In the crook of the foothills east of Port Calin stands a large estate. Gifted to the Cathak family almost three hundred years ago, the Scion who tends to it has modeled the land into a gracious living space envious of the finest tracts on the blessed isle. Quaint by Realm standards, but not without its own rustic charms. Containing enough of the rich finery come to be expected of dynastic dwellings, the local populace would be forgiven for thinking it existed as an example of the most opulent abodes the Cathak’s owned. It is not, but, it is one of their favourites.
A home away from the politic of the Patrician courts, magisterial offices, and intrigue of the throne - Calwall Manor serves as an edifice removed, and its caretaker, Cathak Norim, plays host to a churning calendar of his family’s highest blood and branch lineages. This summer was no different.
A parade of sixteen lineages were to be marched down the gravel pathways - meticulously raked each morning, midday, and afternoon to achieve rigorous orderliness - and served in the five wings of the manor. Each wing possessed a devoted staff of servants and maids, cooks, farriers, bakers, and more. Enough rooms to house a small army- and with a Cathak get together what else could it be considered?- and luxury amenities to while away any hour they saw fit between joining hunting parties that combed the acreage for good quail and pheasant, perhaps the modest buck or deer for sport.
This summer, while no different to any other, not on the whole, sum, or part- at least as far as the Lord would have the servants admit- would nonetheless test the sureness of their service as a small cadre of V’neef would be joining the Head Family. Just six such women- half a dozen being barely a trifle- the matriarch herself, four daughters and a granddaughter. Rumours, were they to be believed or purveyed, states that such a retinue were visiting away from the isle to cement a long worked-for alliance. Signed in marriage and to be sealed in many generations of scions. If, of course, one stopped to listen to rumour.
Unfortunately for V’neef Jade, youngest granddaughter of V’neef, Matriarch of her Name, and Youngest Scion of her Royal Empress, long may she reign; rumour was the most charitable manner to describe the predicament she found herself in.
It was bad enough her mother and grandmother were here to oversee her first outing from the isle- but into the very homestead of her dear Rohan. The young Cathak had been born away from the isle and, though he visited rarely, it carried for him fond memories. It was, perhaps, some of the adventurous stories he would tell her of his time spent amongst the fields and forests that endeared her towards him in the first place. But, even as close as they were now and free of the pervasive eyes of the Magistracy, the Ministries, and squabbling dynastic families, an awful sadness clouds the spaces between them.
Rohan is often away from her side, tending to one family request or another. He had been stationed as her chaperone for about as long as she could remember, tasked with her safety which was a charge he took very seriously. But here in the heart of a territory they considered their own, the Cathaks felt she no longer needed such duties to be afforded to her and so their time together was short.
Rohan had breathed his second life two years ago. A late bloomer by most standards of the Dragon’s blood, but nothing compared to her own seemingly endless stasis, nor that uncommon for one of his particular family. For a V’neef though, nearing her twentieth birthday and still no signs of the essence fever, if the shame of not Exalting didn’t kill her she felt that somehow she might be sent away permanently, if it served the family’s image of absolute purity. Maybe that was why they had brought her all the way out here? Only a few days left before it would be certain she would never join her family in the Dragon’s Grace. The first of her line to fail so utterly.
At the current hour, Jade found herself secluded in her room. It adjoined a library and hobby hall with all manner of craft tools, wool, scraps of parchment, beads, empty journals; the kinds of things her mother knew held her disinterest. It was clearly a sign of her dissatisfaction but, how Jade had managed to anger her, she wasn’t sure. Given that her balcony overlooked the yard where Rohan and his brothers were training with swords, she could suspect that their dalliance had not gone unnoticed.
Jade sighs. She could go and speak to her mother in an attempt to divine her current mood, but felt sure that her presence would not be welcomed at this hour. That was the way it was with most things- Jade had been able to assess that from a young age. Those who deigned to speak to her did so out of forging alliances with which to capitalise upon should Jade prove worth the effort in time. There was little authenticity afforded to her. Though she respected and honoured her family she didn’t truly know them- raised as she was by an ever turning door of nannies and tutors, lest she form ‘inappropriate’ attachments. There were hopes that it would be different, once she drew second breath, but time marched ever onwards and the great chasm of difference between herself and those she longed to love had yet to be breached.
