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[Exalted] Intro: Destiny In Motion

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Exalted: The Dragon Blooded
Episode 1: Destiny in Motion


The year is 3368RY. Two thousand and six hundred years ago the Dragon-Blooded Princes of the Earth accomplished the impossible: they won the great war and seized Creation for themselves. After twenty six centuries the details of history are sorted and confusing and no two historians ever tell the story the same way, but by the virtue of there being no other Exalts left in the world it's evident to all that the Exalted of the Great Immaculate Dragons successfully ushered in an era of peace and prosperity for Creations people.

To be honest, no one really cares now how it happened, save the Dragon-Bloods themselves, and even they are not aware that of the simple fact that a rag tag group of Dragon-Blooded from the 7th Legion managed to prevent the Yozis from ever constructing a device that would change the Fate of Creation forever. Ignorance was bliss and had been do for nearly eighty generations of Dragon-Bloods.

Our tale is told in a world that has known peace for over three thousand years...

The weather couldn't had been any more perfect. The massive streets of Lookshy bustled with all manner of activity as the people of the city went about their business. Magitech engines operated almost silently pumping essence through the city streets to keep the homes and business well lit and supplied with power and running water. Streamers of red, blue white, black, and green ran across the the streets hanging high overhead and each street sign, glow post, business and home were decorated in those colors in honor of the holiday.

It was Calibration and as was customary the sixteen great houses of the Realm would be in attendance for five days of feasting, merriment and celebration. for the next five days of debauched enjoyment the Princes of the Earth would revel in memory of their victory over the Anathema. For the older generations it was a time of remembrance and feasting while reuniting with friends and family and old colleagues or renewing old alliances and planning new ones for the coming year. For the younger generations and those just recently graduating from Secondary Schools it was a time of feasting, partying, drugs, sex and sex while on drugs. It was during this time that a majority of the younger Dragon-Blood would make the worst mistakes of their lives, or at the very least wake up next to one.

Whatever the reason, the people and the Princes, would all celebrate the victory of a war that won Creation it's freedom from the oppressive Anathema. It was a time for joy and a celebration of peace.

This Calibration was different, however, for five young Dragons. For they did not want to be here for their own reasons...

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Being sent on errands was quite possibly the most demeaning task Adelle's mother had ever given her, especially on a simple errand to a place as far away from the North as Lookshy. The wink and not-so-subtle insinuations to "enjoy her Cynis heritage" while she was in the city during Calibration only added her irritation; the negotiations and correspondences could have been handled by family staff far more trained in such matters than Adelle herself, which meant her mother had sent her across Creation for a vacation.

Adelle loved her mother, at least in as much as Dragon Blooded offspring were expected to, and perhaps even a touch more, but she was a Ledaal, not a Cynis. Debauchery and cynicism were not how she dealt with humiliation or her lowered prospects in the world. She should be searching for a worthy mentor or patron that would take her in, no matter if the patronage was secured on something other than her natural merits; failing that, a suitable marriage. In addition to that, she corrected silently to herself.

For the moment she was indulging the one friend that had endured with her through the years as she fell from the favored daughter of her house to quiet a quiet shame now only spoken about in whispered corners of her father's house. His name was Aravel and his claws gripped tightly on the leather shoulder pad secured to her left arm; the great eagle gave a nervous caw as a group of Southern traders meandered drunkenly into his mistress' path. The most sober of the traders blinked at the large bird and then at the petite woman holding him.

"S'cuze us, m'Lady," he slurred as he attempted to bow. "Meant nothin' buy it, just tryin' to git home, y'know?"

Adelle had never been able to hide what she was, so after a time she'd simply stopped. She'd known some of the other students at the Heptagram to sneak out to a nearby village and gamble or whore like a patrician, but one look at her and anyone could tell that she had power beyond mortal kin. "Then I suggest you be on your way, goodman, before Aravel decides that you have other intentions."

The men scurried off, too frightened in their drunken stupor to even look back to see if they were being followed. Adelle smiled at her companion and pet his beak with affection. "Well done, my friend. They smelled like an open sewer." She crinkled her nose in disgust and then laughed; she fished out a piece of moist jerky and held it up for him to take. One raptor-swift movement from the bird and the morsel was gone. "Shall we continue? I still have several letters to deliver today and then perhaps we can go for a ride outside the city before the sun sets."

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The house was opulent, as befit the home-from-home of a noble House of the Realm. Jade, marble and other luxurious materials were exquisitely designed and put together in a shining example of architecture that was designed to humble and inspire those who beheld it. Gardens perfumed with the scents of blooms from every corner of Creation ringed the palatial central building and could be found within it also as one turned a corner to come across, unexpectedly, a small garden within the walls, sunlight filtering down through crystalline windows and ceiling high overhead. Some gardens were water-features, harbouring flowers of dazzling hues that floated on the surface of clear pools lined with gold and green jade. Others were hanging gardens, benches of ornate carved marble covered in rich fabrics above which bobbed multicoloured jade baskets magically suspended and overflowing with tumbles of colour.

