Disclaimer: I don't own the Exalted universe or any of the canonical characters from it presented herein. Also, I haven't read Return of the Scarlet Empress, so I'm sure this is nothing like that.
A fun scene from my imagination about breaking up the wedding of the Ebon Dragon.
The following is a fanfiction rendition of a scene as I dream of it happening at the conclusion of an epic-level chronicle. Solar Circle Sorcery, five-dot artifacts, etc. This involves a Solar Circle with some fairly serious Allies. I may have taken one or two liberties with canon but hope I didn't step too far outside it.
Previous epic quests in this campaign would have included a quest to purge the madness of a crazed Lunar (revealed below), to acquire a Crucible of Tarim, to acquire for an Ally knowledge forbidden (or at least strongly discouraged and concealed) by Yu-Shan, and, of course, to sneak into Malfeas, learn the plans of the Ebon Dragon, and free the mind of his intended bride from his mind-fu. Yes, I know, some of it is less than realistic (in particular the survival of the characters). Such is Exalted.
Battle scene soundtrack: "Beast and the Harlot" by Avenged Sevenfold (come on, for the Ebon Dragon's wedding, you can't do any better) :-)
Thoughts always appreciated.
With a rumble like the growling of the Ebon Dragon himself, the gates of the Palace of the Ebon Dragon parted. Scattered gasps arose among the citizens of Malfeas, for few had ever seen those gates fully open. The Ebon Dragon himself had no need of a gate to enter and leave the palace he ordered built for his bride-to-be, and the various Third Circle demons and Infernals under him-the only beings known to enter and leave the infernal manse besides the Ebon Dragon himself-had other means of conveyance that would bring them in by portals on one of the upper floors.
The bridal procession emerged. Those with necks to crane did so, hoping for the first glimpse of the mysterious bride of the Ebon Dragon. They were disappointed. The float that emerged, forged of ebony and soulsteel and shadow and cunning, bore the Green Sun Princes of the Ebon Dragon upon its broad, crescent tongue, which would have been a sight to impress on any other day in Malfeas, but the cabin to the rear of the float, surprisingly small, bore not so much as a slitted window. Indeed, it was smooth, pitch black, and as featureless as the desert of Cecelyne. Those few who turned their eyes to the Ebon Dragon, waiting at the altar constructed in the grand plaza of the Palatine Miscreant, however, could see the shadowed form writhe with excitement.
Once free of the Palace, the procession was joined by hundreds, then thousands, winding along the roads that Jacint had tripled in width just for this occasion. Agyalkae and demnjen, fulope and gyorgike, jazon and katalinae, neomah and gilmyne, and dozens of other forms of Hell's least residents, singing and playing out of tune and rhythm with one another, and dancing to beats that matched none of the musicians. This was to be the greatest party in the history of Malfeas; the fact that they had never seen or met the guest of honor was of no moment.
The procession reached the Palatine. A wide space had been cleared for the float to come to a stop, with a wide, shifting carpet woven of the most beautiful and treacherous dreams gathered by Makarios lining the path from the float to the dais upon which sat the Ebon Dragon's altar. He had insisted upon moving it here, to the widest open space on the highest level of Malfeas, from its place in the shrine where it usually rested. The carpet was lined with the luminaries of Hell: there were the jouten of the Yozis of the Reclamation save for Adorjan, and Kimbery and Isidoros and Szoreny besides. Orabilis was there, near the front, his curiosity burning to the point that wisps of sand wafted off of him like tiny flames; the passenger in that float was one of the few secrets of the universe kept secret even from him. Ligier stood behind the jouten of Malfeas, leaning idly on the Sword of the Yozis; if any wondered why he felt the need to bring the greatest weapon in Malfeas to a wedding, none dared mention it to his face. Jacint was there, taking a rare respite from his labors. In the distance, a great fissure had opened in the side of a building; the demons standing between her and the front of the crowd kept glancing behind them, hoping that Munaxes would not get too excited and try to inch forward. Or too incensed; Munaxes, enemy of all traitors against hierarchy, was no friend of the Ebon Dragon.
The float reached its appointed station and became still. Erymanthoi came forward with a wide set of stairs crafted to reach to the great soulsteel door on the side of the chamber.