And it would remain that way, unless she took matters into her own hands.
Jade looks about the room at the inane tools provided to keep her hands preoccupied. Wool, parchment, beads, journals. The things provided. She turns and takes the room in more. The silken sheets, the gauze of the bedposts, the goose down-filled pillows. The intricately woven rugs. A lot of padding for the stone walls. Grabbing an edge of the linens she pulls it back and begins tying the ends together, pulling tight on the knot and attaching one end to the bulk of the wooden bed frame. Once long enough, she opens the balcony doors and flings out all but two of the oversized cushions onto the ground in the hopes that if she failed it would break her fall.
She takes a deep breath of the fresh jasmine-scented wind, grips tight on the silken rope and climbs over the banister. She was going to join the fighting. Maybe, just maybe, she would exalt on the field of battle rather than the medical tents like her family. If not, well….at least this got her closer to Rohan.
Affording her just enough length to slowly lower herself to the ground, Jade’s sheets billow in the wind once she lets go and her weight no longer holds them down. The ground here is grassy but towards where the boys and men were at play with their training weapons it had been trodden into a light muddy paste that left dark marks at the base of their boots.
Cathak Koran, Rohan’s older brother shouts a halting command to the group as Jade approaches, crossing the distance between them in a few long strides such that he stands over her a full foot taller. His gaze is… kind? She guesses? His features were naturally hard and angular as if a permanent scowl had been blown onto it by changing winds. Even so, it at least appeared to be making the effort to soften his eyes.
“Jade.” He says her name sternly. “An unorthodox entrance. Can we help you?”
Rohan hovers in the back of the group. His eyes meet Jade’s and she can sense his unease, like she was nearing a pack of jackals and the stiffness of his arm clenches his grip against the wooden sword’s hilt.
“Yes, you can. I was never very good at swordplay, but I’m fantastic at dancing.” She does a little twirl in the muddied ground, and leans around Koran to address the group as a whole. “I would like you all to spar with me. I will try and avoid your blows. I think its best that if I show no skill in wielding a blade, I should at least learn how to dodge one.”
The group shift around uncomfortably, it’s clear none of them were enthused by the idea of taking a weapon, even a fake one, to a visiting dignitary.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Koran resonates with authority.
((Koran makes a persuade roll on his fellows, succeeding with 4 successes))
The group start turning away from Jade and returning to their drills, only Rohan is reluctant - pressed between duty and devotion.
“Jade-” Koran pauses momentarily, seemingly considering his words and opting for something more polite, “-perhaps your time would be better spent getting ready for the mid-morning meal. I’d love to see your footwork inside where it is clean. Perhaps, even, I could join you?”
“Why is it not a good idea, dear cousin?” Jade presses, and politely puts him in his assigned place- fond relative. “I’ve already committed to ruining these fine shoes, going inside now will not unsully them. It would be a waste to go back knowing that they will be tossed, having scarcely been worn...are you afraid of hurting me?”
She looks around to the others cheekily “- are you incapable of showing restraint?” She all but pokes her tongue out at the fire-aspected dynasts.
((rolled 6 to influence dynasts to play with her, attaching intimacy ‘teaching of hesiash/restraint’ from the military training she knows they all have))
There is a further shuffle in the ranks of the men, Rohan’s not so subtle smile favouring one side of his face more than the other. Koran grunts with annoyance, turning to face his men with a withering glare but he could not help the uprightness of Jade’s inferences.
“Blast you, Jade- fine.” He cracks his wooden blade against his hand like a madame would a leather crop, “Tanan, Josef, you’re up.”
The group moves aside, leaving ample area in the centre of their number for the chosen fighters to lock each other in trial combat. Tanan, the larger of her two opponents had doffed his tunic when they had arranged teams whereas Josef was part of the shirted team. Each was of physical comparison to Rohan, though Koran’s frame was half again as tall and broad, so Jade could be sure that they were likely of similar strength to her bodyguard. Their skill, however? Jade knew that Rohan would have been considered a prodigy had Koran not already trod the same path and out done him by a hair. Maybe trying her hand against a couple of the youngest of the Cathak brood would be a decent test of her own training.