"Trust the youngest son of House V'Neef to find the most tucked-away and remote garden of any dwelling to secret himself away in." V'Neef Aliset told the seneschal as he hurried to keep up with the striking woman, who strode rapidly through the halls of the palace. She'd had been through most of these gardens once already today looking for her wayward brother ever since she'd received word that he'd entered Lookshy this morning on one of the Merchant Navy vessels controlled by their wealthy family. And she was getting heartily sick of them.

"I'm certain he must be in this next one, Lady." the man said in an appeasing tone. Aliset shot him a fierce glare, causing him to gulp.

"You were supposed to see to it that he went to his chambers, availed himself of a bath, and changed into suitable clothes for the damned festival." she growled.

"I tried, great Lady." the miserable seneschal said. "I did try. Your brother, no disrespect intended I assure you, is..." he hesitated.

"Difficult." Aliset finished for him. "And no offence is taken, though had you said that to any outside this House you might have found yourself minus a tongue."

"Lady, I keep this palace and run the affairs in Lookshy for the House V'Neef because your mother, may she live for ever, sees value in my honesty." The seneschal said with some pride. "And thus it behooves me to say that your brother's, uh, uniqueness is not exactly a secret."

"I know that, damn you." Aliset said, increasing her pace as they ascended yet another set of stairs. "Five betrothals ruined, and mother still won't disown him. Our baby brother has been much indulged. If he wasn't so obviously loyal in other areas, he'd be out on his ear."

"He did perform very well in his first action, great Lady." the seneschal said appeasingly. "The Guild are furious, I hear, to lose the crop of slaves that their agents had spent months harvesting from Dynast lands along with five hundred of their mercenaries. A magnificent ambush, so I hear."

Aliset couldn't help but smile proudly at that, but swiftly schooled her expression into a scowl as she heard flute music drifting down the corridor ahead of her.

"There is more to being a Dragon-Blood than sneaking about the wilderness and feathering slavers with arrows." she said. "Leave me. I would have words with my brother."

The seneschal fell back at her command, turning to start the long trek back to the ground floor. Aliset moved to the end of the hallway and emerged into the bright sunlight of a balcony garden, flowers growing wild across the green grass partially shaded by a cherry tree with blossoms of delicate pink and white. Sitting under the tree, his back to the trunk and playing a haunting tune on a finely-crafted jade flute, was the Dragon-Blood she sought.

V'Neef Meles, youngest scion of the House, was beautiful. That was never in doubt, and had caused the boy to be doted on from birth by his mother, his nurses, and even his sisters. It was unusual in Dynast society for mothers to have much to do with their children before Exaltation, but V'Neef had been convinced that Meles would Exalt even before he did early, at the age of ten. His Exaltation had added an exotic component to his looks, the purity of his blood all too obvious in the forest-green of his skin and the warm amber colour of his eyes. His rich brown hair was commingled with naturally growing small flowers, a permanent garland, and his features were elegantly refined and possessed the classic strength of the Dragons.

Meles was also talented, winning competition after competition against other student of the House of Bells in the field of archery. He was thoughtful, and a respectable strategist. The small force of rangers that served under him respected their young commander and the victory he'd already brought them. In fact, in every way but two, he was the perfect Dragon Blood.

"Meles." Aliset said, moving out into the garden as she caught his attention. The beautiful flute music stopped and her brother lowered the instrument to his lap, an expression of resigned patience on his handsome features as he stood and bowed without a word.

This was the first problem. Meles didn't speak much. As in hardly at all. Even in small gatherings, he had a painful shyness that meant that he could barely speak above a whisper. This meant he had, since his Exaltation, dodged every public engagement, every opportunity to socialise and form a web of allies and connections that would serve him later in life. And heaven's forbid that he had to give a public address: to stand before a crowd and speak was so utterly terrifying to the boy that he would hide rather than face it. Aliset didn't understand it. Her mother didn't understand it. They'd given him command of a small force of scouts primarily because his quietness would prove an asset there rather than a hindrance, as it would be for a conventional force, where rallying the troops with stirring oratory was a prerequisite.

"Why aren't you changed?" Aliset demanded, taking in his travel-stained clothing and armor and the presence of his weapons propped against the tre beside him, with one caustic sweep of her eyes. "It's a festival, and we have invitations to the most prestigious gatherings in Lookshy, which we will be attending to represent our House in a seemly and cultured manner.

Meles didn't say anything, merely shifted from foot to foot and gave a one-shouldered shrug.

"Don't even think about it." Aliset narrowed her eyes and pointed at him. "You will be attending. And you will be attending in suitable raiment for the youngest and most eligible son of House V'Neef. There will be daughters of other great Houses in attendance, some of them friends of mine, and I'm sure they want to meet the hero of the battle of Thorns." She smiled at him. "Your mother is proud of you, little brother. And so am I. You've caused a stir with your bravery and instinct of battle. Why not come and enjoy the fruits of conquest: accolades, toasts, female attention..."

Meles sighed softly and shrugged again, turning to walk to the stone balustrade. Aliset rolled her eyes.

