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Multiple Settings long-form plot driven DRAMA please and thank u

mechanimated

VP of the Questionable Ethics Committee
hey, what's up, this ain't gonna be fancy so...yeah. no themed formatting for me.
i just got done with a brutal 5 month long 60+ hour a week study course so im positively frothing with free time and a desire for a creative outlet. looking for something that'll let me exercise my fingies a bit, ya know?

i like me a good story - something that gives our characters a reason to be doin' what they're doin'. beyond that, i am the epitome of flexibility. i don't really have any strong preferences on what characters i play, so if you do, i'm willing to accommodate. only real thing is im a big ol grown-up, so i'm not gonna do this with any kiddos regardless of content. sorry, sub-18s, nothing personal. just makes ME feel weird. i'll spit out a couple of plot ideas to give y'all a general impression of the sort of thing i like, but feel free to rope me into whatever you're tryina do. like i said, the very picture of an agreeable and compromising partner. if you can give me juicy characters and story, ill work most anything else out. most!

i will not do anything with fandoms, sorry. i know that's big here, but i just don't find writing for someone elses established world nearly as fun. oh, and im not the most keen on real historical stuff. i don't really trust myself to like...know things, ya feel? im happy to play with soft historical settings or themes, but im unlikely to agree to an rp set on the lusitania before it sank or something.

im ghost friendly, though id appreciate you letting me know if youre gonna peace out just so i dont have to awkwardly wonder if it would be naggy to ask if youre interested or not.

expect a good 6+ paragraphs for an intro, and 3+ per reply. quality over quantity, obviously, so dont feel the need to chuck out words for the hell of it. ill include a few writing samples for your perusal. please, please feel free to pitch your own plots and ideas or tweak what i came up with. oh, and if the samples interest you, i can give you some rough plot summaries for those, too.

plots

::Circles Within Circles::
The country is embroiled in war. Rationing has left people miserable and angry, raids decimate border towns too far from the metropols to be
easily defended, and the draft age keeps dropping lower and lower. In an effort to end the conflict once and for all, a royal decree is issued. The
first person to present the Golden Guard with a live POW from the enemy mage squadron will win a noble title and enough money to live in luxury
for a dozen lifetimes over. For, as everyone is acutely aware, the real thorn in the side of the king and his army are the enemy casters. Like smoke,
they are everywhere and nowhere all at once. Somehow, their aetheric echo is utterly invisible to even the most sensitive diviners and spell-singers.
When Character A manages the impossible and captures Character B, they are sure their fortunes have finally changed. However, B keeps insisting
the war is not what it seems. Unsure, A must decide what to do as they journey toward the capitol, because time is running out for both of them.

::Raindrop::
Life on the colony is way more boring than the planetside ads made it seem. Honestly, it's all the wage-slavery and doldrum of being back home, but
you can't even go outside without a suit. Character A is chipping away at their medical debt by serving out a corporate sentence. It's miserable, and
lonely, but it pays well. Why, in just shy of a decade, they'll be paid out! It would be less than a year without the interest, but hey, you wouldn't want
those poor bankers to starve, would you? Day after day, it's the same old thing. Until someone new arrives. Or something new. Character B looks
like just another colonist, but Character A knows something nobody else does. They know B didn't arrive on a ship. They came in from outside. And
they know what the colony is really here to do.

::Closing Time::
The cafe always gets busy as spring warms into summer. That patio space is just too charming, the lattes just too instagramable. Character A only
started working there recently, but it's been a pretty sweet gig so far. Tips are decent, boss is nice, customers are friendly. Bit of a dream come true,
really. Until weird shit starts happening. Stuff going missing. Just little things at first. Spoons, cups. Sugar-shakers. Then stuff from the locker room.
Cameras start getting vandalized. Nothing frequent or expensive enough that it gets the cops to actually do anything, and eventually the manager
sheepishly gives up calling them when things go awry. The police seem determined not to do their jobs until after someone gets hurt. One day, A sees
someone watching the cafe. Watching them. It's only chance that Character B was in the shop at the time, after closing. They are the only reason A is
sure they saw anything at all. Now, B is determined not to let A get hurt by this weirdo, even if no one else seems to take this situation seriously. They
agree to work together and figure out who's messing with them and why, before it all takes a decidedly nastier turn.