"It is time." The Ebon Dragon's voice wrapped around the great plaza like silk. "Come forward, my beautiful betrothed!"
The soulsteel door opened. A jet black curtain yet blocked the view of those with vantage, but this curtain at once began to part. Slowly, beginning with one slender leg, a woman appeared. Tall and regal, with flowing red hair flecked with warm browns and the occasional filament of white, she stood atop the stairs for a moment, surveying the crowds of demons before her with little hint of fear. Her dress, crafted by Makarios, was leather of nightmares and lace of deceit. She balanced, with no apparent effort, on heels of the stings of agatae.
Few in the Demon City recognized her; she had been born long after the Primordial War. Few recognized her, but not none. Here and there among the onlookers, a demon would gasp in stunned recognition, for she had summoned them to serve her in Creation. Octavian, looking over the heads of many, shifted his hands on his great staff of Malfean iron; early in her reign, she had bested him in single combat in the Threshold, just to prove a point to Threshold realms that resisted the growth of her empire.
Manosque Cyan, favored Green Sun Prince of the Ebon Dragon, stepped forward from the other Fiends and positioned herself at the bottom of the stairs. Through art or magic, her voice carried to every onlooker. "Citizens and denizens of Malfeas! The Blessed of Fate, the Sovereign Upon the Highest Mount, the Blademistress of the Sword of Creation, and the Betrothed of the Shadow of All Things-Ista Vivan, the Scarlet Empress!"
Pandemonium reigned for a brief moment, which might have been the greatest compliment to the announcement the assembled masses might have paid the Ebon Dragon. Pandemonium pleased him. Many cheered. Many shouted in disbelief. Few of the greatest souls of the Yozis assembled betrayed any reaction. Ligier's hair flared brighter for a brief moment, then subsided. Orabilis' eyes widened in surprise, and then a maleficent grin spread across his face as he fit the pieces together. Munaxes rumbled in the distance, disquieted.
The Scarlet Empress descended the steps to the Palatine, seemingly unconcerned, though a wicked smile that spoke of secrets and power graced her face. She stepped gracefully down the infernal carpet, neither slow nor hurried, and the Fiends fell in behind her, follwed by akuma of the Ebon Dragon. The jouten of the Yozis gave her varying looks as she passed; Malfeas might have been just a hair too appreciateive for decorum, while She Who Lives in Her Name seemed suspicious, her mind racing to understand the implications of the spectacle unfolding before her. None moved to stand in the Empress' way, however, nor turned to demand an explanation from the Ebon Dragon, hovering serenely before his altar as he watched his betrothed approach.
She took her place beside him, the Fiends taking their places on either side of the couple, bridesmaids and best men at the most macabre marriage in the history of Creation or the realms beyond. Cyan remained at the foot of the dais, serving both as maid of honor and ringbearer.
Even despite the ever-present fear of Adorjan, a hush fell for the briefest of moments before the Ebon Dragon began to speak. The jouten of Cecelyne grimaced; the prospect of being both groom and officiant at his wedding bothered the Ebon Dragon not at all, but the mother of the rites of Hell was not so keen on seeing another taking a place that might have been hers, even though, had they sparred in argument, she would have been forced to concede that she had never written any laws for an occasion such as this.
"Citizens and denizens of Malfeas!" the Shadow of All Things began. "Long we have all waited for this day! Long have each and every one of you assembled waited, though you knew it not, from the lowest slave to the Lord of Malfeas, Malfeas himself! Rejoice with me, as we begin a new life together, not only my lovely bride and myself, but all those who have dreamed of freedom and new beginnings! For that, even more than my own nuptials, are what we celebrate today, and what we shall celebrate today, tomorrow, and forever as the new age begins. Our freedom is nearer at hand than we have dared to dream for uncounted centuries, and our vengeance with it. Cyan, my ring."
From a box of obsidian and yellow jade, Cyan brought forth a blackened gold ring set with an enormous ruby. Invisible might radiated from the ring; it gave off an aura of authority palpable even among the Yozis and Demons of the Third Circle in attendance. Cyan bore it to the Ebon Dragon, who reached out one massive claw to claim it; if its tiny size gave him any trouble in grasping it, there was no sign of it.
