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Sapphire Veil & Crimson Slate (Book One, Chapter 4)

The massive citadel floats above the Yellow River, hovering in place as though it were supported by unseen pillars. It is a marvel of First Age craftsmanship, even to your eyes, you who have been among the Exalted for several lifetimes now. The citadel is shaped like a massive brilliant-cut diamond – indeed, it almost looks like one, too. Its upper surface is crafted of sleek admant, faceted to reflect light and Essence attacks. The flat roof of the citadel is a landing pad for airships.

The lower cone-shaped portion of the flying citadel is crafted of adamant panels set into highly polished blue and white jade, with curving lines of starmetal and moonsilver. Here and there, important Essence mechanisms — including highly powered Essence cannons — gleamed in the hues of orichalcum along its outer hull. Small jade ships, vessels for a single Dragon-Blooded pilot, orbit the citadel. They are only ever launched when the ship is still, you have heard. When in motion, the citadel is surrounded by gusts of winds and dangerously uncontrolled Essence currents that will cause all but the mightiest of airships to be forced away.

This is the Adamant Citadel, originally fitted as a war-vessel against the forces of the Primordials in the dawning of the First Age. Now, it serves the Deliberative as a prison for powerful Solar Exalted. It is said that the ship is partially powered through Essence-generating mechanisms; it gains the rest of its power from the manacles all its prisoners wore, which siphoned off their Essence the second they generated it. You look down at the manacles you wear – orichalcum bands fitted with hearthstones from Shadowlands that performed the same function, preventing you from accumulating any Essence with which to wield your Exalted gifts.

“We are almost there,” Sagacious Eagle says, standing. The Dawn caste looks down at you. “You’re fortunate, you know. There were powers at work that wanted you executed immediately. But there are other powers who believe you may simply be deranged, and in need of mercy and healing rather than destruction.”

“What do you think?” you ask him, glancing upward at your captor. He glances downward, contempt and compassion warring behind his golden eyes.

“That’s not for me to say,” he says finally, looking away. “Wiser heads than mine will determine why you did it.”

The ship settles into place atop the Adamant Citadel, which immediately begins moving once more, wrapping itself in its protective cloak of Essence-winds. Sagacious Eagle grabs you by the back of your robes and hauls you to your feet, pushing you towards the now-opening passage out of the ship.

Several Dragon-Blooded soldiers stand waiting to receive the prisoner. The moment the ramp has lowered, the Dragon-Blooded come aboard. One grasps your arms firmly; by his grip he is clearly a potent martial artist. The other quickly pops the Shadowlands stones out of their sockets in the manacles, and for a brief second, you feel a surge — not actual Essence, but the potential for Essence — before the Dragon-Blooded sets a pair of brilliantly faceted diamonds into the hearthstone slots there.

You shudder as your Exalted soul is gripped in the vice of the Adamant Citadel’s inner workings, and your potential to recover Essence is one again stripped from you.

  • * *

His flesh is sticky with perspiration against yours. You grip his muscled back tightly, knowing that in many parts of Creation, the man within you would be accorded a potent and skilled lover. He is strong and virile, with no small…skills at pleasing those whom he lies with. His passion is the equal to any of your lovers, and though he is untrained in the arts of lovemaking, his rough, natural enthusiasm takes him far.

But you are called the Queen of Courtesans for a reason, and you remain so. You moan delicately in his ear, pitching your voice to the tone that incites passionate frenzy in men. You clasp him tighter, one hand finding the Essence point on his side, just between the fourth and fifth ribs and press at it with the palm of your hand, matching his movements slowly but surely so that his rhythm subtly changes. Your other hand presses at the small Essence junction in the small of his back, just above his buttocks, in a rhythm matched by your inner muscles, clenching in a specific rhythm. This is called the Well Overflows with Spring Rains, and its one of the first tricks you teach your courtesans.

It was used in instances of coitus that the courtesan wished to end quickly and efficiently.