::Silk Nooses::
Nobility comes with perks, but it also comes with a poisoned cup at every table and a dagger in every hand. Character A and Character B are betrothed
at a young age, as is typical. An advantageous arrangement for their families - their feelings certainly don't come into it. The two meet as children once, for
the ceremony, and are then just as quickly parted to continue their educations. It's not like they needed to get to know each other. Reunited again for the
wedding, the two meet as little more than strangers. The wedding night is as perfunctory and embarrassing as it is contractual. It's almost a blessing that
there is no love between them - the auditors and priest listening through the curtain would have made it unbearable. Once again, the two are parted after
but a day. Character A is being sent off on a crusade. Knight stuff, very important. Not like anyone feels the need to tell B anything. It is another stretch of
endless, boring years before they are reunited. A has returned a hero - but that hadn't been the plan. They were supposed to have died a tragic death in
pursuit of an impossible victory. Now, A and B have a target on their backs. Things have changed quite a lot while A was gone, and B has borne witness to
and navigated the snakelike treachery of the court for years all alone. Now, they can only trust each other - if not by choice, than because the chains of
matrimony condemn them to succeed or fail together.


Writing Sample 1

Everywhere, there were garlands of flowers, glittering glass sculptures, musicians, acrobats, and most of all, heaps upon heaps of delectable food. Masses of people in opulent clothes circulated through the halls and gardens. Everyone was eating, drinking, and dancing. Laughter, the murmur of a hundred conversations, and threads of music all wound together into a dull roar that rose and fell like the swell of an ocean. It was lavish. It was vibrant. It was the party of the century. The twinkling of a thousand candles, brightly colored swaths of silk, the smell of rich fare and spilled liquor...the atmosphere was thick with excitement and drunken revelry.

In the midst of this glamour and glitz was Aristoph.

He was treating the proceedings as something of a joke, much to the chagrin of his tight-lipped parents. It was his party - or at least, in his honor - so he felt he had the right to be a bit of a pig. The whole shebang was to mark Commencement; that is, graduation from a magecraft school. In Aristo's case, it was the Shagal Medical Institute of Aetherics. On his lapel, the preening gentleman wore the Star, Staff, and Serpent. The sigil was wrought in gold, the star a twinkling diamond, to signify his membership in the elite Meritas graduates - students who maintained a pristine record of academic performance. Aristo was quite proud of it, and had made sure to wear a jacket that would best offset its well-polished gleam. In this case, a dully iridescent green-and-blue silk brocade. He looked (and felt) like quite the peacock. His behavior at the celebration, however, was a base counterpart to his lofty achievement. The source of Aristo's entertainment was of a (disappointingly, to his parents) shallow nature.

Two of the many young ladies in attendance were having some sort of spirited competition, each struggling to wrest his attention away from the other. It wasn't surprising, really. Having reached his Commencement and graduated Meritas, Aristo was particularly eligible at the moment. Plus, his family was exorbitantly wealthy. This was the third such party they had thrown, and yet it was no less ostentatious than the others. Aristo's two older sisters had both also achieved exceptional success in their academic lives, so he could have done no less. In truth, he was more than a little relieved that he had gotten his gold. It would have been beyond embarrassing to be the only one to fail to excel. Aristo had been slower than most of his friends to Commence, having taken a full three years off to travel before applying. It was rather strange at first to be alone of all his fellows to still be a student, but everyone had gotten used to it quickly enough. Besides, at twenty-seven, he was far from the oldest student to acquire medical Meritas, as it had a higher average Commencing age than most other schools of study.

