And the last chapter.
The game kind of underestimates how much impact losing the Score would have on Auldrant.
Also, Jade decided that he wanted to be part of an ancient cult because it would weird people out, and I know better than to argue with the infamous Necromancer when he's that close to cackling. The traditions in there are somewhat continental/British Celtic, Norse, somewhat a mish-mash of North American Indian, and a lot stolen from pre-Gilgamesh Mesopotamia.
Because people invent religions, especially in a world where there really are gods of the elements, and they had to have something before the Order. The delay in posting this was me going, this is too off-base, save it for original, but... sadly, there's a lot of plot intertwined with it, so I'd have to scrap and rewrite half or so of the damn thing and find another way to make the points about alternatives to the Score vs. chaos and so on this lends itself to, not to mention the vastly amused Jade. And his spear. Cackling.
…oh, god. I now have a Discworld crossover in my head. Jade and Granny Weatherwax. I don't think I can write it, the urge to run away it inspires is far too great.
And I need more showing and less telling in this fic. Asch managed to wait to show some of it, but man does he want to gloat.
Repost A/N: Yes, this chapter needs more work.
Later Luke, small again, curled against Asch's side, nudging at Asch's arm until Asch sighed, knowing what Luke was up to, but gave in put his hand into Luke's hair and started scritching. Luke wiggled until he was comfy, then settled. Luke had only really gotten the minimum of physical contact in the manor, and he reallyreally liked all the hugs and stuff children got. Like Master Van patting him on the head and Guy giving him piggy-backs.
Guy sighed, arms folded as he leaned against the wall. "So you're happy with this?"
Luke frowned. "Well, Asch is a bit of a…"
"It's not being sadistic to enjoy seeing people get what's coming to them. You can't tell me you don't enjoy setting things right. It's the same thing, only on the human level. The followers of the Score are punished because of their own wrongness, and those who yearned for freedom prosper. Mostly. There are no guarantees in this world! But it's fair for once, Luke. Who lives and who dies isn't dependant on who has power and access to the Closed Score. It's glorious." Asch closed his eyes, reaching for more.
"He's getting off on it. I didn't know what those words meant until I looked for how describe that." Luke paused, thinking, as the others winced at how wrong it was for a child to use those words. "I suppose… it's not that different from the hymn makes me feel, but…"
"You don't like people being hurt, so you don't understand how Asch could enjoy seeing the wicked punished." When Luke nodded, Van smiled slightly. "You'll understand when you're older."
"What's going on everywhere else?" Sync asked eagerly.
"Oracle Knight HQ and much of the rest of Daath is flooded with slowly cooling lava, parts of Belkend are still on fire after the riots and Sheridan's arming the war machines under construction." when as a conquered vassal state they weren't allowed to have armed landships. They were supposed to have weapons put on them when they arrived in Belkend. "Engave and St. Binah are planting extra fields now that they don't know exactly what the weather and the demand will be for food and medicines will be, as for Grand Chokmah and Keterberg, care to make a guess, Colonel?"
Jade rolled his eyes. "Aside from Peony having a party and commissioning new outfits to force people to wear during it and my sister giving thanks to the other fonon sentiences, not really." Keterberg still had a 'cult' dedicated to the worship of the other fonon sentiences. They produced the weapons of Gnome, Sylph, Undine, and Efreet usually found in the casino, as well as ones on occasion dedicated to manifestations forgotten outside Keterberg, like Yutis' bow and the Celsius Caliber. While the Order of Lorelei was forced to admit the others existed, it considered them unimportant compared to Lorelei. "I suppose it's a good thing I was kept unaware of this. It would have been hard to act innocent enough to stave off a war if I'd known the cause of all this when we entered the city. As it is, starting a war is the last thing on their minds."
"It would be, if they thought they could use it as a way to rally the people and acquire more territory and resources," Van reminded him.
Asch continued his report, not so secretly gloating. "Peony's charismatic enough to keep things mostly calmed down in Grand Chokmah, but the city's still technically under martial law. There haven't been many large disturbances, but it's reassuring the populace that there are troops out there to catch looters and that reduces the urge to get in some preemptive looting. He's also made announcements about the increased production of food in Engave and sent troops down to build houses there. The way he worded the announcements made the most worried about future starvation without the Score move there and try to learn how to grow their own food."
As for Keterberg, "As the High Priestess of Celsius, the Disciple of Everlasting Ice, when the ice started melting your sister was stuck with the choice between resurrecting the traditions of sending young warriors out into the ice to battle Celsius for the right to remain in her land," which was a nice way of describing human sacrifice, "or the sacred marriage in the old form."
