Metricarisenikai had been selected by Lord Baera to be a collector of information. A spy, you could say. As usual, it was impossible to understand what sort of criterion Baera used to make his selections; Metria had died young, after experiencing literally nothing of the real world, so as an intriguer he initially left something to be desired. I was almost shocked when he walked out of that dead city, all those centuries ago now, and announced that Lord Baera had assigned me to him as his mentor. Not that it showed on my face, of course; even then, I didn’t have a face.
But after centuries of practice, he had reached a point where, no matter how unpromising his beginnings were, he had all but perfected his craft. Were I feeling uncharitable, I would suggest that his craft was actually the art of getting other people to do his work for him, but I suppose that it did make him rather efficient at ferreting out secrets.
In this case, however, the plans of Caiaphas Bellvaunt very nearly dropped into his lap on their own. Metria had been living in this city even before I had come here, and he had entire families that had grown up around providing him information. His finger was on the pulse of the entire city, and as such, the rise of the Bellvaunt family, or rather the rise of Caiaphas, completely failed to take him by surprise. Recognizing Caiaphas as a force to be reckoned with, Metria looked for an opportunity to extend his information network inside the family itself.
That opportunity arose in the form of Caiaphas’ ninth grandchild, a girl named Beatrice Bellvaunt. Young Beatrice had fallen in love with a young man named Simon Tolliver, an orphan she had apparently met after attending the same school. It just so happened that the orphanage Tolliver had grown up in was, in fact, supported almost entirely by Metricarisenikai, and he kept tabs on the most promising children to eventually recruit into his own ranks. Such was the case for Tolliver, and when Metria found out that he and the young Beatrice Bellvaunt were interested in each other, Metria became their hidden supporter. He arranged for Tolliver to be adopted by a certain prominent family, which made it possible for Tolliver to openly court Beatrice, and then quietly removed other obstacles to their marriage. Not long after, Simon and Beatrice were wed, and their gratitude to Metria became the dead man’s primary source for information inside the Bellvaunt family.
As far as love stories went, it had overtones of a fairytale, with Metria in the position of fairy godmother. I found it a bit questionable why he felt it was relevant to this report, but maybe he was just showing off his work. I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t understand how Metria thinks.
In any event, it was from Beatrice and Simon that Metria learned about Caiaphas Bellvaunt aspirations toward immortality. He was quite concerned, of course; while preventing such attempts was not precisely his job, he knew that he was one of the last servants of the Reaper Lords, and that he had a certain amount of responsibility to make sure Caiaphas did not succeed. But since he was Metria, and not myself, he did not storm the Bellvaunt household and demand that he cease his immoral activities, but instead arranged for even more information to flow into his office about Caiaphas’ activities, and identify places to sabotage if necessary.
As it happened, however, there was no real need for sabotage; Caiaphas Bellvaunt’s research led nowhere. Metria remained vigilant, or so claimed his notes; but perhaps he relaxed a little, knowing that he would not have to directly interfere.
And then came the attack by the fanatics of the Holy Eagle Faith which cost Metricarisenikai the use of his arm.
The “Holy Eagle Incident,” as it became known, very quickly turned into a huge problem for the city as a whole, and Metria, along with several other high profile figures both living and otherwise, were forced to spend a great deal of time cleaning up the perpetrators. Years, in fact; the report in my hand was sparse on details, but it was obviously not as simple an incident as Metria had implied to me earlier.
Now, to those of us who have existed for multiple centuries, a few years here and there pass like nothing. And so, it was quite some time before Metria realized that he hadn’t heard from Beatrice and Simon in a while. I can only imagine his surprise when he discovered that they had completely disappeared, leaving behind their young daughter.
Irene Bellvaunt had been born during the years following the Holy Eagle Incident, and Beatrice and Simon had apparently asked Metria to be her godparent. They had brought her to Metria’s bar on numerous occasions, so Metria became quite familiar with the young girl. When he found out that her parents had mysteriously disappeared, he tried to go to see her, but was turned away by the guards at the Bellvaunt estate. Being a persistent type, Metria tried other, less direct means to discover the fate of his godchild, but the Bellvaunt household refused to provide any information; he could barely confirm that the child was still alive. Metria apparently also tried to discover what had happened to Beatrice and Simon, but couldn’t learn a single thing. Not even whether they were dead or alive. Or so he wrote in the report.
