better than to risk harm to the Queen who held her leash, but she supposed there was no accounting for breeding. She let Motoko kneel, and touch her forehead to the floor, and she even allowed the Sapphire Healer Queen to claim their connection, that possessive to Xiong's title.

"It is thanks to your timely intervention that I am alive to look as well as I do," said Xiong. "Sit up." Motoko obeyed, and Xiong gestured behind her to the men following her with a table. It was strange to once again have so many servitors; the Black Immortal had been nothing near as accommodating. Here, she said I want to have breakfast with the prisoner Motoko Ueda, and they made it happen. Like magic. She seated herself once the table was set up, the cushions placed, and served herself, then Motoko. The shaking of her hands was pronounced, but a touch of her Summer Sky prevented any embarrassing spillage.

Once Motoko joined her at the table, Xiong said, "I will be enthroned in four weeks. I will pass sentence on you and your family in three. It will please you to know that I will not demand your life or your Jewels." She looked at Motoko until their eyes met. "I will demand your service," she said. "Ten years in my Court. You will never again rule anything greater than a Healer's clinic in Tacea, and that only if I find you deserving of the honor." Motoko's crimes were not deserving of death; she had come forth about the actions of the conspiracy, though not early enough to save the fifty lives Ishiyo no Izayoi had taken. And she had saved Xiong's life. For that, she would save Motoko's life.

"Is there anything you wish to say about your siblings and their fates?"

Offline Motoko Ueda

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #2 on: Jun 18, 19, 11:10:14 AM »
Motoko joined Xiong at the table, her eyes going to the other Queen’s hands and how they trembled despite her efforts to turn her attention elsewhere. The shaking had been a large part of Teiko’s objection to Xiong’s enthronement - her background had been the rest. But Teiko’s opinion mustn’t carry any weight now. It was possible, even, that her mother had already been put to death, though if she had been, Xiong gave nothing away.

Teiko’s fate was not Motoko’s to decide.

It did, however, seem that Xiong had gone ahead and decided Motoko’s. She felt uncomfortable caught in eye-contact, though Xiong had sought it out. “Thank you, my lady,” Motoko said, taking the opportunity to bow her head and break the connection. She had thought that being allowed to keep her Jewels would come as more a relief, but instead the sentence only reinforced what Motoko had always known - that her only value was as a set of Dark Jewels.

She would keep her life - but could it really be called living? Would ten years in Xiong’s service be ten years like she’d spent the last two weeks, exhausting herself brewing potions so that her sleep might be dreamless? Motoko stared into her breakfast, thoughts racing. What if she served ten years and Xiong found her undeserving of a clinic? Would the contract be extended? Xiong would sit the Dragon Throne for twenty years. If she kept Motoko bound to her for all of those years, she would be downright middle-aged by the time her life was her own again.

But what other choice was there?

“You honor me,” she said, blinking back tears. She had not managed to banish them completely when  Xiong’s next question landed. What would Motoko say about her siblings?

Certainly not anything she hadn’t already told Prince Corro. “I can say nothing in defense of my older brothers. Otohiko and Seishi are dangerous,” she said, forcing herself to look up despite the indignity of her tears. “Like fighting dogs. I told Prince Corro already. But Kouta and Natsue aren’t part of the conspiracy. They were only part of my court. Natsue is as devoted to her caste craft as any natal Priestess. And Kouta is too foolish to bear any part of this.”

Her siblings had known, of course, but they had not acted as the twins did. To Motoko, that seemed an important distinction.

“I expect the Shingetsu have disowned them as well already,” she said, the thought just then occurring to her. Had Sakura spoken to them herself, as she had Motoko? Or had she sent a courier?Had only Motoko deserved the dignity and the pain of a personal visit?

Probably. She was the Queen amongst Teiko’s brood, for better or for worse.

Offline Xiong Teng

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #3 on: Jul 01, 19, 05:01:27 AM »
Xiong watched Motoko: the tears gathering in her eyes, the tremor in her voice as those tears dripped down her face to the table-top. Oddly, she could find no pity, not even the barest embers of it, for the Healer Queen before her. Motoko had not truly had a choice to make; her mother had never taught her to do otherwise than her commands. The Healer Queen before her was pitiful, pitiable, like a child abandoned far from home. She wanted to take Motoko in her hand and show her a better path than Teiko had given her... and what was stopping her, she realized, eyes widening minutely. "There will be corporeal punishment as well," she said, brushing away Motoko's statement of honor. "As there must be. You are a traitor, if only because you knew of the plot and did not warn the Territory Court. But you will not be crippled, or broken, and you will be permitted to earn back your honor."

