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Sep 19, 2021 4:09 AM
someone needs to tell first age exalted ellie and fate that you're not supposed to select the same person for all of "bed, wed, behead"
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Gleam's realm is flourishing. 

It's a bit difficult to say how much of this is her. She carved this territory out of the edge of Creation many centuries ago, wavering along the border of the wyld. A place she could hide from the world. From those who would pursue her, chain her - dark and tangled and protective. 

It turns out, a realm created to hide one escaped slave can hide more, and in those early days - it'd been more than freeing to learn how to walk the border marches, how to let the currents of story carry her across the world. Stealing slaves from the Blessed Isle is often beyond her - but she can strike fairly deeply from the edges, and she can adjust herself to the amorphous networks of abolitionists and freedom trails. (The center of Creation is more stable, anyways, the system of slavery set up with a path to citizenship, just enough rights, just enough hope to quell rebellions and discourage escape. Gleam used to burn at it, at that trap - but anger is a toxin in her mind, she's been learning, and cold triage just works so much better.)

(No one tends to miss a system that was already brutal and destructive, anyways.)

Her realm's borders have grown over the years, her personal power swelling with the population - a people who see no reason not to worship her, the feral silver tiger in the forest, guardian and companion and inspiration. It's flattering, often convenient - she can speak to her people in their dreams, which is nice for keeping an eye on things even from afar, and is very useful for finding people to worship her body as well as her power. 

She doesn't rule the patchwork of states that call her region home. The leaders pray to her, seek her guidance - but she's often blunt about telling them to fix their own problems. They've found a wonderful array of solutions, and the only things she enforces are freedom and peace between the states. (Some of those solutions are difficult for her to wrap her mind around anyone ever wanting, but it's... Nice, to see her people happy. To see their children flourish.)

Much of Creation, for all of the vaunted rule of the Lawgivers, is still a shifting sea of non-state peoples. Gleam accepts those into her realm, too, many of them as itinerant residents, and the soft ripple of 'uncivilized wilderness' usually creates a nice buffer between her and other Exalts. 

That's been changing, over the last century. Some of that was her fault - she doesn't like imperialism, and the peoples in the regions around her know who she is. When nearby states got delusions of easy new land for their empires - well, it'd been a little bit since she surged the space under her protection. Her peoples aren't really prepared for war, but she is, and she can handle any posturing here. 

(She wins. None of the states on her new border have the full, dedicated protection of a Celestial Exalt, even if they're usually being egged on by the Dragonblooded servants of one. Gleam still remembers how "this is my fucking territory" diplomacy works, though, and most Solars - even many of the other Exalts - are under the impression that all Exalts are natural allies, mortal kingdoms at best set dressing for their tea parties.)

The kingdoms on her border shift and ripple, and her territory expands at a meandering pace, punctuated only rarely by surges - but she's getting close, she thinks, to a kingdom influenced but not ruled by a less baby Solar than the ones she's usually threatening off. Not an aggressive place, at least, instead a quite nicely stable state she's loosely aware many of her peoples trade with at some remove. Apparently they have multiple universities, and some of her more curious states are thinking of setting up enough diplomatic ties to trade knowledge and teaching.

(Gleam is curious, too. Most Exalts seem to forget the point of their appointment as stewards of the world is actual responsible management, not exploiting every resource and then emptying the treasury and taking off when the whole place collapses. (Maybe that's a tiny bit uncharitable, but, also, she's been to a lot of the corners of Creation. Older Solars especially seem a bit baffled by the idea of mortal flourishing as a goal separate from 'get to show off the shiniest elite culture to other Solars.'))

 

So, one spring, she sets out from her realm at a gentle pace, angling towards the foreign kingdom. She'll announce herself if she senses an actual claimed territory, but, otherwise, she's just poking around. Might meander over to directly and intentionally poke the Solar, but, eh, she'll see where her whim takes her. 

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The potentially-Solar kingdom isn't that big, as these things go. Two major cities, a good scattering of towns and smaller villages. But there are new watchtowers at the border, solidly constructed and manned by professional-looking guards. No effort is made to stop travelers, they are simply observed as they cross over onto what is perhaps a better marker of the borderline: broad, smooth roads. Not dirt or cobblestone, but some non-natural cross of tar and stone, wide enough for five wagons abreast.

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Promising. 

Likely the schools aren't much bigger - but the area has a rhythm about it, a little pocket of the cultures at the center of Creation bubbling up. Not a culture she's usually fond of in isolation, but it sometimes produces interesting things in fusion. 

Small means it shouldn't be too hard to find out the local interesting people. She wanders through the cities first, a cheerful tourist - doesn't declare herself a Lunar, and her tells are under her clothes (mostly because she's wearing enough to reveal only her face and some hair), but she makes no secret about being from the somewhat mysterious Lunar territory to the southeast. An explorer, she calls herself when asked. A collector of tales.

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Towards the end of her planned stay in the first city, a tall, beautiful woman slips into the seat opposite her at the outdoor cafe where Gleam is taking her breakfast. She wears a silk blouse with a gilded lamellar overlay that glints in the light. Embossed on the chest is an outline of a sun rising above a steep mountain peak. A tasseled skirt falling to her knees and high-strapped sandals complete the outfit.

"A good morning to you."

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She takes Gleam's breath away, something spilling through her cracks - light, and airy, and, yes, beautiful - but so much more

Something sublime.

"A very lovely morning," she says, with a quick, bright grin, slightly too prominent canine teeth catching the light with a little glisten. She's sprawled in her chair with a predator's easy grace, already on her third pot of tea, her breakfast otherwise quite light. 

(Her own clothes are quite a bit different. More similar, perhaps, to the local dress, though suitably mildly foreign. A creamy blouse with a square neck and a tangle of knotwork in silver thread, a loose, flowing vest in a friendly goldish-orange fabric over it, under a dark red shawl and cloak - nearly gossamer, but layered enough times it doesn't matter. She has black trousers on, loose and gathered only at her waist and the tops of her dark boots. The fabric looks - more sturdy than fine, honestly, but the colors are deep enough she still looks more or less well off.)

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Smile.

"Have you been enjoying your trip, o collector of tales?"

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"Quite. This is an interesting little kingdom."

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"One does what one can. Might I know your name?"

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"You might - I'm Gleam of Liberation, right now."

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"It is my most sincere pleasure to make your acquaintance, Gleam. I am Elathea, called Brightspear."

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"A lovely name for a lovely woman."

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"Why, thank you. What brings you to this corner of Creation?"

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"Curiosity, more or less. I'm in a bit of a discovering mood, and my usual corner's drifted rather close of late."

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"Ah, the runaway nations' patron."

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"The one and only."

"And, well, I've been told once or twice that it's polite to say hello to the neighbors."

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"That is a good rule of thumb. Though I expect I will only be here five to ten years longer."

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"It'll be a pity to lose such a pretty face, then. Where are you heading next?"

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"Back to the Isle. I will need to ensure the geomantic energies of this location are integrating properly."

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"Always a pain when you're working anywhere near the wyld."

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"I'd like to get to know you before you leave, if you have the time."

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"I think I can set some aside for you."

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She laughs. "Wonderful."

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"Assuming, of course, I can persuade a wandering spirit such as yours to settle for a while."

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"Hm... Well, five years seems reasonable for a pretty face." She flashes Elathea a rather toothy grin. "You'll have to put in actual effort for a longer while."

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"Long-term projects," she smirks, "are my specialty."

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