"She's been performing the sacred marriage for… Oh, my. Peony is going to be sorry he missed that." Jade clearly wasn't. This was his sister, after all, who would be doing a certain thing in public so that the people could see that her choice was indeed able to please the Ice Queen as tradition demanded.
"Since her husband's dead, the current ruler of Keter is a rather handsome young camping trip leader and escort who actually does resemble Peony."
"Your sister put a prostitute in charge of her city?" Sync stared at Jade.
"Oh, he's the King, of course, but he wouldn't bother to lower himself to deal with 'women's work' like, oh, everything that actually matters. The King's duty is to guard his people against attack and placate Celsius by providing what her High Priestess commands. In other words, shopping." And raiding, but that was the old days. Jade did some counting. If he wasn't there for the Midwinter Festival she'd kill him, but luckily the Priest of Efreet's duties were relatively light. He'd adored being able to run around wearing a mask and attempt to set fire to things as a child. Theoretically he was allowed to burn down anything he wanted, and although he'd been reasonably kept in check it had been a wonderful opportunity to test the combustibility of certain constructions.
In a place so reliant on flame for heat the risk of fire was great. People who didn't build with that in mind deserved the wrath of Efreet.
Also, this was going to have to be handled well, otherwise the Sacred Marriage being performed with anyone but Peony would be seen as a sign of rebellion. It had technically been illegal since Malkuth conquered the land, not that anyone had actually paid attention to that. If Peony was informed before his advisors could object, however, he'd be on the next ship to Keterberg.
Really, asking the High Priestess of Celsius, the true ruler of the Keter Tribe no matter who outlanders thought was running the place, to leave the land of the Disciple of Ice? Peony had been willing to abandon his own throne for her, but Peony hadn't though he would ever become emperor and had no commitment to Malkuth at that age.
It wasn't that Jade himself believed that Celsius or the others actually did all that much (except not crushing the city beneath a glacier, that itself was significant), but, well, he got to run around setting fire to things. The Order of Lorelei had said at one point that the Sacred Marriage and sacrifices weren't necessary because Keterberg wouldn't be drowned in snow according to the Score. The current High Priestess had thanked them for the confirmation that the Keter tribe's continued efforts to deter her wrath would be so successful.
Oh, dear. "Where's Dist?"
"That's what your sister would like to know."
"Dist should be on the Island of Feres." Why would Jade inquire about his ex-friend?
"Dist, Saphir Gneiss," the Silver Child, "is the current Priest of Gnome. Normally no one cares since we're too far north to farm," which was why Nephry had been able to let Dist keep his title out of pity despite joining the Order (of all things!), "but in this sort of situation if he's not there for his festival she's going to have to send the Priestesses of Sylph after him. Otherwise they'll go on their own."
One of those priestesses was Jade's aunt, and before the true nature of his monstrosity was known they'd thought he'd merely inherited her temperament. It hadn't seemed 'merely' at the time. "Or me, I suppose, since Great-Aunt Beryl is bedridden and the others have responsibilities." Like blessing all those new fishing boats, meditating in the Sacred Cave, and so on. "And there's only one way to make up for a failed festival. Normally no one would contemplate it, but with matters as unstable as they are now I'd wager no one would want to take any chances."
Okay, Asch wouldn't wish that even on Dist. "In other words, send one of Arietta's monsters to tell Dist to get himself over to Keterberg before the end of the next month or he's going to end up buried alive for high treason."
"Seriously?" Guy couldn't believe it.
Maybe the dirt would force Dist to shut up for once? No, really, there was too much chance that it wouldn't and he'd have a chattery ghost on his hands."The continent of Sylvana is not a kindly place for those who fail to take the proper precautions. And with the Order's tendency to conceal Scores of death except when it suited it and the often imprecise language, the Score has never been regarded as worth gambling on. Not by we natives, at least."
Jade turned to the bed. "No offense to Lorelei, of course. Although since it appears that the Order was actually correct about you being male we're going to have to replace Priestess Coral. Shame, she's a lovely girl." And five years old at the moment, since the tradition was that the next child of the right gender born after the last priest or priestess died was their heir. "In fact, now that the Score is gone…" Jade's eyes widened. "Nephry married the governor because the Score dictated she would, and to disregard it would have... Peony wanted to run away with her, but neither of them could abandon their peoples. She's the first of the Keter tribe's shaman clan to have actually held a position of power openly since the conquest. If… If the Score is gone, then…"
"She's waiting for you to come home and set fire to the Order's chapel."
