As the tale of the Exalted Continues

Aster's Diary 14

Some answers, but still so many questions!

It has been a strangely busy time over the last week or so, Diary. I feel as though our understanding and progress in the city has grown by leaps and bounds!

First of all, I received a reply to the invitation I was sending out the last I wrote to you. If you had not already gathered, it was address to Hatelis, the commerce god of Champoor that I had spoken to a few times before. I suppose you, like my other companions, will marvel at this a bit, and I suppose it does seem a strange thing, to find oneself interested in pursuing a god. For one thing, as my companions were all quick to point out, he is likely much, much older than I am. I thought it rude to ask directly, but my closest estimation puts him at less than 700 years old, so there is very likely more than a bit of difference between our ages. My thinking on this subject, however, is that it is impossible to know whether or not that will make a difference between us until it is tested; as far as I can tell, I am likely to live quite a long time, so finding a companion who will do likewise seems appropriate. And if it becomes an issue, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
He is also, well, a god. Gods are not something that mortals usually pursue romantically, though I have heard stories of such a thing occurring. I am not, however, strictly speaking quite the same thing as a mortal any more. The things that I can do… well, in some ways I may be more powerful than some spirits and minor gods.
I am not entirely sure what has drawn me to him. He is…. interesting. He speaks to me like an equal, treats me with a great deal of respect. He makes me feel like an adult, like a woman.
But that is not it, not entirely. I think… I think he baffles me. I know so little about him, how he thinks, what he feels… a part of me, I suppose, just wishes to get to know him better.

Anyway..

His reply stated that he was otherwise engaged the evening I had suggested, but he would be delighted to take me up on my offer on another night, with a play and dinner.

I have never been so nervous.

My companions all took the news of this ‘date’ differently, and yet also very similarly. Chaoxi seemed happy for me. Broken Walls seemed skeptical, and took the time to remind me of Hatelis’ age. Piper seemed incredulous, distrusting Hatelis. I am grateful for the concern, but was not worried, myself. Saiten looked at me bemusedly. All of my friends are so protective of me that it must have come to a shock to them that I was pursuing the possibility of romance at all, let alone with a deity.

I met Hatelis in the theatre, and was introduced to its patrons. We sat next to them throughout the performance, which was a marvelous piece where the actors painted as they performed, the different parts of the canvas coming to represent what was happening in the play. It was lovely, though I do wish we had been alone. Our seatmates were lovely company, but it did make it slightly awkward trying to speak to him before the performance.

We then took a carriage to the most extravagant tea-house I have ever been in. Our table was in a hanging section above a garden! Our dinner was lovely, and we had some very fancy looking wine (though I will admit I don’t have much taste for it generally), and were able to converse a bit more privately. He was approached some time during the evening and was offered an invitation to some Gala occurring next month, which I was offered entry to as well! If it is anything as fancy as this, well, I will have to see if I can find something more suitable to wear…
After dinner, we went up to the roof, and watched the sun set. It was strange, after having been warned so many times not to be out after dark, but Hatelis assured me that I would be perfectly safe with him. This, I think, was my favorite part of the evening, because we were able to just sit in one another’s company without the distractions of the glitz and glamour.

When it had gotten quite late, we took his carriage to the compound. This, I would say, was my least favorite part of the evening. I would have been more frightened if Hatelis had not been beside me, but the curtains were drawn, the night was so dark… there was a thump on the carriage at one point. Even with his assurances, the streets after dark felt so dangerous. We really must fix this.

When I returned, Chaoxi was waiting up for me! She’s such a lovely person; she really does make me feel like I still have an older sister near me. Hatelis said a fairly brief goodnight, though he returned a moment later with the painting from the play (!). It was a lovely gesture.

That night was…

I am grateful for what Hatelis did for me. I was able to experience a side of Champoor filled with light, and laughter, and art, and music. My companion was charming, and attentive, and the evening was very pleasant…

But…

It really showed me how different we are. Our worlds, our scopes are so disparate. He deftly navigated the world of the rich and powerful like a well-captained ship through the rapids, and I… well, I clung to the hull and did my best not to be seasick.
I grew up a serving girl, gawking and marveling at the shining armor and sparkling finery of those who passed me in the street. And that world, that shimmering world of silks and jewels.. well, it doesn’t need me. I am needed in the dirt, up to my elbows in Gumari’s poison, wading through the muck to give my hand to the scraped-kneed orphan. The world I stepped into that night was already bright enough; it didn’t need my light added to it.
Don’t get me wrong, Diary, it was a wonderful place to visit, and I will happily join Hatelis at the Gala next month… but it’s not a place I could live.
A part of me desperately wishes we could have just sat on the walls of Champoor together that night. Sitting in his study two days later, chatting over tea.. there I felt at home. I worry that his tastes may be more for the shine of coins and jade than for a usually penniless girl who uses song to buy her way and gives away her coin as quickly as she gains it.