Either way, Aristo was being a real arse. The ladies in question were unusually unlikable, and he had it on good authority that they were mostly eager to get their hands on his money and status. Even that he could have overlooked had they not been such ridiculously shrill, vain harpies. It was almost insultingly stereotypical. Aristo would be lying if he said they weren't attractive, but their demeanor was so vile that it overshadowed any hint of physical charisma. So now, to irritate the two, he had been making a point of dancing exclusively with women no less than a decade his elder. Drinking heavily, sharing cigarettes of expensive exotic tobacco, giving them 'private tours'...it was all very inappropriate. Of course, this was nobility, complete with all the morality-free trappings that were the privilege of such. Most all the older attendees looked on at these cheeky antics with a sort of indulgent nostalgia, while those of an age with Aristo were delighted at the bold snubbery they were witnessing. No one had more fun than the ladies the hedonist scholar was 'wooing', the knowledge that they were functionally pieces in a petty game between children doing little to lessen their enjoyment of such young and virile company.

The night went on and on, the darkening purple sky pincushioned with thousands of brilliant stars. Aristo was lounging in one of the more private side chambers, his emerald eyes clouded with the effects of opium. Slices of fat poppy pods were roasting in the middle of the room on a silver platter, the low flame beneath it flickering in the draft. Tendrils of smoke wound through the air and wrapped around the pleasantly sluggish brains of the occupants. Sitting in Aristo's lap was a wonderfully curvy widow, her neck festooned with gems and her once-elaborately styled hair hanging in limp and messy curls over her shoulders. The young man looked equally disheveled, fashionable silk shirt unbuttoned to expose his slender ivory throat and much of his chest. His hair, too, was in disarray about his head - Aristo had long since lost the ornate filigree clasp that held it in a ponytail. Strands of silky black tresses were plastered to his forehead with sweat. When Aristo spoke, his breath was heavy with sweet wine.

"Shouldn't- ahah, stop squirming! - shouldn't you still be in black, Miss Gereldine?"

The older woman loosed a throaty laugh, running a fingernail along Aristo's sharp jawline and down his neck. He shivered slightly, feeling his heartbeat pounding at her fingertips. He was having trouble focusing, and the woman marveled at the rose flush suffusing his pale cheeks. There was something wonderfully thrilling about the verve of youths, the reckless abandon with which they lived.

"Mmm, it seemed downright rude to come to a party all...funerary, don't you think? Besides, red is more my color."

"I can't disagree with that."

Aristo growled and nipped playfully at her fingers, dissolving into laughter. The other occupants of the room, his friends Osario, Cristan, and Lucille, were equally amused. The banter flowed freely and grew in lewdness and coarseness with each passing hour. No one proved better at telling dirty jokes than Widow Gereldine, who poured port onto the poppy platter and showed her younger companions how to roll a sticky green pod between your palms before cutting it to better release the juices.

"My little scholar, you look quite the debauchee, don't you?"

Looking up at his companion, Aristo truly did appear caught up in the very peak of exhilarated intoxication. Pupils massive and dark, pale lips parted with exerted breath, ivory skin sheened with light sweat. He had a fey appearance even without the chaotic charm of excessive inebriation. Pointed, elfin features and high cheekbones brushed with a light dusting of freckles. A shoulder, exposed by his half-shed shirt, too exhibited the paint splatter across his white skin. In build, Aristo was tall and slender, suited to libraries and discourse-halls. Long, elegant fingers wrapped around Miss Gereldine's wrists, and he pulled her closer for a kiss.

"I think I'd make a fine Bottom, don't you think?"

"You look like more of a Puck to me, my dear."

"Oh, but you've no idea of the ego I have. Well earned, naturally, but still..."