The one thing he hadn't been able to touch. Even the casino, if he'd wanted, but to so disrespect the Order would draw Oracle Knights down on them. "Now wouldn't that be a nice wedding present."
"I had no idea the traditions that Daath attempted to stamp out were still so respected in Keterberg." It was a pleasant surprise, something Van would never have known if he'd destroyed this world, that there were people who did not follow the Score alone. "Dist never mentioned it."
"Of course not. It's illegal, and since we're a tourist city we're constantly flooded with pious visitors poking around the place. Quaint local customs and festivals are one thing. A religious tradition with records going back before Lorelei's existence was discovered is another. Not to mention that Malkuth has no idea copies of Keter's original laws still remain. Dist might be an idiot but he's not a traitor. Even Peony doesn't know." Jade had never even told Professor Nebilim, and that was saying something.
"I have a priestess?" A little girl who would grow up learning traditional medicine and singing at festivals was very different from the Order's fanatics.
"And a High Priest, if Fon Master Ion is legitimate." Which was up to Luke, of course. "If you decide you don't want her representing you then she's not your representative."
Luke had to look back sixteen hundred years to see what Keterberg did when a sentience wouldn't accept any priests. "You actually used fonic artes to set fire to every house and tree on the continent?"
"Efreet is hard to placate, and they were catching fire on their own in any case." Jade explained it to the others, "The current priest of Efreet was assassinated by… actually, one of the former holders of your position, Asch, because he managed to survive the event that should have killed him on schedule and he was threatening to live out the year. In fact, he was dying in any case, mortally wounded in the original pirate attack, but he had sworn to jump into the flames during Efreet's festival if Efreet helped him survive the attack itself to in order warn the rest of the clan and get his family out alive."
Efreet's intervention was the only reason he survived the attack but that meant he was sustained by the force of fire and so healing artes did nothing for him: a dead man who still walked. "Since he was unable to keep this bargain and we couldn't punish Daath for the insult to Efreet since the entire world would have gone to war with us, Efreet was rather put out. No fires that anyone set would stay burning, fires would spring up out of nowhere where we didn't want them… Essentially, it was reclaim Efreet's holy land from those blasphemers or create him a new holy land temporarily. You did say that Daath had been flooded by lava, yes?"
Jade nodded thoughtfully. "You know, I might start to actually have some regard for my personal deity if he keeps that up."
"Is Efreet why you have those red eyes?" Sync had noted them. "I've never heard of anyone pulling that off without them exploding."
Jade snorted. "I have fifth-fonon enhanced eyes instead of third because they're more intimidating, not because I don't have to worry about them. If I were to trust in Efreet to protect me from his fonon I would deserve my imminent death. Those who take fire lightly will get burned." Jade tapped his glasses. "These are what keep them in check. Most of the priests of this fonon are eventually killed by it, either in firefighting efforts or stupid mistakes. The Keter tribe has sworn certain oaths. As long as we keep them, we have somewhat of a safety net, unless they feel capricious or that they're being taken for granted. However, if we violate them, as not burning Daath to the ground violated the oath to Efreet, then the disasters the sentiences have averted will come upon us." All at once.
"Are you talking about pacts?" Van inquired.
"We wish. I'm talking about bribery. You have to kill a fonon sentience to…" Jade paused.
Luke opened his eyes and waved a small hand at Jade. "I came back to life, see?"
"Wait, what? You killed Luke?" Guy demanded of Asch.
"I asked him to, Guy, and if he hadn't the Score said that I would die before the end of the year."
Guy was still not happy.
"I thought that I was Lorelei's avatar and that Luke would have to kill me. We're lucky I realized that it was the other way around in time."
Luke's eyes widened. "I couldn't have killed you!"
"I know." Asch patted the kid on the head, then went back to scratching. If he didn't know better, he'd think that Dist had gotten his replica data mixed up with a puppy's or something. "Moving on, the tribes of the Zao desert are fighting for control of the Oasis and a coalition sent a raiding party into Chesedonia. They were driven off by the combined Malkuth-Kimlascan-Order forces, but since no one knows what's going to happen they're not that eager to travel and people have started hoarding food. Sheridan seized the port and is dusting off the plans for the old fontech fishing fleet it had before it was prohibited from having ships other than those it was constructing for whoever ruled it at the time. They've also ramped up their desalination capacity and are looking into what will grow well in high temperatures with sandy soil, as well as sending out hunting parties, but if they can't get that airship they're working on operational and Engave won't sell them produce the talk about how nice it would be to loot and pillage Daath and Belkend might become an actual option."