((Join Battle, 2 and 1 for 5 and 4 initiative, Jade 7))
She starts with the feet together, keeping the knees straight and lifts the heels high enough so all of her body weight is on the balls of the feet. Jade then bows to both Tanan and Josef. “So, how do you usually decide who wins? First to be knocked down, or first to submit?”
Jade slowly lifts one of her legs, her other foot sinking slightly into the mud. When it is roughly two-thirds in the air she spins it fast down and around, to knock Josef at the back of his knees.
Jade’s graceful footwork lifts Josef’s leg instinctively rather than using force to pull it away from him. The poor young soldier tumbles backwards, sloshing through the mud and caking his white shirt in the muck before rolling up to standing, just barely catching his footing as his shoes slip in the slick.
Tanan frowns a little, moving forward with his wooden blade to lightly strike her in the same place.
((roll 3 to hit, not enough to surpass Jade’s Evasion.))
Continuing her movement, Jade pirouettes away even as Josef finally finds decent footing and clumsily lunges forwards with his boffin.
At the sight of the oncoming boffin, Jade grabs the rail of the training area fence and lifts her weight up of the ground, her legs solidly out of reach. "Allegro! Grande Jeté. It means fast, big, jump!"
((roll 5 to hit, not enough to surpass Jade’s increased Evasion. New round, Jade’s action))
What goes up, must come down. Tanan’s turn. “Are you out of breath? No one has answered me yet. Do I get to decide?”
Utilizing her hold on the bar, she pulls back both knees and kicks out hard into the chest of Tanan, aiming for Tanan to collide into Josef and hopefully dirty them both prone in the mud.
(decisive kick on Tanan)
Twisting her body with her hands and arms, Jade swings out a round kick against Tanan’s chest far harder than he was anticipating. The blade of her foot snaps against his ribs with all the force of her leg and arms behind it, pulling back at the moment of impact to leave all the force behind. He hurtles backwards, crashing through the mud as all the ari escapes his lungs, sliding to a stop just past Josef, forcing the other young blooded to hop over his friend and risk slipping in the mud himself.
“I yield...” he says, weakly, still panting and having a hard time catching his breath.
Josef snaps a glance between them, backing away and raising his blade above his head. “Know when I’m beat, miss.”
This elicits a round of cheering from the rest of the group, a few laughs at the loser’s expense and a cry of victory from Koran.
“Hah! Amazing! You have proven me very wrong this day, V’neef Jade. I should never have doubted you.” Now Koran’s features truly did turn softer, Jade could swear she saw a slight tinge to his cheeks. Somewhere under all the cheekbone, heavy brow, and hard set jaw, he was blushing.
“Thank you, Sir Cathak Koran,” Jade does a little curtsy, giddy with excitement. “However, I am not satisfied. I spot two clean shirts. Koran and Rohan, I challenge you both!” She does a little dance on the spot from one toe to the next.
Koran laughs, at first thinking it was a joke- but his fellows start to cheer in Jade’s favour, wishing her well and praying she can show their sargeant to the mud. “I hope you do not forget yourself, Jade.” Koran steps forwards, that long stride of his taking him impossibly close to her in an instant.
Rohan, crosses the span as best he can without drawing upon his blood, concern crossing his expression even amidst the joy of watching Jade prove her martial might.
((Join battle, Rohan 8, Koran 10 Jade- 7))
Koran, upon Jade almost faster than she could see, flicks his training blade up under her arm. Using it as a hook, he brings the flat of its length against her back and rotates from his hip, sending her stumbling forwards.
((withering attack, 12 dice to hit))
Jade lets out a surprised squeal, a little “eeei!” as she’s moved. Rather than fight the momentum she tries to move with it, curling her back as she grabs hold of the wooden blade for stability to support an evasive bend.
Jade goes slipping through the mud, still able to keep her footing well enough to avoid tumbling over into it. Rohan locks in step with Koran and brings his bidding up defensively. Koran risks to himself, unhappy with his little brother’s lack of pressure.
“Rohan has discovered my evil ploy! Do you think your measly shield will protect you?!” She cackles playfully and grabs a handful of mud, careful not to let any spill down onto her sleeves. “hiiiiiiYA! Death to the Clean Shirts! For the Empress! V’neef PRIDE!”