"You don't have to marry them, you impossible child. Just be a man for a change and enjoy the attention. You do like women, don't you?" she asked him scornfully. Meles simply nodded, looking out over the city. Aliset rolled her eyes. Yes, Meles did like women - apparently. He'd never, to the best of anyone's knowledge, done anything about it though. "Trust me, brother. They won't be interested in your conversation. You can be strong and silent, but you will be there. Your mother expects it."

Meles gave another sigh, his shoulders slumping a little, then he just nodded acceptance. Aliset smiled - invoking their mother was an effective way to get Meles almost anywhere... except to the betrothal. Aliset didn't understand why, and nor did V'Neef herself. All they knew was that Meles was utterly intractable when it came to getting married. Threats, sanctions - nothing seemed to work.

"There will be bathing attendants and fresh clothing in your room. Avail yourself of them, and soon." Aliset told him shortly before turning and leaving.

Meles stood for awhile longer, his amber gaze somber as he looked out over the splendour of the city. Then he sighed very, very softly and went to bathe.

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This wing of the Ragara estate was much more spartan than the rest of the mansion maintained here in Lookshy. Of course, when the Dynastic Houses were involved, even the 'spartan' business wing right here was impressively elegant and expensive if not grandiose. The wooden desks were carved by only the best artisans, the hereditary carving families that were on retainer to House Ragara, and the hardwoods insisted by the family for use had made plenty of merchants rather wealthy. The pillars simplistically ornate stone, same for the precious metals used to artfully top off the appeal in small amounts- such a banking House needed jade and gold and silver as symbols.

Of course, this was the business wing, where tabulations of jade talents, the study of trade developments and the like of boring minutiae that was work and even in House Ragara, thoroughly segregated from play. The business wing was almost entirely libraries of books and files, tabulating chambers and discussion rooms for consultation on finance. There were also a room or two for personal needs such as food and other kinds so that they did not interfere with the expeditious progress of work.

The scratch of of a quill could be heard as Jona studied the increase in supply of Eastern Great Senecus wood and calculated the effects this would have on the export trades as a whole in his room. IN HIS ROOM. It wasn't quite 'sleeping with the servants', and nowhere near their quarters or the stables or kitchens. But the lack of lavish appointments, the distance from the rest of the family... it was a mark of disfavor. His shame.

A Dragon-Blooded who could not muster the confidence to even stand up for himself? Completely shocking. Jona had a hard time imagining in the slightest how he would have been given any other opportunities other than the mercantile section that he had here. Notoriety like this made scant chance of a political marriage for him.

The clatter of footsteps on the floor led Jona to look up from his refuge of work, and he saw the stern gaze of disapproval from Ragara Uronos. Not that his father ever gave him any other kind of look for years. The boy was not only socially withdrawn, but a sheer pushover for anyone. "You are going to go to the festivals. I suggest you get ready Jona. And if you happen to be late, I hope it will be from seeking guidance from Pasiap on your... weakness."

It was a brief, brusque delivery, and Uronos turned around and left, knowing that Jona would shrink into himself, as Jona indeed do, and not argue with him or say a word in opposition. Which was a shame. Even an outright yelling match would be some kind of an improvement in his son.

Jona slumped down on the bed, closing his eyes in pained resignation. He had hoped to avoid any such massive receptions, considering that his reputation would prove justification for his family keeping him out of sight and word. But apparently Uronos felt that pressure was the only way to strengthen the boy. What was a self-confirmed cowardly failure to do? How could he not face letting down the family again?

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"You aren't wearing that."

Part command, part horrified inquiry, those four words, uttered by a vaguely incredulous older brother to his younger sibling, earned him a resigned sigh from the woman scratching out a page of painstaking notes at the enormous marble desk. A stranger would have marked the pair as kin instantly, for both shared the same strong, angular features and sun-warmed colouring. They also, at least in that moment, shared the same mildly contemptuous expression. The scratching of pen on paper stopped, and she lay the gold-chased stylus carefully aside.

She'd thought about it, of course. Given the crowds of knife-wielding brigands and cutpurses who'd be out in force during the celebrations, sturdy leather clothing and a modicum of protective gear would be well-advised, if terribly unfashionable. Unfortunately, she wasn't here on her own business, and out of respect for her father-

"I will not," Cathak Iros Avahl stated tersely, "allow you to embarrass our family or our House by trudging around in faded leather with a sword on your back! However much you despise the idea, sister, you are a woman, and it is well past time you star-"

"I had already decided what to wear, Avvie, so don't bother with whatever comes next." She could practically hear the smoldering embers of his temper crackling to life as he bristled at the use of the childhood nickname, and it brought her no small measure of satisfaction. "Your lectures about my future never end well."

"Your future," he ground out, "will not end well if you continue to ignore your obligations. This trip is one of them. We're here to represent Father, and I cannot emphasize enough the strength of my suggestion to at least pretend you're his daughter, and not his youngest son." With a withering glare, the handsome young officer in the Southern Legions turned sharply on his heel and stormed out, the heels of his polished boots echoing throughout the spacious halls. Scowling, she made a sudden, obscene gesture in the direction of his back, wishing she’d had something more substantial than a pen close at hand.

