All came from Her
All will return to Her
Mother to all
Her first children she brought forth,
The sea of potential
The stone that supports all
The flame who heats the forge
The seed that shadows life
The forgotten breath who no longer has a name
Existence did they birth
Creation they carved for Her
From sea to seed
From fire to breath
around the stone they built all
Her love for them knew no bounds,
for the gift they wrought for Her
but surely as life was sprung from nothing,
did nothingness give birth to life
And the darkness they cast,
fell on the first
So the mother knew sorrow
Turning to Her second children,
they cast down the first
But only at the cost of breaking the name of breath,
was this victory allowed
Only through more of Her sorrow,
was Creation saved from unmaking
The great Celestine of the Sun cast its morning glow on the majesty of the Imperial City. The capital of the Realm and center of Creation spread to a bursting level, barely contained in its thick and towering walls of granite. The city's structures rose higher and higher for the lack of space, with each trying to outdo the other in an opulent game to cast rival generations of architecture into obscurity. A full third of this metropolis was taken up by the Imperial Palace, the axis of the axis and location of the Scarlet Throne - the seat of the savior of Creation and mother to the modern world, the eternal Empress. However, it was common knowledge that the grand monarch was gone. Dead or merely watching from the shadows, the Empress no longer reigned; and her descendants, the eleven great houses of the Dynasty, poorly attempted to fill her void within the immense wings of the edifice - each a palace onto themselves.
Even in the labyrinth streets of the capital's main market, the Empyrean Bazaar, where the heavens were often choked by the city's skyline, the bastion of the Scarlet Empire was still visible. Kylene was awed by its make-up of sacred Jade and other rare and precious materials. The child had been born in the Imperial City, able to see the palace everyday from her family's store of leather bags and holders, and she still found it stunning. She wondered what it would be like to be one of the Dynasts, to have the blood of the Elemental Dragons coursing through her veins, able to call on the power of Creation's five elements. She had seen their glowing animas when the Legions went on parade. Their highborn officers let their inner power shine in hues of fiery red, deep sea black, stormy blue, arboreal emerald, and marble white. Their armor and weapons of Jade matched their corresponding element. Kylene was simply marveled by their beauty and might, wishing she was one, and not just a citizen, not just a daughter of a leather worker; and having to fret over the variety of animal hide quality or all the official Imperial measurements, making sure she memorized the exact length of a Dragon's finger or arm. It was just boring in comparison.
"I see you like the Palace, child." A gentle, feminine voice interrupted her view-taking.
Kylene swung around, taken back by the presence of a female monk. The clergywoman was dressed in the humble robes of the Immaculate Order, her head shaved to stubble, holding a simple staff. The most striking thing about the monk, was her gray eyes, very light, almost white. Minding her manners, Kylene cast down her sight, bowing to the Immaculate.
"Raise your eyes, child," she requested, and Kylene obeyed. "I've seen you looking at the Imperial Palace for nearly a Sun-Movement, what awes you so?"
Without thinking, she answered truthfully, "I love the Palace, it's so beautiful, like the Dragon Blooded. I wish I was one, so I could live there." Her eyes went wide with her admitted sin. It was not a mortals place to yearn for what was not theirs, but to accept their station and live that life to the fullest. "Oh, I didn't mean it...I'm happy as a leather worker's daughter. Please don't tell my mom what I said, please..."
The monk laughed. "Don't fret, child. I see you realize your mistake," and patted Kylene on her head of long ebony hair.
The child smiled. "Oh, thank you, Immaculate One. I know we should accept our life's role, and if we do, we'll be reborn into a higher station, and eventually into one of the Exalted."
"Yes indeed, you are a wise child. What's your name?"
"My name is Ivory Eye. And you said you were a leather worker's daughter, correct?"
"Yes. I'll be a leather worker just like my mom, and her mom before her and so on. We make the best leather bags, even the legions buy from us. I remember when I was real small, a slave of House...House Mnemon came and bought a satchel from us too!"
Ivory Eye smiled, it was a very comforting and trusting smile. "That sounds like something to be very proud of Kylene. You should be very glad of that. Many would wish to be where you are, like you wish to be of the Chosen."
Kylene glanced down into the dirty street of the Bazaar, hiding her shame. "I know...My mom says so too. She even warns me if I keep wishing, an Anathema will come and eat my soul, and then take over my body, like in all those stories everyone's talking about." She looked back up at the Immaculate, fear replacing her guilt. From her parents table, to passing customers and other merchants, there were tales and rumors of the demons who wrapped themselves in the false light of the Sun; people were always afraid of the Anathema coming, but it was like they were everywhere now, more than old scary stories. "I heard about this one Anathema, who goes around, summoning a big spear from thin air to kill people; and then there's this other Anathema, who took over this hunter from Thorns...and did you hear about the Dynast's daughter who was even possessed..."
