Warlord of the Legion of the Unconquered Sun (Lotus)
General Takata stood looking over the assembled formation of the 6th Immaculate Dragon. This was to be his new assignment. The 6th Immaculate Dragon was not particularly renowned for its battle prowess in these days, indeed many believed the General’s assignment to this group was meant as an insult. The General was not wholly inclined to disagree. However he was not one to complain where it would do no good. This was the sacrifice he would make for House Cathak. The political blunders of his brother Dentro had assured him this place.
What many did not realize was that the 6th Immaculate Dragon’s history was a rich one. The name of the band alone should tell anyone what they had once been capable of doing in battle. This Dragon had served the Realm well, so well that after saving a powerful temple of immaculate priests the Dragon was given the name of the 6th Immaculate Dragon, as the head priest believed that without the will of the Immaculate Dragons could the temple have survived. Indeed it was a great honor. The Dragon was decreed to never work under a legion, but to be an army unto itself and serve the dynastic interests of the Realm. But time and ambition ruined the once proud and powerful Dragon. Nobles sought to place their children at the head to the dragon, or at the very least high in its ranks. And while some of the leaders were capable most were politicians. They did not exercise the Dragon, nor were any inclined to risk the loss of such a political tool to trivial wars and soon the men fell out of shape. And in time the Realm became aware of that fact, the 6th Immaculate Dragon became the fictitious deity of lazy soldiers, a place where you did nothing but live well and fade into obscurity.
There is a wisdom that comes with age, and in General Takata’s 150 years as a warrior, soldier, commander, and Dragon Blooded he’d learned that sometimes the best opportunities come dressed as poor propositions. And that was the case of the 6th Immaculate Dragon. It was a Dragon after all, 500 men would be at his command. But Takara was not just a soldier, like many Cathak he was a minor politico and even a bit of a savant. He studied the old scrolls and texts, he wanted to know the history of his new Dragon and that was when he found records of the decree. The 6th Dragon was autonomous, free of controls with a royal sanction from Her majesty. His family’s political enemies felt that they were giving him the weakest Dragon in the Realm and he felt they were giving him the perfect vessel to create a powerbase for the house Cathak. Now all he would have to do was fill the Dragon with soldiers loyal to House Cathak.
He motioned for Major Bourne to dismiss the men and returned to his tent. Major Bourne was house Mnemone and would be difficult to replace, so for now he would retain his rank and station. Takata sat at his desk and took up his quill and paper. His writing flowed with the practiced skill of a swordsman.
I am writing to you as I see a great opportunity for House Cathak. I have recently come to command the 6th Immaculate Dragon. We are under-strength by at least 200 soldiers. And we have another 100 soldiers of “questionable” house allegiance. With your patronage I believe we can turn the 6th Immaculate Dragon into a loyal blade for the House Cathak. To do this I would ask you to send word through out our house for all skilled warriors and Dragon Blooded to be re-assigned to my Dragon. And I shall form these troops into such a host that the fires of our lines will light the night sky.
Yours in life, death, and above all duty,
Some of the letter was a lie, he knew this and so did Cainan, no doubt. But he also knew that if this gambit failed it was important to Cainan that it be Takara’s failure and not his own. A lie was a way to allow the leader of the house to give the soldiers and still claim that the field reports indicated it was based solely on need, and not on some well hidden scheme.
Solomon had always taken his duty very seriously. Maybe he wouldn’t be as powerful as his two brothers, his sister, his father, his mother, their grandfather, and all the other Dragon Blooded he had the privilege to be related to…but he could show proper deference and do what was expected of him without question or complaint.
The merit of his blood was enough to keep him from ever wanting. He grew up with all the wealth and power of a Dynast and was accorded as much respect as he could earn. In his youth he was treated as his siblings, all were expected to exalt through the power of the families blood. They were trained in the ways of their house. Warfare and conquest were their destinies. They were provided the finest tutors and attended the finest schools. All of them became skilled warriors by the age of 10, and the training only intensified after that. Despite all expectations though, Solomon never exalted and one by one all his siblings emerged with the blood of the Dragons. He knew that his father and mother were disappointed, and perhaps some might argue that they treated him poorly because of it. But he never complained, and would not make a word of protest. This was a failure of his blood, not their failure and he could not blame them for his short comings. So he put his mind to his studies. While his siblings attended House of Bells and Heptagram he stayed up late at night working on his sword techniques and learning to evade blows in cumbersome armor. He could still do his part and die with honor in battle. At the age of 17 Solomon left the manner of his parents and enlisted in the 11th Legion. There he further pushed himself, learning from anyone who could teach him and adopting a soldier’s life. Chatting around the fire in good honest tongues was much more comforting to him than the myriad of hushed whispers that surrounded his dynastic house. A good piece of steel, warm bed mat and a hot tin of stew became his idea of high living. He would spend his free time visiting the Temple of the Monks of the Immaculate Order. He would listen to the divine lessons that spilled forward and graced his ears. The words they spoke rang true to him. Their simple direction and unwavering clarity rang to his bones.
