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Sep 21, 2020 2:39 PM
we're letting Arken take over an empire
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The Silver Empress of South Qyo is dead. Long live the Ruby Empress.

Except--

Two years into Her Imperial Ruby Majesty's regime, she's gained a rival.

Her name is Zrôdi, and she's claiming to be the chosen holy vessel of God. She has imperial tattoos down her limbs and on her forehead, sacred and arcane designs reserved through the centuries for the Empress alone -- well, for God's vessel in the physical realm, which is what the Empress is -- she can sing the hymns of the Inner Temple, and dance their received rites with the fury of a solar flare, and she usually speaks in tongues unknown to man but when her words are comprehensible they're all in Church Qyokhi --

Destruction follows wherever she goes. This one has an easy explanation; Qyo is full of underground groups looking to blow something up. Freedom fighters, anarchists, stupid kids playing at territory wars. The political climate's improved some in the years since the Silver Empress took the throne, and under her current high priest nearly every city has seen a boost in its overall wealth, but the empire's been falling apart for a century and everybody knows it. Obviously someone making a grab for the throne might be backed by a terrorist ring.

Alternatively: the chosen vessel of God would most definitely have her own army.

People say her ruby hair doesn't just fade through orange into a golden sunrise -- it burns, like an imperishable flame.People say she holds herself in impossible positions, communing with the planetary noblewomen far above. People say her eyes can pierce through souls. People say her skin can't be pierced by knives. People say -- people say a lot of things.

Here is what Zrôdi says: the age of dynasties is at an end. The imperial family has lost God's blessing and its Ruby Empress is an opportunistic fraud. The Qyokhi Empire crumbles. In its dust, something wild shall rise.

Oppression shall fall -- in its place, freedom. Ignorance shall fall -- in its place, gluttony.

Order shall fall -- in its place, chaos.

 

Zrôdi is arrested by the national police the first time she shows her face in the capital. She's three years into her campaign of violence and miracles. They're waiting for her in the main square.

The three officers that manage to grab onto her don't end up making it out alive.

She dies as she lived: in a sudden explosion of flame.

 

Four more years pass, faster than they maybe should have.

The Ruby Empress of South Qyo is dead. Long live the Ruby Empress.

 

There are rustlings, just north of the mountains, just past the Qyokhi Empire's current reach. Some mafia leader's claiming to be a lost link in the royal bloodline. The Silver Empress' long-lost little sister.

There are a lot of claims like that going around. A lot of claims like Zrôdi's, too. Short-lived things. Localized. Nothing that could actually usurp the empress.

But some places aren't bothering to worship her anymore.

 

The Ruby Empress turns 14. (They never used to be this young.)

The Ruby Empress spends 3 weeks in total isolation. (The high priest was poisoned with something nearly lethal -- and of course nobody else is allowed near her.)

The Ruby Empress mourns the death of all her heirs. (They died trapped inside a burning temple. She was there.)

 

The Ruby Empress will probably be dead soon.

Long live . . . ?

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Long live this boy who is somewhere he is definitely not supposed to be. 

This is not the room Arken fell asleep in. This is not even the city he fell asleep in. This is - somewhere in the mountains, it looks like, which means it's not even the region he feel asleep in. He's outside, and it's just barely light out, and he doesn't recognize any of the buildings, and he has absolutely no idea where he is or how he got here. 

Arken stands up, brushes the dirt off of his clothes. He crashed in the clothes he was wearing that day, so he isn't stranded in the mountains somewhere in boxers and an old PE shirt, at least. He doesn't have shoes, or a wallet, or his keys. 

It doesn't look like there's a paved road, the buildings are made of stone. It looks like something from a historical recreation town. 

He heads for what road there is. 

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The road will accomodate this.

The town feels empty -- it's too early for most places to be open. Various building signs encourage him to buy a classic wooden board game he's never heard of, or guaranteed authentic handmade waxprint skirts, or jelly-coated rice with your choice of meat (families get a discount!), or temporary hair dye that'll last nine whole days. If the clinic was open he could apparently acquire all manner of tonics and tinctures, a legally-valid marriage tattoo, a quick sterilization and the associated paperwork to fill out, and a free check-up to determine whether he needs to go to the hospital.