This scene of nonchalant disregard for propriety was intruded on by a most unwelcome figure: Aristo's father, Aristel. They were similar in more than name - the man looked much like his son. Perhaps a bit broader in the shoulder and grimmer about the eyes, but they had the same fine bone structure and inky black hair. Aristel exhibited vague disapproval for the scene unfolding before him, but restrained himself to a half-suppressed eyeroll. He, too, remembered what it was like to be young. If he had to be honest, his own Commencement had ended with an entire carriage in the decorative pond and one very expensive destroyed chandelier. At least Aristo preferred to dismantle his reputation rather than the family home. When the man spoke, his voice was thick with irony. Father and son stared at each other with fixed grins, each vying to descend deeper into sarcasm than the other.

"Aristoph. Your mother didn't want to see her youngest make such a fool of himself, so I volunteered for the unsavory task. Your Commencement gift - it would have been more proper to present it in front of the guests, but perhaps you are better kept away from the public eye for the moment, no?"

"Ahh, daddy dearest, you shouldn't have. I mean that. Really."

"Oh, but son, pride of my heart, how could we leave you so disgraced? Your Siphon - it is tradition, after all."

Sucking wind through his teeth, Aristo beat down his annoyance. He truly did love his parents, and didn't want to insult them so, but he downright loathed the idea of a Siphon. It was a mark of status and power for most, but Aristo found their use utterly contemptible. Any caster that relied on a shield twixt them and the aether was no mage of true skill by his esteem. Aristo took it as a matter of pride to hone his own skills enough to never need a Siphon. If his own aetheric range was smaller than that of another, it wasn't acceptable to merely artificially increase his strength through a dumb tool. Many considered it needlessly showy, but Aristo had acquired a bit of a following at the Institute for his purist approach.

Ah, well. Play nice for now, show off his new toy to make his parents happy, and then stick the Siphon in some back room where it wouldn't get in the way. Easy enough.

Aristo's father stepped back, gesturing to a servant to lead in the gift. Despite himself, the young man leaned forward with interest. He was rather curious what sort of Siphon his parents would have considered suitable for their youngest child.



Writing Sample 2

Every once in a while, muffled thumps would rattle the tea service in the parlor. No one in the room seemed to pay any mind to how the silver spoons danced in their cups. Only subtle flicks of the eyes down to the floor, or a stammer - a word repeated - gave any indication that anyone noticed.

Veronique tapped her own spoon twice, thrice, again bone-white china. The gesture was delicate, almost demure, but every eye in the room snapped to her as though she had shouted. The lady of the house allowed herself a fluttering smile, eyes momentarily downcast in the image of social grace.

"Ahem, if you please, into the office? We have some papers to sign."

She sipped her tea once, to a silent audience, and rose. All in a rush, with a rustle of clothes, everyone else stood as well. In a neatly clipped march, Veronique led the little parade into the next room. The entire house was richly furnished in the new style - Art Deco, as it was called. When she had inherited it, the place had been a heavy and brooding early Victorian manse. Veronique very quickly had most everything sold or gifted away, and then spent three weeks in the Cayman Islands for her health while the place was renovated. Now, it was a monument to architectural brilliance. Every window, every wall frieze, spoke of restrained wealth. Geometric designs laid out in gilt and mother-of-pearl winked merrily from the cornices, and the colorful stained-glass lampshades were all genuine Tiffany's. Paintings, mantle-clocks, glazed vases from all over the East...There was enough money on display to impress the Queen of England, but so subtly done that a less cultured man would not even recognize the prime treasures for what they were. Over the fireplace hung a massive, eye-catching portrait of a man, well-rendered in oils and in an ornate ebony frame, but a scant five paces to the left of it was a palm-sized ivory cameo of Leda and the Swan twenty times its value.

The office was as elegant as the rest of the house, dominated by a massive mahogany desk strewn with papers and notebooks. It was behind this that Veronique seated herself, smiling placidly up at her guests as though unaware that they were now forced to crowd elbow-to-elbow into the smaller space. She alone had room to breath, a fact she punctuated by leaning back grandly in the leather chair and steepling her fingers.