At least they could fume in comfort; although fairly austere by the standards of the aristocracy, the Lookshy estate of General Cathak Vargas could never be called anything less than grand. From the imposing stone façade, bright banners bearing the crest of his House snapped in the breeze as serpentine dragons crawled in bas-relief across an enormous frieze. The exterior resembled a small fortress encircled by orderly paths of crushed volcanic stone and low, neatly-tended gardens, adorned wherever reasonable with the seals and sigils of the House and family. There were no columns, wide picture windows, untrimmed trees, deep hedges, or statuary which might present a clear tactical disadvantage in the unlikely event the estate was infiltrated or besieged; the general was nothing if not a practical man.

Inside, however, looking imposing was less important than being comfortable. Honey-coloured marble sheathed the walls and floor, and beautiful hand-woven carpets made plush oases upon which clusters of furniture were arranged just so. It was in the study that her father's influence was most obvious, and for that reason Aeryn tended to gravitate there whenever she had reason to visit Lookshy. Bookcases lined the walls, with some rarer works encased in metal or polished stone, and the faint scent of aromatic tobacco lingered in the air; she was fairly sure one of the servants had burned it in anticipation of their arrival. One of his prized possessions- a complete unabridged copy of The Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier- lay open on the desk nearby.

With a sigh, she hauled herself out of the chair, carefully closed the book, and replaced it in the small stone chest on the tome-laden shelves. Whether she liked it or not, her brother was at least partially right. It was well past time she got started. All those stupid dresses weren't going to try on themselves, and the maids had worked awfully hard to get them ready. Even if she didn't intend to actually wear any of them, she'd play along for their benefit.

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Quinn was a giant. He stood nearly eight feet tall and was nothing but a mountain of muscle. An entire life of slaving for the Guild in their quarries had seen that not an ounce of fat was on his perfectly chiseled frame. He went shirtless most places, mostly due to how hard it was to find clothes for him, but mostly because the he felt the whip scars on his back tend to itch a lot when he covered them. He was barefoot with pants that were shredded to tatters at the shins. On each of his wrists, although the chain links were long removed, were the locked shackles he'd worn his whole life.

"He's going to get himself killed." He said as he walked down the crowded market place street. On his shoulder was a collection of supplies that were easily hundreds of pounds and the other patrons could only look upon the giant in amazement. The deep bass in his voice was like the rumbling of stone. "Of all the places we could be in Creation, Lookshy, during Calibration, should not be one of them. This is reckless, even for him."

"Relax, Quinn." Came softer more sultrier tones from a few feet further down. Esmeralda sorted through a variety of dates and moved moved on to salted meats. Where Quinn got most of the looks from the people for his sheer size and strength, Esmeralda had a majority of the men in the marketplace gawking over her beauty. She was from the harsh deserts of the south. Her skin was kissed by the sun giving her a dark complexion with full lips and almond eyes. She wore a halter and a sarong made of several layers of sheer material. Her beauty was peerless and her flesh unblemished. As an ex-consort for one of the Guild's pleasure houses, she felt any place in Creation was better than there. "Reckless and stupid as our Dracian might be, he nevertheless knows what he's doing. I hope. Besides, we needed supplies anyway and this marketplace is astounding!" He pointed out to her giant ally in a thick accent of Flametongue.

"This just doesn't feel right, Ezzy" Quinn added. "It's Calibration, all sorts of things could go wrong."

"Your being paranoid," She laughed a bit as she handed him a sack with several spices and herbs which he added to the collection on his shoulder beyond her reach. "We'll be gone my morning, just try to relax. Oh! That reminds me, I have to pick up his outfit for the gala this evening."

"He's going to the gala? He's out of is mind! House Peleps will have family members attending, he is aware of this right?"

"He is." Ezzy grinned, replying calmly. "Quinn, realx. Dracian is a master of disguise, he'll blend right in."

*****

In a seedy inn and tavern an hour later...

"How do I look?!" Dracian came into the room and spun about to let them feel the full effects of his disguise. The bushy beard and the pillow stuffed in his midsection made him look more like Zach Galifianakis stuffed in a gawdy and poorly dyed dashiki.

"We're dead." Esmeralda and Quinn said in unison as they buried their face in their palm.

"What're you talking about guys! I look great!" He said with with excitement as spun once more like a preening peacock. "Damn, I've outdone myself this time. I'll slip in, swipe the Hearthstone, we'll lay low in An-Teng for a few months, then we'll come back, open the Vault of Kresh, and be rich beyond our wildest dreams. Trust me."

"We do," The giant said, nervously. "It's just, well, Ezzy and I feel that maybe you haven't completely thought this through all the way."

"I haven't," the fugitive Water Aspect shrugged nonchalantly. "That's the beauty of it bro. I'm totally playing it by ear. Thinking is for people who have too much time on their hands, we're busy, we have to think on our feet, make it up as we go, go with the flow."

Ezzy put her hands up to stop the 'flow' of Dracian's BS. "We get it, Dee, just, please, be careful. It's Calibration, and you know how superstitious Quinn get around this time of year."

"Guys, relax." Dracian smiled and his pearl eyes focused on them both, though it was hard to notice. "Nothing'll go wrong. Trust me."