(If he looks up, he might notice a strange object in the sky. It's two or three times larger than the moon, and dark sea green, with waves and eddies swirling in its atmosphere like some celestial ocean. It's not doing anything, just -- hanging there. As the sun rises higher it gets harder to see.)

The buildings get more crowded and better-looking the farther in he walks. Eventually, the road arrives at -- well, it looks a lot like an old country train station. It would, in fact, look exactly like on old country train station if the earth where the railroad had been had collapsed in on itself, removing both the rails and itself from the mountain in a sudden and terrible landslide. There's a thick cable leading down and away from the mountain; if he squints he can sorta make out a distant city in the direction it's headed in.

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He debates whether to follow the cable and decides to not. 

The signs are not in English and he isn't sure how he can read them. Arken debates how likely the green thing in the sky is to just be the moon in odd lighting, it'll keep his mind occupied for a while so he doesn't flip his shit over being in (Narnia? How likely is that - how likely is anything else, though - ) 

He sits down in the old train station-looking building, when it gets later maybe a train will come through and he can find out where he is. 

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Whatever kind of public transport this place has loses the slow race to the station to a bleary-eyed, heavyset, and remarkably short woman in her fifties. The town behind her is only just showing signs of life, so she probably works here.

She squints at him. (She deserves some squinting herself; she's just under four feet tall, and her poofy black hair has yellow highlights.) "Now what kind of nonsense is this?"

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He understands her. She is definitely not speaking English. That doesn't seem to have much impact on whether or not he understands her. "Narnia maybe" is looking more likely by the second. 

"I'm not sure myself," he says. 

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"Who are you and where did you come from?" the woman asks irritably. "You can't have been on the tram, I'd've -- noticed." She gestures at his entirety in illustration of this point.

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Maybe he is just very tall for here, or maybe it's something about the clothes. Asking about that seems unlikely to get him answers. 

Where does he say he's from, he doesn't know the area enough to claim convincingly that he's local and he has no idea how she'd react to the truth - "My name is Arken, what's yours? Where are you from?" 

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"--I'm from here. I've lived here my whole life. I've been running this station for the past 20 years! You're the new one, where are you from? Don't show up in people's towns and then ask where they're from!"

If she has a name, she is currently too frustrated to mention it.

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He really really does not know the norms well enough to create a plausible lie that gains him sympathy rather than loses it. "I'm from the east coast," he says, which is true but vague enough that she can fill in whatever details she comes up with herself. 

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Getting something resembling an answer seems to mollify her somewhat. "And you, what, hiked here? Up the mountains? For six months?" she asks, with less active hostility and more utter disbelief at how stupid that sounds.

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He does not actually know how far you can hike in six months. He kind of wishes he knew that. 

What to do, what to do, "I don't actually know how I got here," he says, looks down and to the right like he's uncomfortable with eye contact, keeps his voice quiet and lets it shake just a little. 

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"Were you kidnapped from the coast?"

(We are now almost entirely past frustration and firmly in helpless confusion territory.)

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- run a hand through his hair, curl his shoulders forward so he looks smaller. "I don't know. How do I get to the nearest city?" 

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"I, um. Here. --Airtram station. Cable transport."

She gestures around herself a bit helplessly.

"Uh. If you wait 30 minutes then the tram'll come up from Zeyôdih and then it'll leave come afternoon. If I talk to the conductor he could let you on for free? --Actually, should I be getting an officer down here, I'm going on about the tram but you seem really, um . . ."

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Why didn't I just claim to be lost - stupid - I should have predicted that would not get me the kind of help I want - 

No he does not need the local police involved what he needs is to be in a bigger city where he can blend in for a while, "Once I get there I'll be fine," he says, still quiet but more sure and less scared-sounding. Then he pauses like he just realized something and says, "I don't think my money's local, though, thank you." 