"How is Yulia City holding up?" Its fanatics could be a problem, Van knew.
"Van, I'm sorry to tell you this, but your grandfather was lynched." No, neither was sorry at all. Teodoro had knowingly helped bring about Hod. "They don't know how to work the fontech that keeps the city running. The Score told them what buttons to press and so on every day. The purpose of their enclave's existence for the past two thousand years is gone and the city is falling apart around them. There are several factions: one wants to sit tight and trust in the Score, another blames the people of the Outer Lands for what happened and wants to punish us, and they've had a high suicide rate. Neither Luke nor I knows the first thing about fontech, and neither does anyone else when it comes to Yulia City, so I have no way of knowing whether that place will fall apart tomorrow or never. I can go back and look at what the people building it knew, but no one kept track of what exactly broke so that's no help. Also, no one's sending them supplies anymore."
"And Baticul is running low on supplies and space but does have a rather impressive army just standing around waiting to go to war." While Peony's efforts to keep Malkuth fed would make it an attractive target. That, Jade knew, wasn't a good combination.
"Actually, Duke Fabre took most of his troops home with him. King Ingobert let him, since at the time keeping the Fon Machine Laboratory intact was vital. He's hanging onto control solely because of those troops since he's spent most of his life in Baticul and he's not all that trusted by the natives. I doubt he'll be returning them anytime soon." Asch smirked. "And while our uncle was closeted with Mohs Natalia stole most of his army right out from under him. If we'd come in through Baticul Port you would have seen a rather impressive new city under construction, although she's still looking into getting the water out of Baticul as that would be far more defensible and she's heard all that nonsense about Malkuth wanting to invade."
"So that's why there were all those tree stumps! I thought they couldn't have been logged more than a week or so ago!" Anise was always right.
"Yes, they're building temporary dormitories. At the moment, there isn't enough space for all of the refugees, so she first made room for children and the infirm and then started letting the able-bodied move in with partitioned areas for their families provided they worked in exchange for the room and board. She's not selling space in them since if they have money they have more chance of being able to rent a room." To share with other families: Baticul was packed. "The problem is that while a house good enough to withstand this climate can be put together relatively quickly food takes time to grow. Since so much of Kimlasca's food comes from Malkuth we have extensive granaries that were filled in preparation for the war. King Ingobert gave Natalia permission to access some of them, but if the food in them runs out and Ingobert won't release the rest Natalia has already decided that she'd rather pull a coup de etat and imprison him in his quarters than let her father be murdered by his own populace." That was Asch's cousin and Largo's daughter for you.
"And I have a cult in Akzeriuth," Luke reported. "They think that the Score's fonstones disappearing at the same time as the miasma means that Lorelei intervened to save the city from its fate, which is kind of true, actually. They've ramped up production and are sending farming implements and so on to Engave as fast as they can."
"Hmm. I can't see Peony rejecting Sheridan's offer of alliance. They were a part of Malkuth until just recently. The sacred marriage would keep Keterberg part of Malkuth for the moment, but according to tradition the king of Keter is whoever the High Priestess of Celsius finds worthy to share her bed at the moment, and Peony gaining legitimacy by marrying Nephry would merely enforce that tradition, although it would make the next emperor of Malkuth part of the Shaman Clan," Jade mused. "The direct line, in fact. It's going to be fascinating to see how that plays out."
"You mean that if your sister decides to keep her boytoy Keterberg will secede from the Empire?" Sync was stunned by the entire concept.
"Yes, you're right, I should probably advise Peony to bring some nice gifts. In the old-old days we didn't have taxes, we had the presents the Clan Heads and other competitors tried to woo the High Priestess with." Everyone stared at Jade. "What? Daath demanded tithes to read the Score and the pact demanded obedience from the world and Lorelei. On the other hand, the priests, and the gods, of Keter took bribes. I may be an officer of the law, but I personally prefer a system where bribery is optional to legalized highway robbery. If they couldn't make enough money to buy expensive gifts then they had no business thinking they had enough skill to lead the entire tribe into battle." Or, really, steal expensive gifts. Keterberg had once been notorious for piracy.
Asch thought about that. "What would the going rate be for getting all that water out of Baticul?"