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The Grand Estate of House Yoshoto was one without a doubt the finest in all of Lookshy. An intricately carved wall of luminous green jade, pierced here and there to offer tantalizing glimpses of the verdant gardens beyond and grant climbing flora additional purchase, surrounded the property on all sides. Neat paths paved with rosettes of cinnamon-hued petrified wood meandered in looping, artfully haphazard patterns throughout the grounds, encircling an ancient yew here, and skirting a shallow, lotus-veiled pond there. Everywhere were the scents and sounds of life, rich and heady, and the gardens themselves were so painstakingly tended as to seem wholly spontaneous. The property was reminiscent of an exquisite emerald jewel-box, filled with precious treasures of vibrancy and sunlight and shadow; the crowning gem, however, was the manor itself.

Beyond an airy central colonnade shaded by a dense 'ceiling' of fragrant jasmine, a shimmering union of arboreal splendor and Dynastic sensibilities rose from the lush and fertile ground. It was a sprawling, open affair, and the craftsmanship evidenced in its architecture could have been surpassed only by the wealthiest Houses on the Imperial Isle. Walls and archways carved in delicate, lacy jade filigree allowed natural light to pour into the spacious chambers within, and lanterns whose translucent panes were flawless amber glowed with their own internal radiance. Bronze-cast representations of mythical beasts flanked doorways, and opulent, high-relief carvings of Sextes Jylis emerged from the walls down the long, winding hallways. Tapestries, paintings, and heirlooms of all kinds were displayed alongside the family's collection of miniature trees for the delight of residents and visitors alike. Even the marble floors were patterned in such a way as to resemble the gnarled and fissured bark of an ancient oak. The very home itself was a shrine to the East and the Dragon who gave it life, and the esteem and prosperity of House Yoshoto were unquestionable in the eyes of any who beheld it.

Within the manor each of its many parlors were stocked with buffet tables of some of the most succulent sweet meats and exotic fruits all of Creation had to offer. The attendance within the spacious halls numbered at least a thousand (if not more) of the Dynasty's most powerful and influential Princes of the Earth. The air was filled with the clamor of all these varied souls meeting and greeting one another near to the point of drowning out the ghostly sound of otherworldly harpists playing in the background. Most seemed seemed to be taking the time to show off their incredibly pricey evening wear that was purchased solely for this occasion.

Click to reveal..
You are free to wander and post as you see fit. Make up a few NPCs and even meet with each other if you like. It's a rich, decadent affair so have some fun with it. When everyone is ready, we'll move on.

Notable NPCs at this event:

Cathak Iros (Aeryn's Brother, High ranking soldier of the Southern Military)

V'Neef Aliset (Meles's sister and ranking soldier in the Eastern Military)

Peleps Ivaka (Sorceress prodigy and the pride of House Peleps. Arrogant and a super bitch.)

If I did not add an NPC to this list and you'd like one included, simply include their name in a spoiler box. Including an NPC will open that NPC up for interaction.

Oh, and try not to embarrass yourselves. smile

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Aeryn had to concede that the estate was truly breathtaking, and of all the places to be during Calibration, Lookshy was the most interesting. There was always something going on, and it kept her warm amber eyes roving attentively. Iros was here somewhere, of that she was certain. She also knew he wasn't nearby, or he'd have already made it a point to criticize what she was wearing.

Eschewing the gowns that had been laid out for her, she'd chosen instead to wear an airy silk ensemble comprised of a flowing scarlet tunic, loose trousers, and soft boots embellished heavily with beadwork and golden embroidery. The cut was surprisingly modest for a Dynast, but did little to obscure the ample swell of the bosom she considered the bane of her existence as a swordswoman. It was comfortable, at least, she reflected, as yet another gorgeous young dilettante tottered by on gilded heels, her assets threatening to jiggle free of the confines of what might generously be considered a dress.

Well, it's a good thing I wore this instead! I would have been completely mortified if we'd shown up in the same thing, she thought sarcastically as the woman vanished from her peripheral vision.

Aeryn's father, renowned for his tactical genius, had tried to explain social events in terms that his daughter would readily grasp as she matured. He likened formal occasions to war, with words, etiquette, and mannerisms taking the place of weapons and armor. Attendees engaged in battles no less fierce, he told her, than those experienced by armies on the field. The general had the best of intentions in trying to instil in the otherwise ambivalent young girl some sort of interest in such affairs, mostly at her mother's urging. To his surprise, and eventual chagrin, it worked. Oh, social warfare was by no means her preference, but as long as she continued to think of it from that perspective, she managed well enough.

Strikingly attractive, there was a certain aura of intensity about the copper-haired Daughter of Hesiesh, even as she sat quietly in an ornate bronze chair on the veranda, watching the other party-goers as they meandered in and out of the lush gardens. She wouldn't have long, she knew, to observe the bejewelled warriors as they pandered and postured, making their opening moves on the grand Gateway board that was the gala event; she intended to make the most of what little time she had.

Sipping from a frosted glass, the general's daughter enjoyed the breeze and steeled herself for the battles to come.