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". . . Well, if you're sure," the woman says dubiously.

She retreats to the wooden booth by the cable, which thankfully does not contain any confused and mysterious foreigners. He can keep talking to her from where he is, though, it's a very small station. Or he can sit here waiting for the airtram to show itself and watch the town wake up in the meantime. (The awake version of the town is not particularly distinguishable from its sleeping form. Station-lady keeps an eye on him.)

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He will sit and look vaguely pensive and wait for the airtram and work out what in the name of fuck is going on here. (He is definitely not going to try and play victim again what was he thinking.) 

The not-moon points to "this is not Earth" as a hypothesis, his old roommate was an astronomer and Arken is pretty sure he would have heard about it if sometimes there was a large green orb hanging out in the sky. "Narnia" is still far-fetched, but what wouldn't be far-fetched, at this point. 

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In the distance, an airtram: approaches. You can see it coming a long way off, a black dot in the distance, slowly but diligently moving up the thick cable. As it's pulled further up the mountain, it turns from a speck into something with small but distinct features: it's newer-looking than most of this town, shiny and metal, and there are indistinct passengers peering out its tinted windows.

After about 10 minutes a small group of workers show up, hauling wooden crates on a cart. A mix of grown men and a couple of young teenagers, it looks like, though given the givens it's rather hard to tell.

"Who's the giant?" one of them calls to the station lady, walking up to her booth.

"Don't be rude, Ihdo."

"Not rude to say things as they is."

She shrugs. "Showed up this morning. Says he's from the coast out east, doesn't know how he got here. He's going down to Do Zewôdih with the crates." In a conspiratorial whisper, she adds, "He's got foreign money and an accent thick as dirt. I think he's from Horedih."

"What, really?"

"Uh huh."

The workers seem to find that a lot more intriguing than all the other weird stuff about Arken; their surreptitious glances become a lively murmuring.

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He will not argue with this conclusion they have so helpfully jumped to, thank you random citizen for jumping to a conclusion and saying it out loud, that was very helpful of you. 

He will stand up and walk over to the station lady. "I hope this is enough, my money is - not local." He hands her a nickel and two pennies, which isn't anywhere near all the coins he has in his pocket but seems like a good number. (Hopefully they either won't be able to read the coins and tell that that's seven cents, or they won't know how far seven cents usually stretches.) 

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She looks at the coins.

She looks at him.

"Honey," she says, "I don't have the first kind of clue what kinda money that is."

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"Then I don't have any you would know - I'm sorry - " 

He's quiet, a little unsure, definitely not scared or helpless. 

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"Well, I'll ask the conductor."

"What's it look like?" calls one of the men.

"Yeah, what's Horekhi money like?"

"Come over here, we can't see the coins!"

"Ignore them," the lady tells Arken, rolling her eyes. "Bunch of oafs."

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He smiles and stays where he is. (He doesn't ignore them, he's listening very carefully to see if they jump to some more conclusions he can adopt.) 

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Well, they don't get any in before: the airtram arrives.

It's boxy and rectangular, with the narrow end facing the platform. In front is a man in uniform (at least, it looks like one, plain with a simple insignia on the front) whose dark skin contrasts drastically with his light blue locs.

"New in town?" he asks, unclipping himself from the tram and the cable.

"Very," the station lady says, before Arken can reply. "Come take a look at this money, won't you? Can you change it in Zewôdih?"

The man (the aforementioned conductor, one assumes) opens the tram doors, exposing nine blinking people to the sunlight. "We'll be headed back down at 1600, that's in about 12 hours," he tells them, then turns around to head over to Arken as the passengers file out. (They look better off, their clothes more put-together, than the people whose town they're visiting. Five women, two men, one little boy, someone of indeterminate gender. All of them have richly-dyed hair.)

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Maybe he'll blend in better in the city but the odds are increasingly slim that he'll be able to blend in anywhere, if they're all this short. 

That...might be a problem at some point. It isn't one yet, though, so he can put off deciding how to deal with it. "Hello," he says, to the man who is presumably the conductor. 

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