She considered the information she was given of Motoko's siblings. It echoed the testimony the siblings themselves had given, and the confession that her father, Haruyoshi no Shingetsu, had written before committing ritual suicide. Even Teiko Ueda's gloating had reflected upon the lack of criminal intent among her younger children, though she had been frustrated by their lack of patriotism rather than relieved at their uninvolvement. Xiong had gotten a similar read on Kouta and Natsue Ueda as Motoko professed now. Still, Motoko could not expect them to go unpunished.

The only thing to do was think more deeply about it.

"I do not only bear good news," she said, as if the news of Motoko's judiciary beating and indenture to the Territory Court were good. "Your father, Haruyoshi no Shingetsu, committed honorable suicide once the news of your mother's sedition reached him." She turned her face away, providing Motoko with the privacy she might need to mourn. "I thought it would be kinder to hear it from me, in private, than in public on the day of sentencing. And yes, your siblings have similarly been disowned."

She frowned, still staring at the featureless wall of this prison cell of a room. "You know that the Ueda line will end for this."

Offline Motoko Ueda

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #4 on: Jul 03, 19, 11:17:37 AM »
Motoko had no fight left in her. Corporeal punishment, said Xiong, and she nodded weakly in response. Of course there would be. Tacean loved their lashes. Loved setting an example. This is what is done to traitors. It was fine. It was what she deserved. What was pain? It was fleeting. She would take her beating, let the crowd see her stripped to the waist and bloodied, and she would emerge at the end of it alive and unbroken in all ways save her spirit.

This is what is done to traitors. For what point was there in a beating if no one else was there to observe it?

“I am no stranger to such things, Lady,” Motoko said quietly.

She did not think there was anything that could cut her further, except that Xiong still held additional weapons behind her petal lips. A sudden gasp, a choked sob, escaped Motoko at the revelation of her father’s fate. She fought to reign it in, smothering herself on the sleeve of her robe.

“Of course he did,” she said after a moment, tears stinging in the corners of her eyes. Her father had been powerless against Teiko - too kind. Too traditional. But he had loved his children and she’d loved him. And that traditionalist streak had surely been his end. “The clan would have demanded it.”

Haruyoshi’s Shingetsu had not been given. It could not be so easily taken. But his death removed his traitorous issue from the family tree quite effectively. The Shingetsu machine was brutally efficient when it wanted to be.

“I know,” said Motoko, her emotions easing. It had gone without saying that the Uedas would end. That would b the final indignity to Teiko. “Are you here to strip me of that name as well?”

She thought she might like that. To just be Motoko, free of the burden of her many last names. “Or will I be made to wear it to the grave, childless and unloved?” For that was the natural conclusion. Why let seditionist blood continue under a different name?

Offline Xiong Teng

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #5 on: Jul 12, 19, 11:23:04 AM »
On Zhong, it wouldn't have been like this. Xiong watched the slow spiral of steam from the spout of the teapot, the hitch and the burr in Motoko's voice ignored as she considered the pale gray winding up into the air and disappearing. Suicide to preserve one's honor was done on Zhong, of course it was, but it was only acceptable when done to preserve the honor of the family name. Haruyoshi could have lived had he been a man of Zhong; the dishonor was not his, and his life was a gift from his parents. Why sacrifice it on the altar of his wife's shame?

Xiong sighed through her nose, a silent little breath. "Do you think that you deserve to be stripped of your traitorous name, Motoko? You saved my life; should you wish you become Motoko No-Name, I shall see it done, but I am loath to do it. Already I have saved your life when you ought to have lost it. I shall consider the case of your siblings, Natsue and Kouta, and preserve them if I may. Do you believe I can accept into my service a woman who bears no name? No clan? A traitor's name is better than none, but if that is what you wish, I will do it for you."

