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Lin (Book One, Chapter 3)

You sit in a cell made of dismal grey stone, with only a straw-stuffed pillow to sit upon. A porridge sits in the bowl in front of you, uneaten and congealing. The door to your cell is crafted of pure blue glass, and the light it lets in casts the entire chamber into an azure pall. Outside of that door is a cobblestoned courtyard, round in shape, which holds four other cells just like yours. They are empty, however.

It is the sixth day you have been in here, waiting. But, as the two Dragon-Blooded soldiers step up to the door outside, you know that the time is at hand. Now is the time when you stand before the Deliberative of Creation, and hear your crimes spoken aloud to the Exalted Host.

They lead you to a servant hall, to have you shaved, bathed and clothed appropriately. You are not given the proper robes of a member of the Deliberative – those robes are yours by right, as one of the Solar Exalted. Your Exalted soul grants you a seat on the Deliberative, quite literally – everyone who has ever bourn your Exaltation has sat there, in fact.

But not today. You come before the Deliberative without the seals of your position, or the orichalcum that is yours by birthright. You come before the Deliberative stripped of your honor and position, because you come before them as a traitor to Creation.

In short order, you stand in the grand chamber. It is massive. The bottom row of seats are marked with the astrological signs of the Maidens – these one hundred seats are set aside for the Chosen of the Maidens, the Five Score Fellowship, the Sidereal Exalted.

Above them are the alternating seats, set in pairs. Each pair is marked with one symbol in orichalcum and another in moonsilver. These pairs are for the Solar Exalted and their Lunar mates and companions. Three hundred pairs in all.

Most of the seven hundred seats of the Deliberative are filled, and you see the faces of friends and rivals alike here. You wonder who will be called to address the Deliberative, and you shudder inwardly as the Hierophant rises.

The Hierophant of the Solar Exalted.

Foremost among the Zenith Caste, it is he who holds the ear of the Unconquered Sun. All prayers of the Solars wind their way to the Unconquered Sun’s household. All prayers of the Zenith priests wind their way to the Unconquered Sun’s ear. But only the Hierophant himself hears the Unconquered Sun’s responses directly. Only he holds forth in true communion with Sol Invictus.

And now, he steps forward to act as your accuser.

“The Sacred Archives,” he says, and his speaking voice is powerful and moving. Even though you know to expect it, some part of your soul thrills to hear him speak. Suddenly, a deep part of your being wishes to consider the Sacred Archives as the most important thing in all the world, merely because he spoke of them.

“The Sacred Archives hold this man’s name and title. I should know – I myself called for their entry into those hallowed pages,” he says, turning to address the Deliberative. You watch as they lean forward, intent on catching every word he speaks. “In its pages is writ: Kodushan Rel, known as the Father of Iron Torments. Let Creation and Heaven always praise Kodushan Rel for his vigilant defense of Creation against the Outer Madnesses of the Wyld Places.”

He waits while everyone present mutters and whispers. Accusing looks shoot across the Deliberative floor at you, and you cannot help but drop your eyes. The pride you felt on the day the Hierophant himself demanded that your name be added to the Sacred Archives returns now to sting you in deep shame.

“It is with deep shame that I call for those words to now be stricken from the Sacred Archive.”

The Deliberative gasps, and the whispering starts anew. It is unheard of for anything to be stricken from the Sacred Archives – at worst, there have been other entries appended to previous ones. But stricken out?

“Know that Kodushan Rel stands accused of deepest treachery against the Deliberative, against the Realm, and against Creation and Heaven itself. Where he once served us in the elimination of threats from the Fair Folk who wait to unravel Creation beyond its borders, evidence has come to light that he has not only come to peaceful accord with them, but has actively sabotaged Deliberative attempts to cull the threat they pose.”

The Deliberative went silent with shock. You glance up and find the faces of the rest of your Circle. Hate lies in their eyes, and betrayal and other complex emotions beside. Though you do not wish to, you can’t help but look into the face of Omaris, your Lunar mate.

He sits, his back proudly erect, but even his pride cannot keep the tears from coursing down his face.

“What say you?” The Hierophant’s voice is like steel, piercing your belly. You glance at him and open your mouth. You pause, look to Omaris once more, and then speak.

“My shame is obvious to all. I am sorry not merely for what I have done, but for the necessity of having done it.

“Once, I was highly regarded. Lauded for my work. In the century and a half following my Exaltation, my work was well-received. In time, though, my success was assumed. Who among you took note of what I could do? I meted out justice with an artist’s hand and iron-tipped arrows.

“Do you remember the Child-Taker, who stole away children? When I captured him, I remade his body into that of a child, and left him an orphan on the streets of Meru. He is there still.

“Do you remember the Lord of Ten Thousand Lions, who hunted the plains of the South with his lion armies that ravaged the towns there? I bred a pride of lions to obey only the Solar Exalted, and those lions had iron teeth, and hunted him down with them.

“Do you remember the Righteous Uprising Preacher, who spoke to the people and corrupted them into thinking we were tyrants who needed to be thrown down? I raised a great mob and armed them with iron and he died at their hands.

“I have done more than merely protect Creation from the Fair Folk – I have meted out their punishments with justice and irony. But who noticed? I shall tell you who noticed – they did.”

The Deliberative sat in stunned silence.

“When I came to kill the Seductress of Promised Tomorrows, who seduced even the Exalted and ate their souls as they sported abed, I knew how I was going to accomplish it. I was going to seduce her, and kill her with iron while we shared her bed. But something I could never have expected occurred.

“She knew she hadn’t seduced me. Quite the contrary – in a fury of adoration, she confessed to me that I had quite a following among the Fair Folk. They adored my art, the cleverness of my kills, the vicious irony of my justice. They loved me, she said – she loved me, she said. She confessed that she’d sought to lure me to her bed, for one purpose alone.

“She hoped that I might kill her.”

This, of course, set the Deliberative to buzzing. You raise your voice above the noise.

“Don’t any of you understand? They loved and adored me for my work, despite being the ones who suffered the most. You took me for granted, while they anxiously sought any piece of news about my latest successes, because they loved what I did.

“How could I not be won over by them? How could I turn away from their passion, their adoration, their simple appreciation of what I did, in the face of you, who are cold and dispassionate and disregarding. Creation is for the living, we say, but who is more alive than those who feel with such deep emotional intensity that they could fall in love with someone whose existence is based around killing them, simply because of the beauty of what I do?

“The Hierophant would say that I was used by them. I freely admit to giving them word when the Deliberative had discovered their whereabouts, so that they might escape. I freely admit to helping them find places to hide, and of helping them cross into Creation. Indeed, I freely admit to fighting other Solar Exalted in order to keep them from being destroyed.

“You may say that they used me. But I tell you this – I let myself be used. I gave myself to them, because their love of me proves that they are worthiest of my service. When in their company, I feel alive again.”

The outcry was uproarious and terrible. Many drew their weapons on the spot, demanding to kill him themselves, but others – passionate and charismatic – argued against it, saying that you must have been wholly enspelled by the Fair Folk and at least you should be imprisoned and interrogated.

Chaos broke out. Beautiful, passionate chaos that warmed your soul, to see the glimpse of the passionate creatures that the Exalted could be. If they only knew how like the Fair Folk they were in that fashion.

The gathering dissolved as the Hierophant and his followers were forced to escort you out of the room, to prevent hot-headed Exalts from attempting to kill you on the spot. Instead, it was ruled that you should be taken to the Adamant Citadel, to await the final decisions of the Deliberative.

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