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A Golden Exchange

  1. GoddessGood
    Been a while since I've written an exaltation story. This is one I was able to dig up from the bowels of my computer. This features the same Kalindi from A Tool for Righteous Use, the setting from White Wolf's Exalted, and a new character that Kalindi knew in a former life ... well, sort of. For those who haven't played Exalted, those who are Exalted are chosen at some point in their life by a greater god to become a champion for their cause. It's not always in convenient moments, most who are chosen don't even know what's going on when it happens, and it usually occurs during moments of stress (combat is the most common) or when you've accomplished something significant. It is sometimes referred to as "taking your second breath," your first breath being the one you take after you are born. Kalindi starts this scene as a young, mortal woman and finishes it a demi-god. I decided not to give her any audible dialog until after the change.

    Also, please forgive her logical leaps. She's not the brightest cookie in the tin.

    ----
    The trip up the Grey River from Harborhead had been uneventful save for the seasonal rain. Warm, fat raindrops swelled the normally shallow Grey and spread its waters four feet up its banks. In the town of Zira, Kalindi began her assignment. Father told her that one of her Sisters had gone missing here, and The Family always took care of its own.

    Her first forays into finding an information broker all returned the same name. Davin Mikolaus was an astrologer who learned his craft in the Yane, and he was reputed to have a knack for knowing everything. His home had no windows on the ground floor and fronted on the road into Zira a mile or so south of the gate. Kalindi approached casually and let her trained spider, Hari, drop to the ground outside the door. She then smeared colorless oil from a small phial on the doorposts marking this house as one of her destinations.

    Mikolaus opened the door as soon as she knocked as though he had been waiting for her. The tall, thin man wore the robes of a Varangian scholar and asked almost immediately what it was she wanted to know. She seated herself and began with her usual questions on local policy and contentment, information that would be taken back and written down in Father’s logs for reference on future assignments in the area. Mikolaus responded to her questions, expanding his answers when he sensed she was most interested in what he had to say. Roundly, the topic came to a slaving caravan that had been in the area not long before.

    “A cruel, Outcaste Dragon-Blooded led the train, and cries were raised in town claiming that his men had raided the outskirts to fill their quotas. A lynch mob was formed and attacked the caravan, and every last one of them was killed in the fight. By starlight, the remaining caravan hands loaded up and left. It remains unknown whether the Dragon-Blooded fiend lived, and none in Zira are brave enough to pursue those brigands northwards.”

    Kalindi knew his tale of the slaving caravan to be true. Her Sister had been sent to follow the Dragon-Blooded to prevent such an incident from occurring. It was likely, then, that she was either killed in the attack or taken north with the caravan. But something else in Mikolaus’ words caught at Kalindi’s ear. He was lying to her; she could almost smell it. He knew what happened to the caravan master, and someone had followed after them. She unfolded from her comfortable seat and confronted his lie with a maddening smile on her face, goading him out. She was unprepared for his reaction.

    “You know nothing of which you speak, girl! I never lie,” he roared, grabbing her bodily and throwing her against the wall with surprising strength. Twisting painfully in midair, she kicked off the wall and somersaulted forward towards him. As she came out of the roll, she spat out a drugged needle aimed for his neck. With inhuman grace, the scholar sidestepped the needle and knocked it aside. Crouched on there on the floor, Kalindi looked up in surprise at the glittering mark upon his brow marking him as Anathema. The room seemed to spin before her, familiar images overlapping with confusing colors and sensations. Light burst forth in the room, illuminating dark corners and banishing shadows in a corona of dark flame. She gasped as a voice rang out clear in her mind.

    The world grows dark, my child. Lies are the weapons of evil men, and you shall go into the shadows to search them out. You are my Chosen.”

    The world snapped back into focus too quickly, and she found herself on the floor of Mikolaus’ parlor. He crouched over her, watching intently, the mark on his brow still there. “Unclean! Demon!” she cried starting to twist away. His hand grabbed her throat and he slammed her onto her back.