The truth was that Xiong considered herself to owe Motoko a debt. Not a large one, nor a particularly honorable one, and society would not agree that Motoko saving Xiong's life was worthy of the debt when it had been in contravention of filial piety even as it served the greater cause. It was the most impactful kind of debt, the kind that lived inside Xiong's own mind. "Your childlessness and your unlovedness are a matter for you to decide," she said. "You will serve your ten years of gongxing beneath my hand, and we will re-evaluate your place of service then, but I will not stop you from taking a lover or bearing a child."

She looked back to the table and picked up her chopsticks in her steadier right hand. Once her motions had been graceful with either hand, but since the volcano and especially since the assassination attempt Xiong's gestures were more workmanlike than artistic. She caught up one of the bao inelegantly and, awaiting Motoko's response, began to eat.

Offline Motoko Ueda

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #6 on: Jul 12, 19, 06:48:25 PM »
Motoko stared ahead, jaw clenched so hard that her teeth hurt from trying not to cry. Xiong would strip her of her name if she asked, but in the same breath, she’d made her own stance clear. A traitor’s name is better than none. And as much as Motoko longed to cast off Ueda and every other awful thing her mother had ever given to her, she realized that this was a test. Would Motoko take what she wanted?

Or would she obey even Xiong’s most indirect order? Do you believe I can accept into my service a woman who bears no name?

Xiong’s words echoed between Motoko’s ears. She touched her fingers briefly to her jaw, easing the tension there. A test, she thought. The first of many. Would she bend the knee and obey? Be the Healer and not the Queen? She was bound to serve either way, but the choices she made now would likely color those ten years of service. If she showed Xiong that she could obey, perhaps those years would go more gently…

“I’ll keep it, then,” she said, feeling a weight settle over her shoulders. The equilibrium was shifting now. Motoko had a clear idea of what she’d lost and what she stood to keep. Gone were her clan, her parents, and all of her siblings. Gone was anything that had ever made her a Queen and any hope of regaining it. Kept were her traitorous name, her traitorous blood, her Jewels, and the utilitarian caste that had always made Teiko revile her so.

Xiong’s claims of non-intervention seemed a test as well, if one spread over a longer period of time. It depended, Motoko supposed, on one’s definition of the end of the Uedas. She could hardly imagine a Queen who would fate a line to extinction and still all its blood to carry on. Instead, she was leaving it in Motoko’s hands. Xiong would not stop her… but the order stood. And Motoko was hapless to do naught but long to obey.

“That’s very generous of you,” Motoko said, trying to be diplomatic. They seemed to be eating now, if Xiong’s assumption of her chopsticks was any indication. She picked up her own and considered the spread of food set between them. The dishes were all Tang-style, familiar enough but different.

The axis of the territory was shifting. If only Motoko could hold still enough, perhaps she would even feel it move.

“When will my sentence be carried out?” she asked, serving herself. “It seems to have been decided. I’ll take my lashings and get to work.”

Offline Xiong Teng

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Re: remind me how it feels to hear your voice
« Reply #7 on: Jul 13, 19, 02:03:23 AM »
"One week," said Xiong. "In one week, I'll pass the sentence on you and your family for the Territory to see." And in the week after, she would be enthroned as the Dragon Queen of Tacea, the warrior at the helm of their territory. It was, she reflected as her bao fell from her chopsticks, nearly impossible to imagine. Should someone ask her to fight a duel, she would have to elect a champion or decline; the physical damage done to her body, to the base form of any weapon she'd care to raise, was too complete. No doubt some of the more superstitious Clans and Vassals would argue that the Territory itself had turned against her when the volcanoes erupted, taking so much of her faculties with them.

Still, there was no chance that she would step down or away now that she had been given the responsibility. Hadn't she accepted enough sacrifices in the name of the Territory already? Her mind drifted to the matter of her Triangle, and what men would stand where beneath her guiding hand. Hopefully she would acquire a talented, reputable Sword to balance out her own weakness; if not, she wasn't sure how long her reign would last against the challenges that would come from within and without.

If nothing else, I must hold the throne for the full cycle. I can do anything for twenty-four years. Such gruesome thoughts were par for the course, lately, and she tried to shed them as she worked her way through the meal.

Her news shared, she wasn't sure there was much else to do but finish the meal in silence.