Ivory Eye silenced the child. Despite looking very concerned, she tried to bury it with another of her smiles. "Yes Kylene, there are many stories of the Anathema these days, but you are at the center of the Realm. You are safe here."
"But what about the Dynast's daughter? And the Anathema that appeared when my grandmother was my age, the one the Empress killed herself? What if one comes here, how would I know?" The child's voice filled ever more with panic.
The monk leaned down on one knee, taking Kylene's shoulder. "You can tell an Anathema by their glow, a golden mockery of the blessed Dragon Blooded's own anima."
"Don't they have marks on their head too?'
"Yes, see I told you, you are wise Kylene. Do you know what they are?"
Kylene shook her head no.
"That's okay," Ivory Eye replied. "I will tell you. The Anathema have five castes, each with a purpose of enslavement they used to terrorize our ancestors. They are all circles. The first is a ring surrounded by spokes, resembling Sunrays; they glow like a bloody dawn, and they are the Forsaken, the Anathema's arch warriors and enforcers. Then there are those whose ring is full, a solid disk, ridiculing the Sun's zenith; they would look down on us, preaching a false faith, so they are the Blasphemous. The third caste were the Unclean, who made pacts with fell things that dwell in twilight's shadows; their mark is half filled ring. And the Wretched, they really showed their falsehood, for no being of the Sun would dwell in the night like these Anathema; they could control the shadows, stalking those who would even whisper against the demon's rule, and even innocents. And the final manifestation of these foul beings are those represented by that unholy joining of the Sun and Moon."
"The eclipses?" Kylene had seen them, the first one appearing when she was very young. No one living had viewed one before, the Moon blocking the Sun's light. It created much terror and riots. She remembered hiding with her family in their cellar, everyone afraid.
The monk continued, "Yes, these ones are called the Deceivers; and their ring has a dot within, shaped like that twisting of the celestial pathways, like they twisted their words to enslave mortals and spirits alike with unfair oaths, killing those who refused. Those are the five castes of the demons who once ruled Creation."
Kylene then happily exclaimed, "Until the Immaculate Dragons came, and led the Dragon Blooded to overthrow them, right?"
Ivory Eye patted her head again. "Yes, the avatars of the Elemental Dragons, who led the true champions of Creation against these mockeries. They were no match against the might of all five Dragons united. Even their mates, the Moon-beasts abandoned them."
Kylene remembered the Moon-beasts. They were another kind of Anathema who falsely claimed power from the Moon instead of the Sun, becoming a vile mix of human and animal. They lived at the edge lands, where Creation bordered the chaos of the Wyld, dwelling with twisted savages and their own beastfolk offspring.
The Immaculate went on with her teaching, "And the Dragon Blooded slew them all, showed the falsehood of their god, and brought liberty for all humanity. Sometimes they try and return, like in the stories you hear, but they are known for the vile beings they are and slain."
The child bit her lip, still afraid. "But there's so many stories of them now, and the Empress is gone."
"I know Kylene. But the Empress might be watching. She has guided us for over seven-and-half centuries, and in that time has disappeared before to test her subjects' faith. And the rest of the Dynasty remains." Her words grew hollow though, as if she was trying to believe them, "The Empress was never alone in her struggles, even without her, we still have the rest of the Exalted to protect us."
"So you really think she will return," hope filling her, "like when the Contagion came and killed almost everyone, and the Fae invaded from the Wyld? She'll return and beat back the Anathema?" It was the story of the Realm, after the great plague destroyed the Shogunate of the Old Realm, the Empress united the surviving Dragon Blooded to form the Scarlet Empire. Which from it's heartland of the Blessed Isle, where the Elemental Pole of Earth stood in the form of the Imperial Mountain, stretching tail-lengths into the sky, the Realm ruled over the icy lands of the North that were forever cooled by the winds blowing off the Pole of Air; struggled for dominance beneath the forests of the East that were made abundant by the vibrancy of the Pole of Wood; oversaw the harsh deserts of the South who's sands were seared by the Pole of Fire; and even patrolled the distant Western Isles that bobbed on the endless oceans formed from the Pole of Water.
Ivory Eye grew a little sad, "I hope. I really do."
The pair were disturbed as Kylene's mother called for her. The Immaculate told her to go off then, with the Dragons' blessings, adding for her not to be afraid. Despite her kind face and trusting smile, and even as young as she was, Kylene could see Ivory Eye wasn't convinced of her own words.