Jade raised an eyebrow. "Sadly, they don't bargain. You present an offering and they decide if they like you enough or not. If the price you offer is insultingly low they're not going to be that pleased. Not to mention that we've been honoring Undine for several thousand years now and she likes us. Natalia would probably have to bring something rather special to the table for her to even consider listening to someone who spent her life following the Score and then attempted to find someone else when the going got tough. Undine is the goddess of the sea, and she's just as deadly if taken lightly as Celsius. Spring a leak because you didn't check the calking well enough, and not all the flattery in the world will save you. You know, for someone who worked to destroy the Score you seem to display an awful lot of that 'do what the Score tells you' or 'please the gods' and you'll be taken care of attitude that led to all this. The fonon sentiences are forces of nature. Think about that."
Luke looked alarmed. "Undine says that if humanity tries to turn her into a servant the way they did Lorelei she'll send tsunamis to wipe out all the ports and work her way inland from there." She would, she really would. The other sentiences weren't all that nice.
"What's a tsunami?" Sync liked things that sounded like mass destruction.
Jade shrugged. "I've never heard even that word before."
"A really, really big wave. There haven't been any since the sephiroth were raised," Luke explained.
"Yes, that sounds like Undine." Oh, my: if they had just been freed of the Score's control… "What kind of mood are they in, if I may ask?"
"It might have been a mistake to give weather control back to Sylph. Apparently the Planet Storm really puts a lot of stress on the system, and since she is that system she's getting rid of it. We might have to shut it down, or else we're going to be having lots of tornadoes. And we'd need to lower the sephiroth before shutting it down… Thank goodness the miasma's gone" Man, he had a lot of stuff to deal with. "They're celebrating, but it's not going to be much fun for anyone else." Luke looked down. He felt bad that he couldn't do anything about them, but he wasn't supposed to. That way lay the Score.
"A lot of things are going to happen very, very fast," Jade mused, smiling just slightly. "We are living in interesting times."
Ion sighed, his first sound since the conversation had begun.
Sync turned to look at him, also for the first time since the conversation began and their nature as replicas had been revealed. "What are you whining about?"
"I don't think there's anything I can do."
"That's not true, Ion!"
"Anise, I'm two. I don't have enough experience to plan things and I don't know how to do anything but pretend to be the Fon Master. I thought I could use that to make peace, but no one will listen to the Fon Master now, at least no one that I want to listen. I can't even use the Daathic Fonic Artes without dying. I'm useless." And useless replicas were destroyed.
"You were always useless for everything but opening the Daathic Seals," Sync corrected him. "But yeah, you're really useless now, huh."
"Why, you…" Anise advanced on him threateningly.
"Ion, don't be an idiot. You're alive, you're smarter than most of the forty year olds out there running around like chickens with their heads cut off, you learn quickly, and Luke strengthened both of you so you could roast a dozen people with one arte the way your original did if you felt like it. You're not useless."
The replica blinked at Asch, reminding him of Luke. "…Really?"
Asch rolled his eyes. "Yes, really."
"Luke, thank you." Thank you so much.
"You're my friend, Ion." I couldn't just let you die.
Sync was putting together the ability to use Daath's secret high-powered artes with impunity and the advancing Anise and liking the sum.
"Sync, stand down."
Stupid Van. Oh well, he could probably try them out when he went to go admire the ruins of Daath and make them even more ruined.
Jade ignored the byplay. Alright, he had to set up some sort of peace/noninterference agreement with Natalia, figure out the fastest way to Grand Chokmah to inform Peony of all this, get to Keterberg and inform Nephry, get back to Grand Chokmah and give Peony some lessons in the traditional approach to this so he wouldn't get run out of town automatically for being a foreigner (the applicant had to actually be accepted by the High Priestess as a candidate before becoming off-limits: killing the competition wasn't unheard of in the old days), and not die, because if Undine and Sylph had been let out to play this was not the safest time to travel. Also, if possible, inform Sheridan of Belkend's weakened state. He might be trying to make peace with Natalia, but if two Kimlascan cities attacked each other it certainly wasn't Malkuth's responsibility.
He was able to get along reasonably well with Luke and Asch, and thus was in on the ground floor, but he had better make himself scarce. He had a tendency to manipulate and that would not be appreciated. The last thing they needed was Asch taking offense to Jade's attempts to control those around him, including (but not limited to, although Asch wouldn't see it that way) Luke.
The Score's disappearance had destroyed the very foundation of modern Auldrant. When the dust settled it would be a whole new world.
"Interesting times indeed…"