Under the empress’s command the 11th Legion fought many battles and traveled through out the Realm and Threshold. He saw much of the world, and over time he gained in rank. By the time he was 25 he was a swords man of unparalleled skill, save among the Dragon Blooded, and was given command of a scale and the rank Lieutenant. He was purported to be a natural commander of men, but he never bought into such praise. He knew that it was his soldiers’ strength and discipline that made him seem competent. But in time the political winds began to shift. The 11th Legion was sent out less and less and they were suppressing rebellions more and more often. Rumors of the Empress’s disappearance began to spread through the ranks. The battlefield was changing and he saw his beloved 11th becoming unclean with the politics of the day. Then he received a “Commendation”. He was recalled to the Capital and told that in recognition for his service to the 11th Legion and the Realm he was being given a special Scale and a new duty. He was to become a commander of the Scale of the Sun Chasers.
He believed every word of it too. The commendation was in truth a convenient excuse for the 11th Legion to consolidate under a new house banner and all the commanders loyal to non-allied houses were being replaced. Luckily House Cathack was still powerful enough to prevent his death outright; some of the other commanders allied to lesser houses were mysteriously ambushed on their trip to the capital. For all his intelligence and cunning on the battlefield Solomon was relatively naïve when it came to politics, and more than once he was used as a pawn in his service. And now, once again, he was being used as a pawn. When he arrived in the Port Town of Arjuf he was met by a young Corporal. The woman led him to the camp that had been secured near the docks and lead him to a large tent. Inside the tent a large stocky man stood in front of a table with 6 other men, and he could tell by the dull grays and browns of the mans features and the dark brown hues of his Jade armor that he was a Dragon Blood of the Earth. The other 6 men all wore Jade armor as well and were all likewise Dragon Blooded. Solomon stood silently knowing he would be addressed when he was needed. And after about 15 minutes the stocky dynast turned and beckoned him closer. “Lieutenant” the man said with a voice like gravel underfoot. “My name is Major Bourne. You’ve been assigned to me by request. Our scale specializes in Wyld Hunts and from what I am told you are exceptional both with your men and with a sword. You will need both or you will be dead shortly” He paused to let that sink in, and Solomon stood, unmoving and at attentions. “Your men are outside, you will be responsible for teaching them how to recognize and battle Solar exalted. Obviously you can’t teach them what you do not know so we will be teaching you. Learn fast and well and your men will learn fast and well, and fewer will be lost because of your failings.” Solomon understood he was about to get a crash course in the Exalted. He learned what fueled them and made them so fierce, he learned the few weaknesses that were known, but mostly he learned that he and his men were the hounds chasing the bear. Their job was to keep the Solar moving while the hunters got into position.
His men were a rag tag lot, taken from various houses and Legions. Some were sent to die here as a punishment for some slight, others were sent here to reward their valiant efforts on the field of battle and in the service of the legion. And over the course of the next year many died, but many also learned and soon they became very efficient hounds. He aided in the just death of 6 Solars over the next few years until one particularly brutal hunt. Half his men were killed and 3 of the Dragon Blooded had been murdered. The Solar they were hunting was exceptionally powerful and even more clever. Major Bourne had faced the foe and was grievously injured when Solomon and his men found the Solar, standing over their commander about to give the death blow. Solomon ordered his men to fire and a sea of arrows flew to their target. The solar was surprised at the fact he felt pain, many of these Exalted seemed to count on their divine powers more than common sense and that often left them open to attack. Solomon drew his sword and led his remaining men in a charge. They would die here so that his commander could escape and survive.