Click to reveal.. (Aeryn's Outfit)
salwar-kameez-25.jpg

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A gentle, haunting flute filled the air of the veranda, a contrast to the distant sounds of the harpists providing the music for socialising to. This slower music was solitary and introspective, providing an oasis of calm reflection to those that lingered in the jasmine-scented haze of the outdoors. It was an unobtrusive complement to the setting, much like the musician himself.

Legs folded in the fashion of a street performer and heedless of the finery he wore, Meles sat on a carved green marble bench near the veranda, soft amber eyes watching those, Dynast and patrician, who were taking in the night air and sipping chilled wine as they talked in low tones, laughed, and held forth in small knots. No-one really looked twice at him, which was his design. He had taken the least showy and jewel-encrusted jacket his sister had chosen, added a shirt to wear underneath it rather than going bare-chested like so many of the young Dragon-Blood males, and had left his hair loose but for the single warrior's braid at his left temple. No jeweled sword hilt or weapon of power adorned his person, nothing save the intricately carved jade flute he was currently playing.

Ordinarily, this would be enough to ensure that a Dynast was a dull crow among swans in such a gathering as this, but Meles had a few disadvantages. Being of obvious pure blood was one - his green tones and the permanent garland mixed with the locks of his flowing hair was a sure indicator of that. And he was, as has been mentioned and for want of a better word, beautiful. So it was that he had already had to use considerable misdirection to dodge the bevy of eligible women his sister had tried to force on him and escape here to the gardens, where he had promptly drawn his flute with all the speed of a swordsman pulling steel to defend themselves and settled into the inner discipline of the Invisible Street Performer Technique. He knew that Aliset would find him sooner or later and force him back into the throng, but for now he simply watched the crowd, noting the similarly solitary red-hued young Dynast sitting by herself. She was striking, too striking to be alone at a gathering such as this, and so with idle curiousity Meles watched to see whom she waited for.

Click to reveal..
MelesFormal.jpg

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Jona slipped into the garden, not noticing Meles in the midst of flutist performance, but wrapped up in his own frustration and bitterness. His dress was a more simple Ragara style, the focus of the finery being in the fabric and the deep and vibrant colors rather than the cut or the grotesque- in his opinion certainly- ornamentation that others chose to lavish upon their 'formal' and everyday wear.

At first he had evaded notice for the time being, a rabbit trying to evade notice among the true dragons swirling around. And for a time, he managed. But it wasn't long at all before his father had found him and brought him over to speak with a grouping of other Dragon-Blooded from the business world. A pleasant convocation of mercantile masters, and Uronos had hoped his son's expertise in demonstrating knowledge of recent deals and figures would impress the colleagues and competitors.

Any sort of positive respect would do Jona good.

Except, when Jona tried to summon the figures, the anxiety and worry inherent to him in social situations surged. It started reasonably adequate at first, with only a couple minor re-statings. But soon after a few minutes, Jona was near-babbling, unable to keep a firm grip on the numbers and terminology of business and administration that he could hold onto for support.

Their patience- in the situation- was exceedingly strong, but eventually Uronos politely dismissed his son, and the quiet cut deeper than any amount of lashing words. That had caused Jona's vanishing into the crowd, and then he retreated to here, the solace of the gardens.

Even in his work he could not hold up. At this point, being a patrician, unable to obtain an Exaltation seemed better prospects and fates than this mockery of one he was living. In a prior incarnation, Pasiap, did I do something wrong? Or is the problem utterly my own?

Click to reveal..
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Adelle flowed through the crowd of Princes with a quiet and humble grace, dressed in a white kimono her mother had commissioned for her before she had left the North. Making her way quietly after years of navigating the libraries of the Heptagram was easy; humble was far more difficult each time her name or her face was recognized and she was politely snubbed. Her heritage might be catching, you see. Stop that, she chided herself silently. You've got enough mountains to climb without giving yourself a permanently sour face to overcome as well. She made her rounds, speaking once with each of the most prominent members present to introduce herself and send the well tidings of her mother to them; to the host she also added her thanks for the invitation to attend. No one made comment that she spoke of only one parent; her father's actions stopped just short of legally disowning her and were well past casting her out socially. Polite social noises were made and Adelle sighed just a little in relief at being finished with her mother's business for the evening.

She made her way through the lesser known Dragon-Blooded, made mostly of Exalts near her own age. She would pause near each cluster to see if she would be allowed to join; if so, she would stay for a brief time, long enough to learn names and faces and to take away a tidbit or two of gossip, news, or intrigue. Between forays into socialization, she sampled the various delicacies House Yoshoto had set out for the evening; when her more mercurial peers finally frayed her nerves past redemption for polite conversation, she took a handful of sweetmeats and made for the gardens of the estates where Aravel had been allowed to settle for the evening. Adelle rolled her eyes at the memory of a gardener's protestations that the large bird would eat the orchids.

Orchids! Plants! As if he were some rabbit with wings! The image actually made the young Air Exalt chuckle. A pox on that silly man's orchids. Ah, now, that's not fair. The orchids did nothing wrong. And silliness is usually punishment enough for a man.