To look at her, Veronique was nothing fearsome. She hadn't the sharp, guileful eyes that gave away so many conmen and crooks. Her face was soft - heart-shaped and sweet, the curve of full lips outlined a girlish pink. And yet, as she peered ever so unassumingly up from under thick black lashes, the room held its breath.

"Let's look at the offshore holdings in Hong Kong first, shall we...? If you would be so kind, Edouard?"

What followed next was a grueling 3 hours of legal back and forth, Veronique presenting papers and contracts for signing. Though there were varying degrees of protest at some, and a couple of the signees ventured so far as to attempt to haggle over terms, eventually everything was notarized and left in a neat stack in the out-tray.

No more or less pleased looking than she had been hours before, Veronique walked her guests to the door and bid them pleasant farewells. She had gotten everything she wanted today, which warranted a friendly overture. At least a few of the people leaving had foreheads beaded with anxious sweat. Once the entire cavalcade had gone, Veronique seated herself in the parlor once more, taking up the now-cold tea. She sipped it unperturbed - she quite liked it so, in fact, a quirk that had older company turning up noses. Her gaze, so recently alight with welcoming warmth, had become cold and calculating. She rested it upon the portrait facing her, head cocked in thought. It was a very good likeness of her late husband, Benedict Ulyashkin. Veronique liked to sit and contemplate it sometimes, after a long, hard day.

Whatever she was chewing over in her mind was interrupted by another distant thump, now accompanied by a sort of low murmur. Rolling her eyes in frustration, Veronique set her cup down a tad sharply and stood. Bootheels clicking on the polished wooden floor, she briskly descended into the cellar. Here, behind a false door, was her special workspace. It was directly beneath the office upstairs, and neatly mimicked its purpose in a more...aggressively persuasive way.

Flat against the far wall, arms manacled and hanging from a hook, was the figure of a thoroughly bloodied and beaten man. His face was a swollen mass of bruises, barely recognizable, and he moaned continuously. The other gentleman in the room was a robust, Irish-looking fellow. Broad-shouldered and stout, he was swinging a padded bat at the chained prisoner in regular intervals. The padding helped make the blows less lethal, but the power behind them ensured there was pain a-plenty. Upon Veronique's entrance, the Irishman stood back and touched the brim of his cap.

"Evenin', miss. 'E's still bein' a mite ret-i-cent, iff'n y'unnerstan' me. Won' quit 'is bellowin' neither."

"Thank you, McClure, that'll be all for tonight. I don't think he's got anything useful to say. Look at the man - he has the demeanor of a coward. If there was anything he could have told you to make you stop, he would have. Take him out and toss him in an alley somewhere, and then head home. Grab a biscuit from the parlor on your way out, if you like. They're raspberry."

With another tug of his cap and a duck of the head, the strongarm hoisted the bleeding man up off the hook and bodily over his shoulder, stomping out with a thickly accented string of how-by-ye's and good-eve's.

Ah, well, another bad gamble. Veronique had had her boys picking up rats from Mugridge's crew for weeks, hoping to get some insight into his shipping lines. The bastard was getting opium in for processing somehow, but for the life of her she couldn't find the inroad. It was cutting into her business.

With naught left to do, Veronique retired for the night. She kept little staff in the house besides cooks and cleaners, certainly not a ladies maid. As such, she was left to let down her hair and ready for bed on her own. Ebony locks, gleaming almost inky blue, fell in wild curls about her shoulders as the woman plucked free seemingly endless hairpins. Without the tight updo, a popular style right now, Veronique seemed much younger than before. Almost too young, though her eyes betrayed deep currents. She wiped clean her lips with a practiced hand, the blush and contour powder swept away to reveal a face not quite so mild as it had appeared. Veronique had classical features, with perhaps too sharp a jawline for modern tastes. Fine black brows arched over grey eyes, no longer crinkled with false warmth. She had no smile lines, no crows feet. Nothing to suggest an excess of expression. Nor was she a tall woman, or imposingly built. Her shoulders were as slim as any's, her hands as soft and uncalloused. It would have been easy to think her the image of a young wife, or even debutante.