With a cry that is half passion and half frustration, the Keeper of Adamant and Gold spends himself, shudders and lies still. You hold him as a lover would, caressing him. He reaches up, as though he would caress you in return, but his hand stops when it comes into contact with your shorn head. He looks up at you then, almost as though realizing where he is — who he is with — and then quickly sits up in the thin, narrow bed. He sits on the side of the bed with his back to you, though he turns to regard you as you lay back in bed.

“I don’t know how you do that, witch,” the Keeper of Adamant and Gold growls, a half-sneer, half-smile on his face. “It certainly is amazing, though. I know it’s not a Charm, though.” He leans over to kiss you.

You give him a kiss from the lips that had launched wars with their whispering, a kiss that some of the mightiest heroes in Creation coveted just one of. His hand runs over your shorn scalp and the prickly growth of a week there.

“It’s too bad we had to shave your head,” he says. He looks at the light dusting of deep blue atop your head. “But you just didn’t learn, Dreaming Pearl. We took your clothing from you when you demonstrated that you could use it as a weapon, didn’t we? What made you think we would do any differently with your hair?”

“I knew,” you say, looking away. You hate being reminded of it. It took you several hours to rehone your perfect balance after your head was shorn; you never knew how much of your balance included the just-perfect motion of your hair at your will. “If I failed, I knew it would happen. I simply hoped to not fail.”

A look of anger flashes over his face, and his large hands quickly wrap around your throat. His eyes narrow dangerously, and he squeezes, lifting you off the bed.

“But you did! No one escapes the Adamant Citadel, Pearl. No one.” He shoves you away from him, and you slam into the thin mattress of your cell, coughing and gasping for air. He quickly dresses. He turns to go, and then glances over his shoulder. Already, bruises are beginning to form at your throat. “You would be well-suited to remember that.”

A Dragon-Blooded guard meets him there, reporting that the newest prisoner has arrived.

  • * *

Later, as Dreaming Pearl eats her meager single meal allowed her a day, the door to the eating hall opens. She turns in surprise, reflexively covering up her nakedness, as Auspicious Mystery enters. He stops, startled, but the guard behind him pushes him forward.

“The new prisoner is to be fed as well,” the guard says, shoving Auspicious Mystery into the seat opposite Dreaming Pearl. Auspicious Mystery pointedly looks away. The naked Night caste regards him for a few moments, and then glances over at the guard.

“I am Dreaming Pearl,” she says.

“I know,” the new prisoner says. “I recognize you, though I am sorry to see you in this…situation. It is a crime that the Queen of Courtesans should be treated with such disrespect. I have friends yet on the Deliberative. They will hear about this impropriety.”

Dreaming Pearl chuckles and takes a sip of the water in front of her.

“That will do no good,” she says with a sigh. “Save your influence for truly important things. My robes were stripped from me when they discovered I could use them as a weapon. As was my hair. I appreciate your respect for my modesty, but I have long since abandoned that, and I would rather you looked at me than away from me if we are going to talk. Alas, friend, you have me at a disadvantage.”

Auspicious Mystery glanced at her and then smiled. He stood quickly, and shrugged out of his robes, letting them fall so that he, too, sat naked. She stared for a moment, before bursting out laughing.

“There. No more disadvantage,” he said with a grin. “I’d shave my head, but I’ve neither a blade, nor the desire to do so right over the food I’m about to eat.” Dreaming Pearl laughed again, shaking her head, and then winked at him.

“I meant that you know my name, and I do not know yours,” she said.

Eyes twinkling, Auspicious Mystery said: “Oh, I know what you meant. I am Auspicious Mystery. I know who you are because I was one of those who insisted that you must be given a trial by the Deliberative.”

Dreaming Pearl paused taking a bite, and then regarded him curiously. She looked around and found the Dragon-Blooded guard who accompanied Auspicious Mystery at the far end of the room. Strange, they normally crowd near when the prisoners talked among themselves. Auspicious Mystery followed her gaze, and then smiled. He leaned in conspiratorially.