"Fate or chance brought you to me, Ista Vivan," he said, in a soft but forceful and impassioned tone, audible to all. "Ten years ago today. It was the most magical moment in all of the endless millennia of my existence. I have enjoyed every moment of our time together since then, enjoyed existince in ways I had forgotten were possible. Yes, I have greatly enjoyed sharing my secrets and my power with you, and despite our differences at first, I have enjoyed watching you come to savor the prizes you sought as well. We have waited for the moment for ten years that have stretched on, at times, longer than the ten millennia before.
"Today, I am proud to seal our pact forever. My power shall be yours, and yours mine. Your destiny is great, and shall draw me where you lead. Where you shall go, so shall I, into sea and flame, into earth and sky, to wood and mire, and even into Creation itself."
Sudden realization dawned on the face of Cecelyne's jouten, as that part of her that was Orabilis locked the last piece of the puzzle into place. The thread of the Scarlet Empress in the Loom of Fate was the mightiest cable of destiny ever attached to a single being; not even any of the Lawgivers of old had had such puissant astrology crafted for and into their very souls, for the mightiest Lawgivers' powers would from time to time shatter all the weavings of the Sidereals, for good or ill. The strength of that cable was enough that it could support even the vast eldritch mass of a Yozi, towing it like a great ship across the void between the worlds. The strength of a marriage vow, regardless of the strength of the one who made it, had power all its own, strength sanctioned by the Unconquered Sun himself, strength to bind one destiny to another in perfect harmony. But ...
Realization, and then white fury, suddenly blanketed the face of the jouten of She Who Lives in Her Name. Only the maker of the vow would benefit from the binding of the destinies-it would be the Ebon Dragon, not Malfeas, the King of the Primordials, who would enjoy the connection to Creation through his bride, and who might even be able to follow her back to Creation, fulfilling his marriage vow to follow where she led. This was not the way that things were supposed to happen. And yet, she could not make herself interrupt-for the Ebon Dragon was mightier than she, broken as she was by her confinement and her last self-destructive act before surrendering to it. And the King of Malfeas gave no sign as yet that he intended to intervene, though whether because he had not yet realized the implications of the Ebon Dragon's revelation or cared not, She Who Lives in Her Name could not yet say.
The Ebon Dragon appeared to have no intention of giving the assembled luminaries time to consider the moment of his words any longer. As the cheers rang out from the multitudes of lesser demons and akuma at his words, he turned to the woman beside him at the altar.
"Ista Vivan," he intoned. "With this ring, I thee wed." His great talons gently slipped the wedding band onto his bride's finger.
A hush fell again, as all of Hell waited for her vow in answer. She stood still. Her hair fell in a warm curtain over her face as she looked down at the ring on her finger. A few demons, out of habit, tried to make some kind of noise, but even they stilled quickly, waiting. Adorjan gave no sign of appearing.
The Scarlet Empress raised her head again and shook her hair back. A smile brighter than any that had been seen in the history of the Demon City spread across her face, and she laughed, a rich, powerful laugh that echoed in the stillness of the plaza.
"Your ring is beautiful, trickster. Here's mine."
A brilliant argent circle blossomed on her forehead, and the Ebon Dragon's eyes reflected the light of Creation's moon shining on him from the face of his bride. Between one human heartbeat and the next, she changed and lunged forward. Cyan and the other two women among the Fiends were thrown back by the sheer size of her expanding form, as suddenly across from the Ebon Dragon was not the lissome figure of the Scarlet Empress, but the long-forgotten primordial behemoth Zalmagor of the Thousand Whips, each of whose thousand tentacles ended in razor-sharp stingers of adamant coated with a different baleful poison.
Two of those tentacles lashed forth at the eyes of the Ebon Dragon at point blank range.
The Ebon Dragon's howl as he closed a shroud of darkness itself to protect himself from the unexpected onslaught echoed throughout the Demon City. The howl galvanized the demonic host, which had until then merely stood, transfixed in disbelief or incomprehension, even after seeing the Lunar caste mark blossom on the forehead of the woman they had all taken to be the Scarlet Empress. Brilliant emerald auras sprang up around the Fiends as they began to activate their battle Charms. Metal sang, and sometimes the voices of sapient weapons, as blades and spears and axes were readied. Erymanthoi howled. Agata took flight. Ligier smiled and raised the Sword of the Yozis, his hair turning to streaming emerald fire.