Now, face fresh, Veronique gazed back at herself in the mirror. She had the good fortune of changeable features. A touch of makeup here, there, and she looked a movie sweetheart. A dash of lipstick there, and one could almost smell the gunpowder of the femme fatale. Now, bare, presented as her natural self, it was hard to say if there was anything that really defined her. Her generic prettiness was a sort of moldable mask, one that needed a little something to make it special.

Soon, Veronique was turning out the lights and crawling into bed, allowing herself a sign of pleasure. There was nothing so nice as warm sheets. The downy blanket wrapped tight around her, she drifted off to an untroubled sleep.



Writing Sample 3

It was certainly something, to wake up holy.

Taika knew it the moment he opened his eyes, with that strange certainty that seemed to exist only in dreams. And, apparently, in divinity. Is that what it was like, for the gods? Was the waking world as much a dream to them as the sleeping one was to mortals? He rose from his barracks bed with a groan, joints popping and creaking as he stretched. Being a living god made flesh to walk the earth apparently did little for aching backs. It was early, the sky a washed-out predawn grey. Little fingers of yellow warmth stretched out from under the horizon, groping out over the treetops for purchase. Not a hint of cloud, though that meant little. Flurries were always blowing down out of the mountains, often with next to no warning. But Taika was grousing over nothing. It had been a mercifully gentle winter. Normally, Frog Pass was buried under snow drifts two meters deep a good two months out of the season. Now, with the promise of spring in the air, there was little chance of a real storm.

For a few minutes, Taika lay in bed and mulled over this complication to his existence. The last thing he wanted was complications. First things first, the soldier pulled a scratched but well-polished steel mirror from his bed-locker. Wary, he peered intently at his own face. Ah. Thank the gods. Content that there seemed to be no visible sign of his god-infected condition, Taika went about his normal morning routine. Brush, wash, shave. Maybe this didn't need to be a problem after all. On his way out of the baths, the soldier grabbed a fistful of snow and briskly scrubbed his face. The icy bite reddened his cheeks and made him feel fresh and awake. The one good thing about being assigned Frog Pass was the hot springs. Steaming hot natural water, smelling of rich minerals and salts, percolated up from deep below the roots of the mountain. Ancient hands had long ago chiseled out broad, bubbling baths for soaking in. It was common to see lieutenants and officers on their days off spending hours alternating between soaking and jumping in snow drifts. The shock was supposed to be bracing and good for your circulation. And, (primarily, in Taika's opinion), it was fun. Supposedly, Frog Pass had the best-rested troops in all the nine kingdoms. They could spend all day fighting and be fresh as new recruits the next day by soothing their aching bodies in the healing springs. Taika wasn't sure about all that, but it definitely beat melting snow over a fire for a sluice-bath.

Clean and refreshed, the man meandered toward the mess hall. By now, signs of life were creeping through the camp. A curl of smoke, promising bacon and scalding soup, twined from the chimney of the mess hall.

"Hey, Tai!"

Turning, already breaking into a grin, Taika moved to greet his friend Paj.

"Finally up, eh? What, did the sows kick you out of the pigpen for hogging the dry corner?"

"I'm a generous lover and a selfish sleeper, you know that. But nevermind all that! Tai, have you seen th-....."

"...Paj?"

"Tai, my friend, are you...? That is, ah, uh."

Brow furrowing in bemusement, Tai snapped his fingers. It wasn't like Paj to be stammering and slow. He was always ready with some quip or another, even if it was stupid as hell more often than not. To see him speechless was a bit unnerving.