Her nerves somewhat restored and her usual pensive manner softened by good humor, Adelle made her way to where her companion was watching the gardens from a high branch. When she held out her handful of treats, large wings beat a breeze through the landscape as the over-sized eagle made his perch on a branch low enough for him to snatch each morsel out of his mistress' palm. He hopped from foot to foot as he gobbled the bits of meat, the very near likeness of a young child being given pieces of candy for the first time. "You're a bit silly, too," she informed him. "But a little bit of silliness just every once in a while, that shouldn't too much harm, I would hope."

She stroked his breast feathers gently after all the sweetmeats were gone and whispered with solemn gravity, "But only every once in a while, Aravel. Else we'll find ourselves as silly as the ones inside, and then what shall we have left to us?"

Dress
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The Daughter of Air nearby was talking softly to the large raptor in the tree, feeding it morsels and stroking it with the fondness reserved for a dear companion. A little way beyond her, the watchful Meles saw another young Dragon-Blood half-slumped on an ornamental bench, the look in his eyes one of relief and misery. The fierce-looking Fire-blooded woman was still on the verandah, having glared into submission the one man who'd approached her, she now took on the attitude of relaxation tinged with wariness, as though awaiting the next interruption to her reverie.

All three were oddly alone in the bustle and noise of the ball, like he himself. Was it through their own choice? Meles thought it likely. They'd sought solace in the garden, even as he had, though their motives for doing so may be as wildly differing as the subjects were in appearance and attitude. He altered his song slightly, playing to them on a whim and tailoring the tune to his target audience.

For the Daughter of Air, the segment of the tune was light, shifting and ethereal. Others would call it frivolous or flighty, but it rose above such earthbound, staid opinions and soared freely as the wind should. The passage he played to the Son of Earth was subdued, but reassuring in it's unwillingness to yield, the strength drawn from roots that went deep into the rock. And for the Daughter of Fire, the song became a proud, almost harshly-beautiful medley, changing form and demanding attention simply by virtue of it's existence.

And all the while the flute player remained unseen, composed and relaxed in the cloak of anonymity provided by the ebb and flow of the music.

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Drapped in a robe that was, with out a doubt, the ugliest and loudest pattern every placed on fabric, Dracian mingled with the Princes of the Earth. With his boisterous laughter and gaudy displays and jovial joke telling, the thief was nothing if not convincing. Through the facade of mirth and carousing the Waterborn was like a chameleon among them, no one ever seeming to suspect that Count Tu-Tehn of Asherta was robbing them blind and had larger plans for the evening.

"...zo I zayz: 'You can try, but I don't think the Yeddim will appreciate it!" Loud laughter burst from one side of the party and several of the more 'distinguished' guests (read: smelly old folks) simply rolled their eyes and wished the gaudy old man would simply go away. Dracian himself was adorned in a large bushy beard, smoked a long stogy and had thousands of jade worth of gold and jade jewelry drapped about his neck, fingers, wrists and ears. With the use of pillows and some basic sewing skills he looked like he was some several hundred pounds heavier than he really was. To someone who knew him, he was completely non-recognizable. After the loud laughing and long drink of (free) wine his laugh died into a chuckled saturated sigh. "Oh, man... I love that story. But seriously though," Even his voice was loud, in a room of people using their polite 'in doors' voices he seemed like he shouted over them all. "That'z why I zend it my zelf now a-dayz. Can't trust the Guild worth a damn in my experience. Zure it costz a bit more, but if the quality of the merchandize zpeakz for itself I can easily make up a the three percent lozz..."

Astoundingly the men and women gathered about him nodded in awe at his sound business logic, while taking a moment to bat away the massive plume of smoke he exhaled into the group. "Ah, if you will all ezcuze me, I findz mi'self in need of some... air."

God I hate these parties. Always something to steal, never time to stop and eat. He waddled like a small over weight man out of the manor and into the gardens. He could hear the music being played and took a moment to take in the few others that were taking the time to gather their courage before rejoining the festivities. Son of a bitch, people... come on! Clear out... I've a third story to climb up to. The frustration set in as his master plan had counted on the gardens, or more to the point, this garden in particular, being empty. As always though, Dracian's plans never quite worked out as he had in mind, it was like he was cursed to improvise his way through life.

With a sigh he took a drag from his overly large cigar, and almost choked -Dracian was not a smoker-. He began meandering about the large ornate porch that led down to the dark gardens below, hoping to find the opportunity to slip away and get his own party started. After several moment of awkwardly leering at the fire aspect's chest (hoping she didn't notice) and another several moments of gawking at the air aspects hind quarters, no new master plan had sprung to his mind. I need a distraction...

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"Well, well." The words were eloquently spoken and sultry as they were practically purred into Jona's ear. The heavy slap on the back on the back of his head suddenly told him that his cousins had found him. "Look who it is, Inoshi. Poor Jona, sitting all alone out here. What's wrong? Is daddy talking with important people and doesn't want the sight of you to cause embarrassment?"