Cecelyne and She Who Lives in Her Name didn't move. Neither did any of the demons under them.
"Alive! Alive! Take her alive!" the Ebon Dragon howled, now floating above the fray. "And find her allies!" He paused in terrible realization. "My carriage!"
"Took you long enough," said Summer Willow, stepping forth from the cage of soulsteel and deception that had held the Empress safe from prying eyes for so many years-her chariot and cage, proof against all scrying and eldritch vision from without. The light of Ligier reflected golden and untainted from her orichalcum lamellar. Most of the remainder of her circle appeared alongside her: Tepet Geledan, the Elder Spark, his face expressionless but her eyes burning as brightly as the Twilight mark on his forehead; Rock of Ages, his serpent-sting staff already twirling idly in his hands; Aurora Flux, the fire-haired, five-foot Dawn Caste, her legendary daiklaive shining in her hands. Behind them, her anima suddenly burning as the need for stealth dropped away, was Ruby Lightseeker, second-in-command of the Division of Journeys herself, prayer strips floating in the air around her, folding herself into the infinitely complex Prismatic Arrangement of Creation Form. And behind her, in a simple dress of linen that would have made Berengiere sick to look upon, stood the perfect twin of the woman whom the assembled masses had just seen at the altar-the true Scarlet Empress.
Willow's bow still lay slung around her shoulders. In her hands she carried something far more dangerous: a phial of perfect crystal in which white swirls of light shone threateningly.
"Your health, my lord!" Willow raised the glass to the Ebon Dragon as she emerged into full view of all. She popped the cork on the vial, releasing the brew of the Crucible of Tarim.
"Light of Solar Cleansing!" she announced cheerfully.
All Hell broke loose in Hell.
The Demon City itself trembled as the light fell upon towers and roads, arches and temples, searing them like a torrent of magma. Tens, even hundreds of thousands of demons dissolved into streaming trails of light at the touch of the light of the Unconquered Sun's anger. The light burned those Fiends who had rapidly begun to build their power with no thought to their own defense, figuring that the Lunar's attention was fixed on the Ebon Dragon and who had not seen the intruders in the carriage in time. Even many demons of the Second Circle assembled had no defense against the agony, and a few even perished at its touch just as their lesser scions had. The screams of millions of voices brought a wail of fury from Adorjan herself in her distant solitude; never had she heard such a noise since the earth-shaking roaring-and howling-of Malfeas being folded into himself by the victorious Solars.
Shrugging the light aside with a war cry not heard since the Primordial War, Ligier swept forward, the Sword of the Yozis sweeping up as he danced towards the circle his radiance sweeping forward. Ferand likewise, heeling his chariot to a gallop over ground that Willow had just scoured clean of those he would have otherwise needed to trample to reach the fray. Balefule light of red and brown gathered around Orabilis has he prepared infernal sorcery of his own, and sand billowed around him like a cloak in a fierce wind. The Infernal Exalted who survived the Light of Solar Cleansing came forward as well, even those under Cecelyne and She Who Lives in Her Name; there would be time to discuss matters with the Ebon Dragon later, but this invasion was by far the greater crime.
The behemoth Lunar charged to meet Ferand, and he, unable to resist her challenge, roared and spurred his mounts to meet her. Their paths cut off the advance of some of the advancing Infernals, who leapt backward to let the titans clash.
Ligier swept into the fray, and Aurora strode forth to meet him, signaling her friends into position to ward off his onslaught. Their blades clashed in a coruscating vortex of emerald and golden lightnings.
In the chaos, the demonic host could be forgiven for not noticing what the Elder Spark had done since emerging from the float, even as obvious as it was to anyone who chanced to look at it.
"Raksi! Now!" cried the Rock of Ages, reeling from the backslash of the Sword of the Yozis. The Eclipse Caste mark shone on his forehead.