"Have you been to the springs, friend Tai?"

"Of course. Only one of us still smells like the pigs, after all."

"Maybe you should go a second time, eh?"

Bewildered, but unable to get anything more out of Paj, Tai trotted back down the narrow, rocky path to the boulder grotto. Rounding the big marker rock, Taika stopped so suddenly that his shorter friend ran right into his back. The whole of the spring, right down to the waters edge, was in bloom. Crocuses in every shade from white to rich, royal purple pushed up between every pebble. Snowdrops littered the ground, cracking the frost with admirable bravado. Even golden-faced starfalls and sweet, pungent will'o'mists bobbed gently in the breeze.

Spinning around, Tai grabbed Paj by the shoulders.

"You have to help me get rid of these."

Before he had even finished the sentence, Paj was already shaking his head. Keening in childish dismay, Tai hissed between his teeth.

"Why the hell not?!"

Still shaking his head, Paj made the fivefold gesture of the star.

"Because, friend Tai, you are a holy miracle. What a blessing! I was just coming to tell you that it must be someone in our company. I went down to bathe, and saw that it had been visited by the sacred avatar. To think! My own best mate, godtouched!"

"It could be anyone! It could be you!"

It was a useless diversion. Somehow, Paj knew. But Tai had been so sure...! His friend seemed positively alight with ecstasy. Paj was a devout soul, and there seemed to be nothing sweeter to him than this discovery - no matter how much of an unwelcome burden it was to Tai. The damned idiot was practically writhing in delight. Any more and Tai was ready to find him rubbing up against his legs like an amorous cat.

"No, no, Tai, it's certainly you. I don't know if you've looked in the mirror lately..."

"I have!"

"Well, I don't know what you saw, but I see a glow about you like a golden sunrise. Your eyes reflect rain-laden clouds, pink and white and grey, like you are gazing at a heaven I can't see. Your very breath is the exhalation of the flowers, and-"

"Oh my gods, Paj, enough. If there is a scrap of divinity in me, another word of your goat-slop poetry and so help me I'll smite you into sacred pollen motes."

That finally seemed to take that mad light out of his eyes. Steadying himself and taking a deep breath, Paj managed the first sensible thing he had said all morning. Too bad it was nothing Tai wanted to hear.

"We have to call the Praetorat."

----

The journey to the Pavilion of Flowers happened with alarming speed. A courier bird, the fastest mouse-hawk the company had, was sent to the court of diviners and priests as soon as Tai's commander heard what was going on. Before the sun had even reached its zenith, a lacquered carriage had clattered down out of the pass to whisk Tai away. He was bowed and scraped to, his armor and coarse shirt stripped and replaced with silks, and told absolutely nothing. With great ceremony, the acolytes heaped Tai onto a bench that seemed more cushion than anything else, and he was off. The smiling, reverent youths refused to call him anything but "Lord of the Morning" or "Your Divine Grace" or "Blessed Flowering One" and so on and so on. They made Paj sound like a dock corsair. With fresh mounts at every courier station, abbey, temple, outpost, town, and farm they passed, the carriage was rolling into Hrostina with the dusky bruise of sunset still staining the western sky. It seemed there was no shortage of believers ready to speed the new god on his way in this neck of the woods. The city was familiar to Tai, a busy hub for trade whose magnificent Sacred Quarter drew tourists and pilgrims from all over. Boasting almost a hundred different temples to every manner of god, it was considered the spiritual heart of Yrkasta, and even the surrounding nations. Tai was headed to the hold of the "Blooming Gods", the temple dedicated to the deities who encompassed spring.

