Exalted: Creation In Strife
Chapter 1 Exultation
I write this in my later years, now that my youth has left me and my days of battle, bloodshed, and betrayal are left behind. This is not the end of my life. No, I expect to live quite a while longer, but those days will hopefully be spent here in the family manse in which I spent my youth and with the family I helped to cultivate. The purpose of writing these memoirs is to give an account for my actions so that future generations of Exalted may learn from my mistakes and build on my accomplishments.
Every story has a beginning, and as all Dynasts know, that beginning is the exultation of one of a chosen of the Dragons. As such, I was in my tenth summer, already well on my way to learning the peculiarities of Dynast life. My personal tutor, Fenrir, occupied far too much time for my liking, but the education of a Dynast was as important then as it is now. The lessons I enjoyed most involved my Uncle Marx who taught me the basics of commanding armies and fighting with sword, dagger, and the longbow. It was at the longbow that I excelled the most, so it quickly became the focus of my early education.
The day of my exultation, my sister was due to return from her second Wyld Hunt. The talk among the servants was that she, again, lost no men in battle and quickly and mercifully slew the Anathema. Even my young mind could fathom the importance of such gossip. Caitlin and I had always been close, even though she was 15 years my senior. She always found time to personally train me when she was at home, and in my free time she was frequently there to take me out into the city. As such, her return was all I could think about for weeks.
I remember even now the scene as we awaited her arrival. News had come that the family airship had dropped her off and she was on her way. We stood in the hall waiting. More than two dozen of the family’s servants lined each side of the doorway with my mother and father and myself standing next to the door to greet Caitlin. The hall itself was richly decorated with twenty-foot tall tapestries lining the walls. The two tapestries framing the door were a rich red with golden lettering extolling the family name on one and my mother’s name on the other. The rest of the tapestries depicted abstract scenes of battle, violence, and carnage – fire being the main focus of each. Fenrir explained that the tapestries represented great battles, heroes, and other events in the family’s history.
At the back of the hall, two staircases led up to the upper stories—one to the family side, and the other to the servants’ quarters. The ground floor was a maze of kitchens, guest quarters, entertainment rooms, dining halls, libraries, and studies. According to Fenrir, the bottom floor used to be a well-planned easily navigated arrangement; however, with the addition of more family and more servants, more rooms had to be added on the ground floor to accommodate the upper. In fact, many of the rooms on the ground floor aren’t even used.
I stood by my parents’ side waiting for the arrival of my beloved sister. The excitement mounted as we heard approaching feet from the outside of the tall main entrance. With a slight creak, the door cracked open, and one of the family’s messenger boys stepped through.
After looking around and catching sight of us standing not two feet away, he quickly kneeled in front of my mother. “Mistress Raves, Lady Caitlin approaches.”
With a small nod, “Thank you. Find a place with the others.” With a small smile that I am sure I was the only one to see. “And, don’t let her catch you calling her ‘Lady’.”
The messenger paled a little and quickly found a place in the line of servants welcoming Caitlin home. Not more than a moment later, the doors opened, letting the sunlight from outside poor in, temporarily blinding all but my mother, my father, and myself.
Caitlin stood over six feet tall and was still wearing all the armor and weapons she normally took on a Hunt. Her armor, a dark red, seemed to glow with golden runes. The runes themselves gave her house name and her rank in the family’s legions in the language of the High Realm. (“So nobody makes the mistake of being rude to me.” She once explained.) Across her back she carried one of the family heirlooms – a daiklave of ancient origin. The blade itself extended almost four feet in length and was more slender than a normal sword of similar size. Even sheathed it seemed to glow with a red hue as the sun touched it.
More startling than the armor and weapon she carried, was Caitlin herself. Her hair hung loose behind her, long and flowing. It was blonde with red streaks. She cursed it when talking about the vicious battles she fought as it never seemed to want to stay tied down. Slender and graceful, belying her strength and stride, she was ever fending off suitors during her visits home. Most noticeable, however, were her eyes – gold with red flecks. More than the color, they seemed to penetrate. I had seen her stare down even Uncle Marx a time or two, and it was said that anyone looking in her eyes would find it difficult, if not impossible, to lie. I had heard it said many times that we had the same eyes.
“Mother, Father.” Caitlin greeted, “I return, mission accomplished, and ask for your leave to stay in the house of my family.” She bowed after giving the formal greeting Mother expected.