His men fought like he had taught them. They would attack in a wave of blades forcing the Solar to expend his power to create a wall of defense. Then the Solar would lash out and kill one of them, but again they would all lash out in attack. Slowly his men were whittled down, and it was only himself and 3 others against a Solar. But this time when they attacked a blade struck the Solar and drew blood. He was wounded now, and Solomon could tell that the Sun-God’s powers were fleeting. He ordered his men to press the attack and time after time a blade would slip past the Solar’s defenses. By now Major Bourne had regained his feet and they were joined by 2 of the other Dragon Blooded. The Solar made an attempt to flee, but it was too late. The Dragons fell upon him like wolves on an injured fawn. It was righteous slaughter.
Two days later Major Bourne called Solomon into his tent and handed Solomon a letter. “We have been disbanded. Our remaining numbers are to return to the Realm and re-enter service into our former Legions. I would like to offer you a boon for saving my life, but for all I can think of I can not find the right way to pay you back. What would you ask of me?” Solomon thought for a moment before he replied, “I would ask only to continue my service under you, sir.” Major Bourne’s expression softened and he nodded. “Very well, we break camp at first light and you will be reassigned with me to the 6th Immaculate Dragon.” Solomon nodded and turned leave, he had to bury those who passed and get the survivors ready to move.
General Takata looked down the roster. This was most excellent. Many of his House members heeded the call of Cathak Cainan. Unfortunately appearances would not due to promote many of the youngest Dragon Blooded to positions of great power. That is why he had called Major Bourne into his tent this night. As the Major entered Takata motioned for him to sit. “Major, I have been looking over our ranks, and it seems we have a substantial lack of qualified officers. I understand there is a need to have commanders so I will not hold it too much against you that you would assign a mere mortal as a Captain of a Talon. However, now that we have more ‘qualified’ leaders coming in I would like you to explain to him that his demotion is nothing personal.”
Major Bourne puzzled a moment and then his brow grew stern. “Sir? Am I to understand you are ordering me to demote one of my most trusted officers?”
There was a flare from the General’s Anima as he turned to the Mnemone. “No. I am ordering you to demote one of MY officers. Nothing more.”
What a joke, Bourne thought. Solomon had proven himself more than capable as a warrior and a commander, and here he would be pushed down the ranks solely based on his blood. But he knew refusing this order was not something the General would tolerate. So he stood to leave, not waiting to be dismissed, and walked out the door.
Takata could not help but smile to himself. That had gone better than he had planned. No doubt Major Bourne would explain the situation to Captain Solomon and would no doubt draw the General to be the villain. But what Bourne did not know is that this would be playing right into the General’s hands.
Bourne stood outside his friend’s tent a moment before scratching on the door. “Come in” came the familiar voice of Solomon. Bourne lifted the heavy canvas flap and entered the pungent smell of sweat and incense filled the room. Solomon was in the middle of the room standing on his head only a pair of breeches to cover his body. “Major, how can I help you?” He dropped down and got to his feet saluting the Major. The dour look on the Major’s face told Solomon that something was wrong. “What is it?”
“I…Captain. As of tomorrow morning you are being demoted to the rank of Lieutenant.”
Solomon’s eyes narrowed and he could feel his fists clenching. “What? On whose authority?”
“On the authority of General Takara. He has ordered me to tell you this.”
“Impossible. Why would he do this?”
“Because, you are not Dragon Blooded and it seems that that is all the General cares about.”
Solomon could feel his temper flaring, but there was nothing to do about this. The General had made a decision and he was duty bound to adhere to it. “Very well.”
“I’m sorry. Solomon…I…”
“Sir, respectfully, I’d rather be alone right now.”
The men were coming in and weeks had passed since his demotion. He still had command of a full Scale and he was going to prove he knew how to handle them. The numbers of Dragon Blooded in the 6th Immaculate Dragon were growing by the day and if Solomon wasn’t careful he well could lose this post as well to one. He was only one of two officers in the 6th that were not Dragon Blooded.
It was a sunny day and he was drilling his men when he was summoned to the commander’s tent. Apparently there was a mission for the legion. He ordered his men to break camp and be ready to move. At worst they would break camp for no reason and could make camp again if he was wrong, but if he was right his scale would be ready to go before the others.
Solomon entered the command tent and all the officers were assembled. When he was sure that everyone was there Takara began to speak. “Gentlemen, I have received a report that an Anathema will appear in the southern threshold. I volunteered our Dragon to this task. My plan is this; one wing of our Dragon is to be sent over the sea to the Southern Threshold. There they will track and destroy the Anathema when he appears. The remaining for Wing shall stay behind to protect the Realm.” Then he began to read off what units were to be assigned where and Solomon was pleased to hear he would be in the Wing headed to the Threshold. Once again he was being given a chance to prove his worth.