No stranger to Hrostina, Tai felt a pang of regret that he didn't get even a second to see the city again. The polished rosewood gates of the temple slammed behind the carriage with such urgency, the soldier-god thought it a minor miracle the footman didn't get his arse pinched. Here the whirlwind of preparation began in earnest. It seemed like Tai was handed into a different pair of hands every other minute. Undressed, scrubbed, soaked, chanted at, wreathed in incense, ting-ed over with half a dozen little gongs and bells, prayed to (or for?), brushed, shaved anew (and here Tai had thought he knew all the places a man needed grooming - wrong, apparently), dressed, and finally, finally, left alone. Supposedly to "meditate on the divine perfection of his ascended soul" before the next leg of the journey. Instead, Tai took the time to take his first relaxed breath in a solid 12 hours, and slump in a most un-gody manner into a chair.

The far wall of this chamber was hung with mirrors - true ones, of silvered glass. Tai couldn't think of a time he had ever seen his own reflection so crisply, short of when he served in the Empresses palace. He looked absolutely fucking ridiculous, and he felt like a moron. Despite the undeniable presence of some holy thing suffusing his brain, Tai looked no different than the mortal he had been last night. His hair, long flaxen strands, had been plaited into a complex pattern tightly along the sides of his head. The rest had been washed and brushed and oiled to a golden gleam, and then done up into a hundred tiny braids that hung halfway down his back in a thick waterfall. It would take a goddamn century to undo. But, Tai had to admit, it was a noble style, after the northern poet-kings. His clothes were clearly very fine. The layered silk robes, in lilac and rich orange-gold, were so densely embroidered with tiny flowers that running his fingers along the stitches felt like reading blindtongue. It felt wrong, to his sword-roughened hands, to touch such finery. To speak nothing of the strange feeling of it against his skin. The myriad of old battle scars roping up and down his battered body seemed to catch and scrape on the filament silk like scabs. Tai shifted, trying to work the tension out of his shoulders. In the mirror, his slim, angular face seemed pasted comically above a body it did not belong to. No amount of baths in asses milk or rare oils could wash away the flinty hardness in his grey eyes, or the tense and wary set of his shoulders. The robes seemed designed for someone much smaller than Tai, stretched taut across his muscular chest and shoulders. And the lack of sword-weight pulling at his belt made the displaced soldier feel like he was unbalanced. If Tai had to be honest, he would call himself ex-handsome. His nose had been broken in some campaign or another, and set a bit crooked. His smile, while broad and ready, was split in twain by a thin scar crossing from from one lip to the other. Sun and salt and the dirt of a thousand forced marches had seemingly permanently darkened his once-fair skin. Hairs grey well before their time glinted silver in the low light. Had he a twin who hadn't been kept in a sack and kicked about by horses, the man might have made a fair Crocus.

"Blessed One? I am sorry to intrude on your divine contemplations, but I am here to take you to your palanquin."

Permitting himself one long, slow blink, Tai sighed and rose. No rest for the wicked - or the holy.

The next leg of his journey was simultaneously shorter, and yet longer. He was paraded down the street to ear-numbing cheers before being heaped onto a boat so fancy and decorative it was a miracle it floated at all. And then, he and his entourage drifted down the half-thawed river (behind a barge, breaking any ice that threatened their divinely-infused journey) to see his Snow. The distance was shorter than that which he had already traveled, but working against the current made for slow progress. It was colder, where they were going, to a place still cupped in the frigid palm of winter. No delicious hints of spring zephyrs here. Tai had never been here but as one of a complement of soldier-brothers, and knew little about the land. He knew even less about the temple he traveled to - in his tongue, Frostlance. It had some other long, foreign name, but his people called it so because it's slender, fluted towers jabbed into the iron sky like icicles. From the riverbank, the little company ascended on a series of clever, hand-cranked elevators. As one broad wooden flat rose, its counterweight would sink past them and disappear into the thick mist that wreathed the mountain. It took what felt like a hundred such ascents before Tai stood before the doors of what would be his home for the foreseeable future. The impregnable, sacred fortress of the Lady of Snows. Filled with nervous trepidation, Tai schooled himself to stillness as the doors swung open with majestic slowness.

 
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