As they came into view from behind him they'd already begun laughing at him. Kujaku was a lovely woman, that was certain and she didn't mind showing everyone at the party just how attractive she was. Her 'gown' was nothing more than a skirt that came just above her knees with a slit up one side all the way to her hip. The neckline plunged into a view that left very little to one imagination. Inoshi was the opposite of his sister. He was clean cut and dressed in a finely pressed kendo-gi and hakama. His twin swords rest firmly at his hip, like a proud warrior of ancient shogunate teachings.

"Now, now, Kujaku. Leave the pathetic skamp to his sulking." The holier-than-thou glare Inoshi gave Jona cut him to the bone. "I'd hate for you to get to close and get whatever it is that's made him such a failure on you."

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Jona was already rising, looking like a rabbit hunted by raptors that had chosen to play with their prey for a little while. Oh, Pasiap, why them? Why them now? "Heh. Why did you come here then?" He tried, and weakly fired back. "After all, if I'm such a failure, why bother getting this close?" The embarrassments never seemed to end, and why couldn't it all end now?

The building pressure would not let up, and desperation to cleave away his weakness... for a moment, he became reckless. "I ask Inoshi, of course. Kujaku would seek out a pig if she thought it comely enough and was in that mood."

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Kujaku's eyes flared with rage at the blatant insult. "What!?!" She reached forward swiftly and grabbed a hold on his collar, pulling him in for a thrashing Jona knew he deserved, in a sense... but this one would be worth it, he smirked inwardly. "You insolent, pathetic little..." She raised her hand back, fist clenched tightly...

...and time seemed to slow to a crawl as the shattering of glass echoed across the garden like millions of chimes jingling all at once in the cool night air. A lone figure rest at the center of the commotion, seemingly suspended in air as everyone's attention suddenly became locked on the third floor stained glass window that was now serving as an improvised exit. Dressed in the typical attire of a trained, professional shinobi, his feet touched down on the tip of the fountain's head in the middle of the garden and wasted no time leaping farther than was mortally possible.

He touched down on the grass as light as feather, running full tilt towards the wall, a sweep of wind and torrent of stirred of dust and grass were left in his wake, signalling the use of a charm. By the time the witnesses had a chance to react and give chase, the man was already over the wall...

You may give chase, obviously. Cornering him and catching in the garden would have been no fun. Each of you have the means to track the guy, Jona is surprisingly agile, Meles is a tracker without peer, Adelle has eyes in the sky, Aeryn is tenacious and won't ever quit the hunt, and Dracian... well... Dracian looks great in a dashiki. That should count for something.

Nothing is writ in stone that says you have to follow. If you do, simply make a roll that is appropriate for the sort of chase you are giving, Awareness for Adelle searching from the sky, Athletics if you are running after him, Survival for tracking... The results of these rolls will be tallied and compared, to see if you, as a team, can pool your resources to locate the thief.

Good luck.

Oh, and the charm was 'Bellows Pumping Stride'. Adelle and Aeryn would recognize the charm and the use of it being geared towards an Air Aspect thief (hence the sweeping winds and whirlwind sprint instead of flaming foot prints in the ground).

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Jona awaited the blow, but then the shattering of the window drew him to the shinobi. Flush with the momentary determination that had prompted him to mock Kujaku (though the wanton slut part was seriously accurate), he saw a chance to do something right for once, some little success there. "Sorry, Kujaku." Jona yanked himself away, with a heedless grin and started off in the direction of the intruder. "I'll bring him to your bedroom later!"

Taunts aside, he was off and for once, the pounding of his feet with the earth felt natural. Over the wall, and then down, he started the first of many stops along the way of the chase. He didn't even need to go that fast, he had a natural talent for observation, and essence infused senses could pick it up.

The little elements of parting guests pushed aside here, the echo of wind there. Jona let his mind find the clues and followed instinctively.

Using His Little Terrestrial Cells
Worked out with permission of Dave:

[Jeremy] 12:46 pm: Dex+Athletics+First Awareness excellency (2 motes-> +4 dice)

Jeremy *rolls* 9d10: 6+1+10+3+7+2+7+4+10

6 sux. :)

Personal Essence: 9/11, Peripheral Essence: 17/17

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Adelle's lips pressed together. It might not be her place, as a guest, to chase the thief, but at least it would be more interesting than the party. And less dangerous. She said her words softly, but with the edge of excitement, "After him, Aravel; be my eyes. He's far more interesting than the peacocks inside."

The great eagle cawed and lifted himself into the air with a few heavy beats of his wings, taking flight after the thief. Adelle followed, wishing propriety and station had made it acceptable for her to wear something more practical than the white kimono she was in. It would probably be ruined by the end of the night. She grinned. Such a pity. She vaulted the wall and landed on the other side just steps behind the Regara Earth-born, already ripping a seam in the dress to move her legs more freely. In her mind's eye, she could see the estate and the city from Aravel's eyes - and the thief.

She grinned ahead at the Ragara boy. "He's going that way," she pointed in the direction that the thief was running. "Aravel's keeping track of him."

Awareness Roll
[Malachite] 2:06 pm: time stamp

Malachite *rolls* 7d10: 10+10+4+3+7+2+2: 38

5 suxx to find/follow the thief through Aravel.

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