“You are most welcome in the house of your family and mine.” Mother finished the welcome ceremony.
Caitlin smiled brightly – another of her tricks belying her strength and prowess in battle – then stepped forward to give our parents hugs and kisses. Afterwards, she looked down at me and mussed up my hair.
“Arix, I do believe you’ve gotten taller. How are your studies going?”
I looked from Caitlin to Mother then back, making sure to pick my words carefully. “Fenrir says they are necessary.”
Caitlin’s laugh echoed slightly in the huge hall. “Boring, I know. But, I bet you’re better already with the bow than me. Perhaps you could show me in the yard after the midday meal?”
I smiled and nodded. Caitlin returned the smile and left up the staircase leading to her rooms. The welcoming group quickly broke – the servants frantically preparing the rather large banquet we would have for our meal, and me back to my studies with Fenrir.
The banquet, like all formal dinners, brought out the whole family. Every member currently residing in the family’s manse took his or her place along the long banquet table. Fenrir had taught me that the closer one sits to the head of house, the more important and the more honored the guest is. My sister and I sat the closest, and I always wondered why Fenrir sat so far down and towards the middle.
As such, conversation at the table was dominated my Caitlin’s recount of her most recent battles. I dare not go into detail here in case she find that I told her story before she could write it. I am sure I would live only another day or two after she found out.
Shortly after the meal, I went to the yard for my afternoon archery practice. I looked frantically for Caitlin, but could not find her anywhere. Needless to say, having been ditched by my sister, my instructor (Uncle Marx was gone at the time), was soon yelling at me for nearly missing the entire target with every shot. Just as I began yelling back, Caitlin emerged from the nearest doorway.
“Now now, Arix, what would Mother say if she heard you yelling at the servants?”
“Hopefully ‘you’re fired’.”
The instructor blanched a little then grew red once again. “Mistress Raves keeps me employed to yell at you, especially when you miss twenty out of twenty five shots!”
I blushed a little at this, not wanting my sister to hear how badly I had failed.
“Why don’t you try again, Arix?” She smiled sweetly, making me blush even deeper.”
Even so, I managed to hit nearly every of my next dozen shots on the bulls eye of the target. It was easily the best round of shots I had ever made. The target seemed closer than usual; my eyes seemed to focus easier; the bow seemed lighter than it had ever been.
“Very good. You’re definitely improving.” Caitlin smiled at me again when I had run out of arrows. It was then that I noticed she was carrying a small case, one I hadn’t seen before. It bore the markings of the Sesus family armory. Curious, I walked over as she opened it and pulled out something I had never seen before, but had seen in pictures: a fire wand.
“Do you know what this is, little brother?”
I nodded. “A fire wand. I didn’t know we had any. I always told Uncle I wanted to try one. He says I wasn’t old enough.” At letting the last bit of information slip, I quickly covered my mouth.
Caitlin laughed. “Yes, this is a fire wand. It’s one of the Sesus family special fire wands to be exact.” She walked up to the adjacent target area, took aim, and fired. A huge gout of flame shot the distance of the range and caught the target on fire, quickly reducing it to ash.
“This type of fire wand is twice as powerful as a normal one. Like I said, it’s a Sesus family special.” She handed it to me. “Go on, it doesn’t need to be reloaded after every shot either.”
I walked up to the firing area I was using previous, raised the fire wand, aimed it as though I was aiming a bow and pulled the trigger.
“Relax little brother. Sometimes it misfires like that. I want you to concentrate a bit more. Feel the wand shoot before you pull the trigger. Pour yourself into it. I’m sure you’ll hit the target dead-on if you concentrate enough.”
I did as she said, concentrating with my full force. I could see the gout of flame shoot from the muzzle, and I adjusted so it would hit the target. Then I pulled the trigger.
This time the fire wand exploded in my hand. More than that, I exploded. Most say that when the Exultation takes them, they black out or they don’t remember when it happens. I clearly remember the sound of all the windows in the houses manse breaking out. I remember seeing a wall of flame surround me, but I could see through it and it did not burn. I remember seeing my instructor blown backwards, his clothing catching flames. Tables, quarrels, bows, dummies, and anything else in the yard within twenty feet of me were either blown to pieces or engulfed in unforgiving flames.
Then I passed out to the sound of a dragon’s roar.
The next day I awoke to Caitlin sitting beside my bed. She smiled down at me. “I always knew you had it in you, little brother.”
From that day forward, my life would never be the same.