“Have no fear from that quarter,” he said, a slight touch of arrogance in his voice. “He is the son of one of my own retinue of Dragon-Blooded. His father crafted my mount, Fidelis, in fact. He is sympathetic to me, though I must be careful not to make that fact too well know.”

“Agreed,” murmured Dreaming Pearl, glancing again at the Terrestrial Exalt. “The Keeper of Adamant and Gold would have him removed from duty immediately. But you say that you helped arrange for my trial and holding here, rather than allowing me to be subject to a Celestial Audit? Why is that? Surely you heard of the supposed crimes I committed through spycraft, how I used my courtesans to cause evidence to appear or disappear as I liked? How I called in favors to disrupt a Celestial investigation, with ripples so great that even the Maiden of Serenity herself felt the repercussions? You know it was she who called for the audit, do you not?”

“Oh, I know all those things,” Auspicious Mystery affirmed, smiling. “And I don’t doubt that you were perfectly wicked in your day. You may have even been detrimental to the orderly defense of Heaven and Creation, a crime that I consider intolerable.”

“Then why?” Dreaming Pearl said, smiling. Her hand clasped his, a quick sensuous motion. He looked down at her, clasped it and pulled her toward him, shoving both of their plates off the table. She slid smoothly across the surface, just enough resistance to flame his passions, just enough give to fit smoothly into his arm, perched on his lap, when she reached the other side of the table.

“Because,” he said, his voice deepening with lust, his passion hard against her. “Because you are one of the Chosen of the Unconquered Sun. Celestial audits are performed by dragons and great gods, who are all merely spirits. Spirits who do not have the right to judge one of us. They are unworthy, and they presume too much to assume they have that right.”

Dreaming Pearl smiled, and shifted, and Auspicious Mystery shuddered at their union.

“In other words,” she purred. “I may be guilty, but they haven’t the right to find me so?”

“Precisely,” he said, pushing himself upwards while pulling her down to him. His lips, tongue and teeth found her throat, but he stopped when he found the bruises – almost completely healed by now, but still there. His eyes met hers with a fiery passion and a desire for vengeance.

“Who did this?” he asked as they twined closer together.

“He did,” Dreaming Pearl whispered, pressing her face against his neck. A sob escaped her lips, infinitely small and well concealed to anyone who was not meant as an ambassador to the gods themselves. To one who was trained in deciphering the nuances of emotion from the strange bodies of spirits, her very human expression was as loud as a scream to him. “The Keeper.”

Their lovemaking became more and more passionate, sweaty flesh against flesh. This was the joining of gods, and it was no wonder that they could not see what was going on around them. Suddenly, a steel-like grasp pulled Auspicious Mystery’s head away from Dreaming Pearl by his hair. For a brief moment, Mystery could tell that the one holding his hair was the infuriated Keeper, before the furious Dawn caste began raining blows over the Eclipse caste’s face and body with his fists, faster than he could follow.

With a shrug, the Keeper of Adamant and Gold throws the beaten and bloodied Auspicious Mystery across the room, to land unconscious against the wall. In fury, he turns toward Dreaming Pearl, who stands guardedly on the other side of the table by now, in a defensive pose.

“If you fight me,” he says, growling, as blood still drips from his fists. “It will go just as badly for you, whore.”

With a moment of consideration, she glances around the room. Three Dragon-Blooded are already picking up Auspicious Mystery and carrying him away, while six other Terrestrials move into place to surround her. Bowing her head, Dreaming Pearl sinuously drops to the floor, kneeling in a subservient stance. With two strides, the Keeper shoves the table out of the way and slaps her.

“No one!” he screams as her hand claps to her split lip, and tears begin to flow. “No one may have you but I! Your nudity is a shame, not an invitation! Someone should have been watching you, to prevent this. YOU ARE MINE! Do not EVER forget that! I will find and punish the one who let this happen, but if you DARE to betray me in this way again, I will ensure that you will spend all your days in terrible solitude, and the only face you will ever see again will be mine!”

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