(withering mud attack against Rohan )
Rohan’s eyes widen as his trained reflexes move his blade for a perfect party, that is, were he trying to parry a blade. The mud ball splits in two as his stick passes through it, splattering him with dirt and causing him to flinch backwards.
Koran laughs more, stepping into jades’s personal space and ducking low behind her, trying to catch her on his shoulders and lift her up above his head.
((Attempt at a grapple gambit!!))
“Eeep! No, no, no, no, no!” Jade chants and moves around the fence, laughing as she tries to take some kind of cover. The sleeves of her gown swish wildly as she bats at the air to keep him back.
(spending WP making it 7)
Koran hefts Jade up with his shoulders but the lithe woman is able to roll with the motion and bring her feet back to the ground without losing step. Without the expected weight of Jade to slow him, Koran ends up knocking his frame up against the fencing.
Rohan seems to see his chance, darting forwards and dragging his bottom tip along the mud to bring it up against Jade and toss the muck up at her.
((Withering attack, 12 dice))
Jade sees the sword coming and swoops in to meet Rohan before the tip leaves the ground, pressing her ankle down to try and pin the motion and ramming her body into his, the battle for the blade commences! Who is master of the mud?!
(clash! 14 damage +crash bonus)
Rohan’s momentum is unceremoniously ended as Jade’s foot expertly catches the tip of the blade, sending him twirling into the ground. The wooden sword shifted with Jade’s motion to catch most of the muddy refuse and knocking it away to the ground leaving her pristine while Rohan ends up a few feet away, face down and sopping wet with the muck.
((New round, Jade's initiative is now higher than Koran’s, her action first this round))
“Tanan! Josef!” Jade calls exuberantly, retrieving the wooden sword from the mud and flicking off the grime. “What will you gift me if I win? The odds are against me, but the dragons have favoured me thrice far this day. Who dares bet against the sargent?”
“Sarge said the worst performer has their muddy shirt flown on the mainmast!” Josef calls out.
“Josef will clean your chamber pot!!” Taman wheezes out, still winded from her blow.
Koran is not impressed, a fire lit in his eyes and a soft red glow emanating from his body. He was motivated now, and Jade recognised the signs of essence welling in his anima. Whatever he was planning next, she would need all her strength and wiles to overcome.
Jade laughs gleefully and raises the sword, placing a hand on the back of the hilt. “Rohan owes me a ride on a Cathak stallion...if I’m conscious. Mela, pray speed thy stroke!”
She runs full force towards him with the sword pointing at his chest. At the last moment, she risks bending backwards to slide underneath him and the gap in the fence, abandoning the practice sword. She then brings the blades of both fists into the crook of his knees.
Jade’s attack takes Koran directly in his knees, buckling under the force, he stumbles back while doubling over, his mass and weight used against him as his head cracks hard against the fencing. Flipping back, his body goes limp as it hits the ground.
Everyone stares in dumb disbelief.
“V’neef Jade!” The sharp tone of her mother’s disciplinary voice cuts through the silence like an explosion. Sure enough, glancing behind her, Jade can see V’neef Rose and her two aunts hastily striding towards her with as much poise as they could manage. Rohan and the others snap to attention, bowing their heads towards the oncoming ladies. “What. Is. The. Meaning. Of. This!?” Her mother demands.
There was a bee? Thinks Jade. No, lying to her mother was an incredibly risky proposal, but the high of having won was still beating through her body.
“I have heard stories from my friends, tales, of how and why they felt their second breath come upon them. They were challenged, and they bloomed.” Jade has the decency to look contrite. “I know it cannot be forced, Mother, but the Cathak family were upholding the promise of hosts to cater to my needs. I...needed to be challenged.” What you provided for distractions were not inane or petty enough, she thinks.
Jade’s mother glares at her with such disapproval as to wither the very grass she stood upon.
“Inside. Now.” It brooked no argument and she didn’t even stop to watch over her daughter, assuming rightly so that her command would be obeyed. Instead, Jade’s mother busies herself with ordering the younger Cathaks around, making sure their eldest cousin was seen to. An especially gracious nod of her head to Rohan. Jade was unhurt after all, so technically he had performed his set duty exactly.
