Exalted: The Sun Also Rises
The Two Lives of Venomous Spur
When I was still in my mother’s womb, a soothsayer visited my home village. Because my father was the town headsman and my mother wise in the ways of traveling strangers, they offered her hospitality. The wise woman was so impressed with my parents’ kindness that she offered them a single boon.
My mother asked for the woman to tell her the fate of her unborn child. Our village was small and only a couple dozen families lived there. The nearby marshes occasionally carried strange diseases that made childbearing difficult and it was not uncommon for women to lose their children in the late stages of childbirth.
The old woman placed her hands on my mother’s rounded stomach to feel my karma. After a few minutes of muttering charms, she told my mother, “Your daughter will live. She will live a long, long life. She will know great joys and great successes, but she will also know greater sorrow. She will know the sorrow of five generations of your people.”
My mother was initially ecstatic to know that her child would live, but she was equally sobered by the soothsayer’s warning. Taking the woman’s prophesy to heart, she named me Tears Falling like Raindrops.
Life was good back in those simple times. I grew like a weed in the swamps. Back then my hair was as black as coal, my skin as brown as the earth, and my laugh like bells in the wind. I knew of the fortune teller’s words, but they meant little to me. Although I never had any siblings, I was well loved by the village and a natural leader for my playmates.
As I grew into a teen, I drew the admiration of many men, and not a few women. But the only one I had eyes for was Cattails By The River. He was the only one would dare to go swim in the overflowing river with me during the flooding months. Cattail was always willing to try something new or explore the unknown, but he never shirked his duties and was always willing to give a helping hand to any who may need it.
When we married, my father stepped down as headman of village. Within a year, I was pregnant with our first child. I named my daughter Clear Blue Sky after the beautiful autumn sky she had been born under. Five years later, I would bear her brother, Laughter on the Wind without every suffering from a miscarriage.
I believe my easy delivery of children was greatly due to Cattails. When I assumed the position of Headwoman, he took up the study of herbalism and became the village doctor. He would leave us for days or occasionally for weeks on end to search the marshes for herbs and animal parts he developed into curatives.
Health improved greatly and the village was able to expand. Ironically, this may have been an indirect reason for my sorrow. If the village had not grown and needed to be closer to the river to accommodate everyone’s needs, would we have found the golden flecks glittering in the water?
We knew to stay away from the platypi who played in the river. They are not dangerous animals overall, but even my husband’s knowledge of herbalism was not able to counteract their venom. Some children had been watching them in the distance and had observed strange flecks swirling about the playing creatures. Further investigation lead to a new soft metal we had never seen before. Currency was not known in our small village. Any trade was done in services or barter. So gold was a new oddity, if useless in practicality.
Some of our smiths were able to use it to make jewelry and other fun items like vases, bowls and cups. It probably would have never mattered more than that if the traders had not stumbled onto our village during a particularly heavy rain during their travel season. They were awed by our wealth that we ourselves did not realize we possessed.
They grew jealous of what we possessed and would have happily shared if they had but asked. Some of them gathered and drank strong, homemade liquor until a fire was in their bellies. Mutters and bitter complaints circulated among them into the night as they thought of how they must travel through the muck and wet to earn their keep while we, unfairly in their eyes, enjoyed riches we were ignorant of. They attacked the village full of drunken rage and arrogant righteousness.
My husband, always peaceful and kind, tried to talk reason to their leader. The man ignored Cattail’s words and struck him to the ground. Laughter darted forward to avenge his father’s honor. My son, barely five years old, ignored the rough men and tried to help his father up. I’ll never forget or forgive the leader’s cruel laugh as he reared his mount and had it bear its weight down on Laughter’s head.
I…don’t remember much beyond that. Luna’s light falling on me as I held my daughter. My screams as Laughter’s lifeless fell to the ground. My heart felt as if it was ripped out of my chest. When I regained myself, all the traders were dead. Their bodies torn into shreds. The leader’s head was staring at me in horror from its position on top of his spear where it had been slammed upright into the ground.
I was crouched on all fours on the ground. As I stood, I took in the destruction around me. Despite bearing no wounds myself, my clothes were barely hanging on me as tatters. To my left, on the ground, Cattails laid strangely still. His body was full of spear wounds.
I turned to Sky hoping she could tell me what had happened. She was only a few feet behind me, her left arm torn from her body, like the raiders. As I extended my hand to her, she flinched from me, terror in her eyes. My daughter had never experienced fear before that day. And she was scared of me. Me!
I cried in horror and shame and ran from the village. I ran to the river and threw myself in. I wanted oblivion more than anything. I opened my eyes under the water and saw a couple of platypi staring at me with curiosity. I wanted desperately to be like them – happy, content, untroubled. My body reacted to my thoughts and I changed into a platypus.