This does have me thinking, though, Diary. There is so little money in the slums, and so much of it in the city. We should start a venture there and use its profits to fund some kind of work project here. Something that doesn’t require too much in the way of previous skill, but helps to improve the quality of life here. A road cobbling project maybe? I will have to speak to Broken Walls about this.

The next day we received some startling news: Piper had been told who the spirit was who was keeping everyone in at night! Apparently, this is the work of a goddess of bloodshed and murder, whose followers kill in her name, which is Akkimu, every night, which is why being out then is a dangerous idea. It seems as though the beings Chaoxi and I saw late that night outside Mara’s home were Akkimu’s followers, and that the silver daggers and white masks they have somehow feed Akkimu power? Saiten was all for going after them then and slaughtering the lot of them. I think for the moment I have put the idea of destroying their links to Akkimu instead of this; if nothing else, it may be a less violent way to weaken her, and it seems somehow inappropriate to stop the doings of a murder goddess by, well, murdering. We agreed, however, to put off dealing with them until both Piper had had a chance to speak to her contact about them again, since it would probably put them in danger were we to confront them the same night Piper was contacted, and because Saiten and Broken Walls had plans that next day to see what was happening with Kadu’s City Improvement Project, and that was something which only happened every once and a while.

The next morning, Broken Walls returned to the compound with his own startling news; he had visited Mawk! Broken Walls actually spoke to him, it seems, and gave Mawk something of an idea of who he is in the city, if I understand correctly. Chaoxi, upon hearing the description Broken Walls gave, was surprised by Mawk’s appearance, and that he seems to spend most of his time asleep and material; gods, when they are not active, dematerialize, it seems. She thinks that it is possible he may either just be a giant, and not actually a god at all, or that he was a giant, and became a god, if such things are possible. If Dasadi was here, he would probably have more insight into such things.
Since I was not going with Broken Walls and Saiten to investigate the City Improvement Project, I offered to go and ask Hatelis if he knew anything about Mawk’s nature. I confess that I also simply wished to see him again, if for no other reason than to thank him for the other night, with perhaps a small token of my gratitude. I was also curious to see if he had any opinions on Akkimu; Piper had warned me against bringing her up, since he does not trust that Hatelis is not working with her, but I thought it better to be warned of any aspects of her nature Hatelis might be able to provide. Although, to be honest, I did not think he would be able to give such information, since he has been unable to in the past when it comes to many of the other gods of the city, but…. well, I wanted to have some more idea of where he stands. Asking would provide an opportunity to see how he reacted to her mention.

As Piper left to again question her contact, and Broken Walls and Saiten headed off to investigate Kadu, I set off in the direction of the trade district in order to see Hatelis. Saiten had suggested finding him a pen set, which I had, at the time, thought was quite a thoughtful idea; he is likely to use pens often, and perhaps he would think of our evening together fondly whenever he used it. It seems, however, that he has them in more supply than he requires… When I went to the foyer of his temple in order to book an appointment with him (so as not to repeat the mistake of last time), I asked one of his attendants where I could find stationary, only to be told that the temple itself sells them in abundance! Well, I could hardly gift him something that is sold at his temple, so I set off to find something a bit less personal, but perhaps a bit more practical: cookies.

Hatelis it seems does not have much more information about Mawk than is generally available. He seemed surprised when I posited to him that Mawk might be a giant, though I think he thought it possible. This is when I learned something of Hatelis’ probable age: he mentioned that he was not around before Mawk’s active time in Champoor. I joked about being much younger than Mawk as well, and he smiled, stating that he wouldn’t have asked. He seems much warmer, and quicker to compliment me than before I invited him to dinner. It is pleasing, but still a bit strange.
When I asked him what he knew of Akkimu, he expectedly told me that he was unable to tell me. When I asked how he would feel about her no longer being in the picture he grimaced and said “no comment”. I am unsure as to how to take this, but I still believe him not to be ‘on her side’, so to speak. He seems… a good man (god), but I think he must be required to stay neutral, I suppose by his nature, or perhaps by some contract that he himself is under; no one could be more expected to keep their end of a bargain than a contract god.

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