Jade spares a look to them all. She knew they understood, hoped they understood. Poor Koran. She should probably feel something other than glee. But she had managed to beat three of her trained cousins. She could fight if she had to. They may not have been trying to hurt her but that boost that she could overwhelm even them was…heavenly. She dons the mask of obedience and goes inside, carefully removing her shoes before doing so.
The roads leading towards Port Calin where paved well, especially the high road leading from Sijan. His menagerie trundled down its wide paths effortlessly, stopping occasionally to allow other merchant wagons by as the bulk of his company would take over several such roads if he felt inclined to behave like a totally spoiled noble.
Sagacious Hand is seated atop the Pachyderm. A nice cool wind blows through his long red locks. The soft scent of salt slowly joining in the breeze as they neared their destination. It was serene, except that the almost dull intonation of Ylva’s voice recounting the last performance metrics and profit projections.
It was less that Hand hated numbers, he just largely didn’t understand them. This was a ritual, however and one he was required to endure no matter how much he’d love to skip it over. He knew, somewhere in the back of his head, the numbers would add up and balance- a kind of trust in himself to make the right decisions as he had always managed before.
“-and lastly, we received a raven from Governor Norim. He’s ‘requested’ that we divert our dealing to his staff rather than Pastar like usual. The Empire seems to have taken an interest and wants us to set up closer to their estate rather than the usual spot.”
Sagacious Hand takes the canestick he was idling chewing out of his mouth and sits upright to look at Ylva directly. “Excuse me, what? Do you mean ‘I’ve done something vaguely offensive and they want us gone’ or ‘I’ve done something extremely offensive and they want us dead’? Our show isn’t really….they’re not the target audience, Ylva. Can we afford to pretend we didn’t get the raven?”
“Hard to say.” She replies, “Our contacts mention rumour of some big to-do taking place unlike anything the bucket-heads has bothered with before. No normal hunting and high sport, they are entertaining someone important.” She idly taps the back of her pen against her lip. “Still, that isn’t to say someone doesn’t want your hide. You still owe Stone Upturned your tab from our last visit, even if you took a dislike to him, a debt is a debt.”
“Bah, well it’s all the same direction.” He tosses the spent canestick over the side of the mechanical beast. “Give me some time to think it over. I’m not opposed to the idea of a location switch, it just means an extra hour or two to assess the lighting rigs. Maybe a change in routine to something that can be packed up swiftly in case things go awry. Do you remember that unit in Lookshy last season? Morran is still trying to laquer that wood. You can’t hide Dragon’s fire, that stuff stains everything when they get drunk and ornery.”
“Which reminds me…” she sets aside her giant ledger and produces an equally large book full of loose pages, cuttings, annotations, and what else only the Maidens knew. “Miss Karal was wanting to increase the premiums relating to investment insurance-” and on she goes again.
This is a play-by-post performed in the comfort of Google Docs, presented as it was written without much thought put to editing. There is only one Player, controlling both V'neef Jade and Sagacious Hand, and the Storyteller (me).
In our play document we bold and un-bold to differentiate who has written something, but I'm unsure if that formatting is suitible for reading by others (comments and opinions on that welcome). I also include mechanical notes in the document which are italicised and bounded by double-brackets (are these distracting? or is it nice to know what's goign on behind the scenes?) We are mostly sharing just because we've written so much already just for our own amusement, and it seemed a waste to leave it languishing on a server somewhere.
I'm putting a [NSFW] tag on this, becasue the story covers some themes that are heavy (one of the characters is suffering under a lot of social abuse); but the story isn't exactly R18+ or anything. One character in particular uses especially colourful profanities some might not be comfortable with (a lot of c-words and heretical analogies), and while there is space we leave for physical intimacy, so far there's really only two scenes where anything of significance happens and it's fairly light on the details.
There is currently 2 'books' completed and we are working on book 3. It isn't written with planned chapter breaks in mind, I've just done a quick break up of each story into rough 'sessions' and those tend to average around 3k-4k words. In total everything together is around 87k words. I'm planning on sharing a chapter every week or so until we catch up to where we are right now, and will maintain a master post in the collections forum for easy reference.
As it turns out, we're writing more content a bit quicker than I expected, so I'm instead going to post up a full book every few weeks until/unless we slow down. The Master post in collections will have expected release dates for each upcomming book.
Any questions or comments are welcome