And so, an underground war had begun between the spies loyal to Metria, and those in service to Caiaphas Bellvaunt. At the same time, Caiaphas and Metria attempted to pressure each other politically; but frankly, the politics of this city were murky at the best of times, and it was hard to say who had the advantage at any one time. This conflict between them continued for nearly twenty years.
And then, three months ago, Irene Bellvaunt walked into Metria’s bar, and asked him for shelter. She had run away from the Bellvaunt estate — or rather, she had escaped. Apparently, she had remembered that her missing parents had trusted the dead man, and she decided to place her hope on him. Metricarisenikai immediately spirited her away to ‘a safe location’ where he interrogated her on what had happened in the years they had been out of contact. Needless to say, Irene’s story had confirmed his worst fears.
As part of his Cultivation Project, Caiaphas Bellvaunt had selected five children to become the vessels of a god — a Seed. There were four originally, according to Irene, but Caiaphas had quickly snatched her up when her parents disappeared, and inducted her into the Project as well. Caiaphas himself did not belong to a specific faith; he didn’t care about the properties of the god which would grant him immortality, as long as he could successfully Cultivate one. And so, each child was instructed and forced to emulate a different god.
Personally, I was skeptical such a cold-blooded approach to Cultivating a god could ever be fully successful; it takes a great deal of belief and genuine feeling to emulate a god. But then, I had witnessed such unsuccessful attempts, whereas Caiaphas was going into his Project with very little correct information. Truly, grasping at straws …
Be that as it may. Young Irene had been instructed in the ways of the god Lysysteri. I recognized the name as one of the gods most persistently worshiped over my many years, although his name had changed often: Korrak, Meserta, Dahahana, Devrity, Liserta … I knew of at least twenty different ways to refer to him. Naturally, he was the god most closely associated with the sun; in addition, a god of warriors and courage, of growth and life, and he was also associated with the beginning of all things. He was sometimes held to be the very first god, though I knew that wasn’t the case; but he was certainly one of the oldest. His personality, on the other hand, was fairly simple: he was straight-forward, good humored, and accepted all people as they were.
It was here that Caiaphas’ lack of knowledge about Cultivations truly defeated him. Even more than the properties of the god, it is their personality that allows them to resonate with humans. And so, young Irene was trained in weapons, and instructed to think of herself as a courageous warrior of the sun. But her handlers failed to shape her personality to match that of Korrak, or rather Lysysteri, I suppose. The chances of success were slim to begin with, and as it happened, Irene grew up to be completely different than Lysysteri in temperement. Where he was simple and straight-forward, she was intelligent and cunning; where he was good humored, she was sarcastic and incisive; and where he accepted people, she rejected them. After her parents disappearance, she trusted no one. I felt a small amount of sympathy for the girl, though it was good that she did not successfully become a Cultivation.
Though, of course, I would still have to test her.
In any event, although she did not properly emulate the god, she was still a well-trained, courageous young woman, who thought of herself as a fighter. She made plans, and waited until the people watching her became lazy, before she broke herself out of the confinement inflicted upon a potential Cultivation and escaped into the city. Metria’s report lacked the details, strangely; I made myself a mental note to ask the young woman once I tracked her down again. There might be something significant there.
And so, finally, I reached the most important part of the report. Irene had of course been separated from her fellow Seeds, in order to properly control their environments. But the people guarding her were careless, and she had good hearing. She had heard that her cousin, a young woman named Nerissa, had actually begun to show evidence of the power of the goddess known in this era as Silarchai, a goddess of prophecy. Shockingly, Caiaphas had actually managed, against all odds, to create a Cultivation.
Or so they said. Metria couldn’t tell, from Irene’s testimony, whether this was just random exaggerations or the absolute truth, and he wanted to find out for certain. And so, he sent Irene to find me.
As if I would believe that. As an explanation, it left much to be desired.
Have you ever written one of those chapters, where it just won’t gel properly? I know that there are balance problems with this chapter; I just hope I haven’t broken continuity somewhere. It’s only chapter 10, for Lysysteri’s sake!
Oh, well, chalk up another one for full rewrite, when the time comes… 😦