Session 26: The Tower of Souls
After the end of the epic trial, Red Lion opined that he would like to spend his last couple of days in Yu-Shan sightseeing, particularly the Jade Pleasure Dome, which had been recommended to them by the Green Lady. Ven agreed that he should enjoy himself, but she had some things to do and would catch up to the others when she was done. With that, she slipped off and commandeered a personal cloud transport to take her to Taru-Han’s Tower of Souls.
The rest of the circle chose to go on without her to the Jade Pleasure Dome, an immense structure at the very center of Heaven surrounded by literally miles of lesser entertainments. It was like approaching an endless carnival, one where the divinities themselves were revelers. The circle was awed by the sight of the mile-high walls of jade, orichalcum, and moonsilver, and the hundreds of celestial lions standing perpetual honor guard at the enormous gates.
As the circle approached the Dome, celestial lions stopped them at the gates and tried to turn them back. After pulling rank as Celestial Exalted, the lions finally agreed to let them in, but only if they would wear special jade goggles. Red Lion asked what would happen if they took them off. Upon hearing that his mortal frame would be devoured by holy fire if he looked upon the Games of Divinity with naked eyes, he agreed to not take the goggles off.
In the meantime, Ven was having the worst time in the world getting her cloud scooter into the Tower’s airspace. Giant eagles kept attacking her, as did strange aerial glows that seemed something like luminous jellyfish. Finally, she was forced to abandon the cloud entirely and make a dive for the parapets of the Tower of Souls. Never before did she so completely regret not picking up any flying creatures in her shapechanging portfolio…
Within the Jade Pleasure Dome, the circle was watching the movement of the Games of Divinity with rapt attention. At a mighty table stood none other than the Incarnae themselves—Sol Invictus and the Maidens, with Luna standing to one side with an amused look on her face. The game seemed to have some deeper, sublime meaning in their eyes, and even Snapdragon’s Dark Passenger was quieted for a time in the glow of their glories. Prism was nearly insane with divine ecstasy from being in the presence of his One True God, while Blazer was still trying to analyze the situation through the fog of unnatural joy.
Venomous Spur stalked through the halls of the Tower of Souls looking for something resembling a records hall or an office. Instead, she found her way to a massive central chamber filled with a blinding blue glow, like a solid shaft of light several miles tall and hundreds of feet thick. Millions of motes of light swirled within the beam, being drawn from some unfathomable source to some unknown destination. Ven was able to glean that she was looking into the very cycle of reincarnation—the River of Souls.
As she wandered the platforms overlooking the mighty conflagration, she happened across a blue-glowing form in the shape of a man. As the form coalesced and took on a more lifelike coloration, she was shocked to recognize the face of her long-dead husband, Cattails-by-the-River. She reached out and spoke to him, and discovered that he remembered their life together clearly—but that he had no recollection of the moment of his death or anything since. They had a touching moment before the arrival of the mistress of the Tower of Souls, Taru-Han herself.
Back in the Jade Pleasure Dome, Blazer had finally managed to piece together enough of his mental capacity to realize that the Games of Divinity were acting as some sort of psychic dampener on them. They were simply too powerful for mortal—or even semi-mortal—minds to process properly. Their Exaltation shards were capable of understanding the rules of the game, and even appreciating the multi-layered maneuver by which Sol Invictus took control of the board once more, but their human minds were rapidly schisming under the weight of unadulterated joy.
Taru-Han spoke to Ven directly, asking her about what brought her to the Tower. Ven honestly responded that Ryzala had asked her to look in on Taru-Han’s doings. The goddess seemed amused by the answer and made Ven a counter-offer. In exchange for telling Ryzala nothing of what she had seen and swearing to preserve the secrets she had learned, Taru-Han would allow Ven to visit her husband once a year.
When Ven expressed curiosity about the reasons behind keeping people from the cycle of reincarnation, Taru-Han told her that collecting the souls of mortal heroes was her hobby. Such people would not be considered heroic by the standards of an Exaltation, perhaps, but Taru-Han found their subdued and gentle heroics much more to her taste than the gaudy violence preferred by Autochthon’s greatest weapons. Ven struck a bargain with Taru-Han, including an offering of worship to the goddess to give her increased visitation rights with Cattails. Privately, Ven began to scheme about turning Cattails himself into an object of worship in order to remove him permanently from Taru-Han’s purview. With the aid of the goddess, Ven found herself launched to the Jade Pleasure Dome in mere moments.
She arrived just in time for Red Lion to overcome his fugue and reveal the real reason he had wanted to come to the Dome: to call upon Sol Invictus personally for an audience. Red Lion was insistent about gaining the attention of the Unconquered Sun, until finally the circle found themselves transported into a mini-realm of beautiful sunlight and burnished gold. There, waiting for them, was the mightiest of the Incarnae himself, Sol Invictus! As he walked toward them, thousands of golden-furred mice swarmed about his feet, but he stepped on none of them in his passing. In each of his four mighty hands he bore an implement of his office and distant music heralded his presence.
They were struck by his beauty, by his power—and by his terrible sadness. Despite his willingness to gift them with an audience, they could sense that he longed to be elsewhere. Red Lion implored that their progenitor would return his gaze to Creation now, in its darkest hour. Sol replied only that he could not—his heart was too heavy with the burdens he had borne for so long, and he had been disappointed in his children one time too many. Red Lion almost wept at the idea of a being as boundlessly compassionate as the one to whom they now spoke being pushed beyond the bounds of tolerance.
Red Lion looked deep into his own heart and found a well of conviction he hadn’t know before. Before his circle and the Unconquered Sun, he swore that he would find a way to redeem Sol’s faith in them. The god smiled a wan smile and offered in return only that he would be watching them closely from now on, to see if Red Lion could make good on his word. Before he departed, he shared a few words of wisdom with each member of the circle, and even kissed Snapdragon on the forehead. Prism nearly fainted from joy.
As the first among the Incarnae departed, they found themselves outside the Jade Pleasure Dome once more. While there was still much work to be done, they now knew that the gods were listening to them. That went a long way to restoring weary spirits and giving them hope for their future endeavors. They had only one day remaining to them in Heaven before the end of Calibration, and Red Lion and Venomous Spur knew exactly how they wanted to use it: raiding the Bureau of Nature!