At the last moment before the behemoth and Ferand would have collided, the behemoth broke off its charge and leapt, impossibly high and nimbly for a beast of its size, arching over the lash of Ferand as he tried to twist to keep up, straight over several other Third Circle demons, her form blurring and shrinking as she did so. The redheaded girl who landed in the Chaos-Repelling zone the Elder Spark had just forced into place in the heart of Malfeas looked to be no more than eighteen. She smiled sweetly up at the Ebon Dragon, who had recovered from his surprise and was circling closer in anger.
"Presumptuous," Ligier said flatly, whirling once more with the Sword of the Yozis, the air seeming to come alive with streaks and swirls of emerald fire as he slashed at the circle, his form blurring to strike from all sides in blindingly fast succession.
Aurora met him every time, dancing among her companions with the unbounded speed of sunlight.
It wasn't enough.
Aurora spun right, following an after-image of Ligier, not the real one; in that instant, the Green Sun flashed behind the Scarlet Empress and opened her back with a blinding slash. She stumbled forward to her knees wordlessly.
"Alive, damn you, alive!" the Ebon Dragon's voice roared from above. "Kill the others, but leave her alone! You hear me, Ligier?"
"You watch your jaws!" the jouten of Malfeas snarled in response. "The Green Sun does not show mercy!"
The Empress pushed herself to her feet. She was hurt, but she was not dead. She stood unsteadily for a moment, then turned hateful eyes at the Ebon Dragon, circling ever closer as he detected his prey weakening.
"And I never asked for any!" she growled. "Goodbye, lover. Don't worry. We'll meet again."
"How is she going to ..." Cyan began, looking around for a possible escape route.
"The Harbinger!" Orabilis suddenly shouted. Whatever spell he was preparing was not yet ready to be launched, but he seldom feared losing his concentration even while dividing his attention. "Kill the Harb ... GAAAH!"
His warning cut off because the final member of the Solar circle that had invaded Malfeas, Shadow Lotus, had just leapt up behind him wearing her Coat of the Doomed Winds and slashed him three times in rapid succession along his back. Sand and ichor alike flew from his wounds. Two Infernals near her, stunned that she had been able to get so close undetected even amid the pandemonium, turned and slashed at her; she leapt into the helltech sword of the first, the heel of her boot crushing the baleful violet eye just above the hilt, and sprang again, a hair ahead of the blades of her enemies. She, too, landed in the little island of Creation that the Elder Spark had just created.
Cyan strode forward. She was the only Infernal in place to act immediately on Orabilis' warning. A rain of poisoned throwing knives flashed from her outstretched hand, streaking for Ruby's throat.
Raksi idly caught all of them out of the air.
"GET HER!" the Ebon Dragon howled, suddenly realizing for himself the implication of the tiny pocket of Creation in Malfeas. Not waiting for any of the Infernals or demons present to heed his words, he dove.
"Too late," the Empress smiled. She withdrew a crystal phial of her own from within a simple pocket of her dress, which also glowed with malevolent power within-this time, though, of emerald green.
The stars in the demonic sky suddenly flared bright enough to see even by the light of the Green Sun, and blurred and danced, resolving into patterns that no denizen of Malfeas had ever seen, unless he had been in Creation under an open night sky: the Mast and the Messenger, the Captain and the Ship's Wheel and the Gull. The stars of the Malfean sky were the remnants of scholars who sought forbidden knowledge; today, they heralded its use.
The Empress popped the cap out of her phial from the Crucible of Tarim.
"GREATER SIGN OF MERCURY!" Ruby's voice echoed off the sun-scarred walls and ground of the Palatine.
The orb of emerald fire burst from the Empress' phial a split second before the circle, Raksi, Ruby, and the Empress vanished back into Creation.
The Ebon Dragon snarled and flicked it aside.
By luck or fate, the orb careened straight at the dais and the Ring of the Scarlet Bride, where Raksi had left it on the artificial finger that had fallen from her form as she changed.
"Well, shit, that sucks," Ligier noted, watching all of the remaining Fiends trying futilely to get clear.
It was difficult to tell which was louder, the blast of the Green Sun as the orb of Total Annihilation struck, or the enraged howls of the Ebon Dragon, shaking the sky of Malfeas in agony and defeat.