I stayed that way for a time. I thought it was only a few days, weeks at most. Eventually, my mind came back to me. I felt calm and content with none of the fear or rage I had when Laughter died. I thought surely I could go home and we could figure out what had happened.
I swam to shore and with a thought managed to become a woman again. I walked to the village, my heart hammering in my chest. When I arrived, things looked different. Houses were bigger and I didn’t recognize anyone.
I went to my house, but found the door locked. We had never needed locks before and I was baffled by my inability open the door. The noise I made drew the attention of the resident who came to see what was going on.
I quickly hid in the shadows. When she answered the door, I recognized Sky immediately despite the fact she had aged ten years. The lovely young girl I had seen last was now a lovely young woman. Worry lines graced her forehead as she scanned the darkened street.
I wanted to approach her, but I was scared. What is she still hated me for what I had done? What if she had not forgiven me for being gone so long? Did she have her own family now? I had missed out on so much. Her first kiss, her first dance, long talks in the night of boys she liked and who liked her and who didn’t.
I waited too long, torn by indecision. As Sky closed the door to our home…her home, I fled back to the river. Years came and went, but for me they were little more than passing days. I would occasionally return to the village and leave little gifts for them. Rare herbs Cattails had told me about or the even rarer First Age gadget I found in pieces scattered at the bottom of the deep river bed.
Every time I would hover near Sky’s home hoping to catch sight of her. I learned a little of her life over the years. She eventually married and had children of her own. She led the village as headwoman and helped it grow. But I never approached her or any of her children.
I heard whispers of a guardian platypus spirit. My vanity enjoyed the attention and the shrine they built to my totem was pleasing. Often gifts were waiting for me whenever I returned that I helped myself to. After all, they were intended for me.
Typically, I would be gone a year or two between visits. One time I was lost in my platypus life and did not return for several years. When I did, I heard that Sky was dying of old age. I had not changed once in all those years. In fact, I looked younger than when I had first changed. To hear that my daughter was dying finally gave me the courage to talk to her. I needed to say goodbye and ask her forgiveness.
Late that night after everyone had retired, I stole into her room. She was lying in her bed, her frame swallowed by it. I was astonished by how small she had looked. Had she shrunk since I last saw her? Above all else, I stared at the stump that should have been her left arm. I stood over her for a time, taking in the sight of this old woman. She spoke first, “Are you going to stare at me all night or are you going to say something?”
Sky may have gotten old, but her humor had not changed. I laughed, but it was the nervous kind that bordered hysteria. She opened her eyes, such a deep blue and smiled at me gently. “You haven’t changed,” she said softly as she sat up. I offered assistance, but she brushed me away.
“You have,” I responded, my voice thick with tears.
“I suppose I have,” she said quietly. “Fifty years does that to a person. Most people anyway.”
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I’m so sorry.” I rambled a bit, apologizing for so many things even I lost track. Sky sat there silently letting me run down. As the last of my tears tampered off, she offered me a damp cloth that she had wetted with water from a pitcher she kept by her bedside. Gently she wiped my swollen eyes and red face as if she was the grandmother and I was the grandchild. She pulled my head into her lap and stroked my long, white hair which had changed with my Exaltation.
“You have done nothing wrong,” she told me. “All I’ve ever seen you do is protect our people.”
“I crippled you,” my voice rising to a whine. “I crippled you and I don’t even remember.”
“That wasn’t you. I don’t know exactly what monster that was that came from your form, but I know it wasn’t you. I didn’t believe it at first. For a long time I hated you. For not saving Dad and for not saving Laughter, but most of all for leaving me alone,” Sky said. “I knew you were the one they spoke of protecting us and all I could feel was bitterness that you didn’t come back for me.”
“As I grew older and had a family of my own, I came to understand though. You couldn’t have stayed, not after what had happened. And you couldn’t have taken me with you. I was needed here for the others to look too.” Sky sighed and lied back down on her bed. “I’m tired.”
“I love you, Clear Blue Sky,” I told her taking her hand. “I always will.”
“I love you too, Mom,” she said. Sky closed her eyes and a few moments later breathed her last.
After that, there was nothing to keep me near the village. Sky was the last of my true family. There were her children and their own children, but for me they were merely faces in a crowd. I did not even know their names to make their lives personal for me. But I swore if they ever needed me, I would return.
I returned to the river and sank deep into its beds to find watery comfort. I have no idea how much time passed before the Pact found me. One day I was sunning on the shore when three people, two men and a woman, all bearing strange silver tattoos approached me…