    “What do you think you are?” The lanky scholar hauled her up by the neck and walked her across the room pinning her to his chest. A small mirror hung on the wall, and he all but pressed her face to it, instructing her to take a good look at the mark on her own forehead. She saw an empty circle burning there and, when she ceased her struggles, Mikolaus loosed her and stepped back.

    “What is this? What is this?” she moaned. She had never been so confused. Father had told her about the Anathema, had said that they were demons, foul and vile. She knew she was no demon; she was his Tool, his perfect Tool. She was a Daughter in The Family. She was not a demon!

    Mikolaus appeared behind her again, his long arms holding her panic-stricken frame in place, trying to soothe her –
    ***
    She was standing on a jagged black cliff, gazing out at the icy battlefield below. Felorem approached from behind her and laid his warm fur cloak about her shoulders. “You do too much for me,” she said smiling.

    “I will always do what I can for you, you should know that by now, Tamara . . .”
    ***
    – and calm her hysterics. She froze as the vision broke, trying to comprehend the disjointed images. Looking into the mirror again, their eyes locked. “It is you, isn’t it?” he whispered. “After all this time, so many lifetimes of searching for you . . . and you take your second breath on my parlor floor.” Mikolaus stepped back again and sat down in a chair, seemingly suddenly very tired.

    Kalindi turned to him, her voice cracking. “What does this mean?” She paused, catching on a comforting thought. “Father . . . Father will know what to do.”

    “I hate to be the bearer of bad new, here, but it’s likely you father will try and have you killed if you tell him. People don’t understand what we are anymore, they’re afraid of us because they’ve been told to be so.”

    “Father says the world is not a righteous place, and neither are the people in it.”

    “Your father sounds very wise. What did he tell you about what they call Anathema?””

    ”That they are demons, that they must be destroyed.”

    “Hmph. Most people agree with him on that point, unfortunately.”

    “The People agree with him?” she asked. This did not make sense. The Righteous knew the truth of things and The People were ignorant. If The People and the Righteous were in agreement about something . . . that meant one of them had to be wrong. Certainly there were more of The People than there were of The Righteous. She believed it was more likely that the less could be wrong and the more could be right than the other way around. Perhaps The Righteous had been lied to? Perhaps . . . they were wrong? “Maybe he is wrong.”

    “Wow. I didn’t expect you to be convinced that fast.”

    “I am still not certain. Do not be overeager. You said you had been searching for me. Why?”

    “I knew you in another life, ages and ages ago. When you . . . died, I searched for your re-incarnation but I was not able to find you. For many of my lives I searched for you, but until today I have never succeeded. Do you know the name Felorem?” She remembered her vision and nodded. “That was my name then. And you, you were called Tamara.” He paused, “I have something for you. I – Felorem, I mean – made it for you. It was to be a gift, but he was unable to deliver it. He left it for me to find.” Mikolaus opened a small chest, handing her a black, rough-looking cloak with an ornate throat clasp with an empty socket where there might be a gem inset. She sensed a power in the item she could not explain.

    “You can stay here if you like. It’s safe here, I’ve made sure of that.” His offer, though tempting, would have to be refused.

    “No. I must complete my task, and then I need to speak with Father.”

    Mikolaus scowled. “He is wrong, you know. You are not a demon, and neither am I. The greatest of the gods, The Unconquered Sun, selected you to be among his Chosen. Can’t you feel that? Didn’t you hear his voice?”

    “I did hear . . . something. Regardless, I have a task to complete. Perhaps I will return afterwards and we will talk more.”

    “I don’t think so, I’m coming with you. You’re going after the caravan aren’t you? I’ve a bone to pick with them. I don’t know what your task is, and frankly I don’t care. I just want that Dragon Blooded. I’ve healed since our last encounter and I owe him one.”

    Kalindi thought about this for a moment and nodded. “Fine. Just as long as you don’t slow me down.”
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