The journey was long and tedious. Solomon was glad that he was born a soldier and not a sailor, “Up and down, left and right, on and on, day and night” as one of his men had taken to chanting when the seas grew exceptionally rough.
But in the end they had arrived in Chiaroscuro safe and sound, a wing of the Realm on the edge of the world. They were 250 unwanted guests in a city that hardly paid lip service to the Realm. Even Solomon knew that that was part of why a whole wing was being used in this endeavor. One talon would focus on the hunt, the other talon would make a show that the Realm can still reach out to her provinces and collect tributes long over due.
And Solomon knew that Takara was no fool. He could look over the ranks of the wing and know who was picked for what jobs. Several large and forceful, yet comparably unskilled warriors had been brought with. Clearly these men were in the Fangs that were going to comprise the Talon that collects tributes. Meanwhile many veteran and skilled warriors were brought along and assigned to Fangs that would make up the hunting Talon. And Major Bourne was to be in charge of that one. His skill with hunting Exalted was unparalleled in the Dragon.
This trip felt more like nostalgia than any form of danger. Solomon knew his men, knew his commander, and knew what to expect from their prey. How little he knew.
That night Solomon reported to General Takara’s room in the Inn that they had commandeered from the locals. He knocked twice and then waited patiently.
An elderly man answered the door and let him in. General Takara was at a desk reviewing a map of the area. “Come in Nephew.”
Solomon was momentarily confused and Takara could tell. “Yes, come in and sit. You are the son of Dentro are you not?”
Solomon nodded and took a seat.
“Then you must know that he is my brother and that makes you my Nephew.”
Solomon thought it odd that he was being told this. Or rather, that he was being treated like a child by his uncle. In truth it was the lack of military protocol to this matter that was confusing Solomon, not his blood lines. “How can I be of service to you sir?”
Takara smiled softly and rang his hands nervously for a moment before continuing. “I wanted to apologize to you. I authorized your demotion. I was told by Major Bourne that you were not as capable as many of the other Dragon Blooded and that you were only promoted to fill a vacant rank. He asked me to order your demotion as he did not want to lose face. I felt that keeping political pleasantries with house Mnemon was more important than a little family pride. Truth be told I had my doubts about you being as capable as a Dragon Blooded but I must say you have proven yourself capable in these last few tours. I’d like to thank you for how diligently you have done your duty. You honor our House with your actions.”
Solomon couldn’t help but feel a crack of pride shine through his soldierly features. This was the closest he’d gotten to official praise from his house since they believed he would Exalt. “Thank you.”
“I read Major Bourne’s report regarding your last hunt,” the General continued. “He states that you did very well to chase down the beast despite losing so many men. That’s high praise.”
Solomon paused a moment and the look of confusion on his face made the General glow on the inside. He knew that the bonds of Soldierly could become stronger than blood and his plan to weaken those bonds seemed to be working. “But I also hear whispers that you actually saved his life and you and your men were instrumental in weakening the Solar.” The General raised his brow in practiced expression fishing for information.
“The whispers are more or less correct.” Solomon said simply.
“I thought as much. Even our Un-blooded have more honor than the Blooded of House Mnemon. But…” Takara added “…you were wise not to challenge his report. He might have killed you simply for the accusation. Pride and arrogance have long been a weakness of his house.”
“Truth be told sir, I was unaware of the report.”
“Ah. Well, then we best keep this to ourselves. It would not serve to have my second in command upset with me. To pull off this hunt and tribute gathering errand we will need his full support. Can you stifle any quarrel with him until we return the Realm?”
“I can.” Was all Solomon needed to say.
“Very well, but when we return you and I shall set the report straight and show the might of the blood of House Cathak.” The general smiled and leaned back, clearly imagining the rumors that would spread and how his house would gain a little prestige. Then reading Solomon’s expression he clipped the lieutenant’s thoughts short. “You will set the record straight. It is your duty to your family. Understand?”
“I understand.” Solomon nodded. He didn’t like the idea of questioning his commander, but a greater commander was giving him an order. He was duty bound to comply.
“That is all.” Takara nodded and motioned to the door, and Solomon knew this conversation was over.
That night at dinner the General sat at the table with his Captains. He raised his glass to make a toast. “To our impending victory over th