The Palace of Chiaroscuro is one of the largest still-standing structures of the ancient first-age city. A towering edifice of golden glass, mirror-coated walls and amber ornaments, the entire building gleams blindingly in the sunlight. The doorways into it are heavily guarded by mortals and god-blooded, rumored to be blood-kin to the Tri-Kahn in some manner or another. Certainly, they have a general resemblance among themselves.
Through the guards pass numerous folk at all hours, diplomats and dignitaries and high priests of the Immaculate Order as well as divine cults and religions. But Anstice was only interested in one such cult and specifically, one such priest. Burgeron had supplied a description of the man that his holy Father had been Riding of late.
Ahlat's favored priest is not in evidence as Anstice approaches the largest of the palace-tower's gates, but a few lesser priests of the Bull God's cult are, wearing their ceremonial headgear and loincloths.
Every so often a group of petitioners or merchants is allowed inside, checked out with only the vaguest care. The guards are well aware that magical protections inside will thwart any attacks on the inhabitants of the palace and their fellow guards can deal with those that slip past with their own enchantments.
Once inside the palace, Anstice finds himself sticking with the group for simple guidance. In the First Age the layout might have been intuitive, but the maze of corridors he follows to leave even the Exalted disoriented. Finding his way back out might be difficult if he can not locate someone to follow. At one point, he catches a glimpse of the brawny quintet of priests that had entered not long before he did.
The priests, used to being surrounded by the unseen, seem to be aware they are being trailed. But equally accustomed to being followed by spirits looking to their patron, they ignore it. One, the largest and, from the designs scrolled in gold thread on his loincloth and carved into his headdress and flesh, highest ranking, seems to search for the presence..but finds nothing.
Mostly, the bullish priest looks around at about an eight-foot height as is looking for a very large presence, much grander then the invisible Synodic following him and his group. Shaking his covered head and muttering Flametongue to his friends, the big man continues along the corridor.
The immaterial elemental following in Anstice's footsteps whispers the translation into his ear, the Priest is simply saying that it was nothing important. Further talk of the priests, relayed by the elemental, lets Anstice know they are approaching an audience chamber where they will meet with "him" and they are being waited for.
The quintet moves forward quickly, increasing their heavy pace until they are nearly stampeding through the corridors, people scattering to get out of their path. The disturbance would be uncouth for anyone but priests of Ahlat, for them it is simply routine. In the wake of the brawny clerics, Anstice is utterly unnoticed. Everyone is distracted by the rudeness of the priests.
The audience chamber the priests are hurrying to reach comes into sight, a massive rotunda of sapphire and cobalt glass and steel with sharp edges and right angles in everything. Seated on a massive throne of glass is a plump woman with Mendhari's face and much darker hair, the faintest tinge of white showing in a dignified fashion here and there. To her left sits a muscular man with Mendhari's eyes and nose, but blond hair and a much rougher complexion. And to her right, a woman that could easily BE Mendhari, but for striking amethyst eyes and hair that reaches her feet.
Elemental "They are the Tri-Khan's first wife and her eldest children."
Anstice "Hrm. I never inquired as to just how high ranked Mendhari was..."
The priests bow and offer their compliments to the Tri-Kahna and her children. Then they arrange themselves suitably, two on each side of the door and the big priest in the center of the room. He bows deeply then waits, still bowed. Smoothly, the big man turns to bow again to..the door?
A man with more then a trace Ahlat's blood in his veins walks in, smiling brightly. The dark coffee color of his skin is lighter around his face and neck from being so much covered by a ceremonial head-dress. But his features, while heavy and slightly bovine, are more attractive then some of the gods Anstice saw in Yu-Shan. And the power that radiates from him is a clear indication that he is not alone.
Behind the huge priest follows Anstice. Or someone who could be his brother. The tattoos of his native tribe have been somehow removed from his skin, replaced with symbols and letters praising Ahlat, the decorations of a High Priest of the Bull God. Where Anstice is slender, the copy is heavily muscled and has cut his hair close to his scalp. Some magic has been applied to make the doppelganger into a perfect Priest.
As the copy steps into the room, Ahlat makes a gesture of welcome to the Tri-Kahna...and Anstice feels a heavy blow to his face. Then, promptly, another to the back of his head as he collapses to the floor.
Anstice revives groggily in a Spartan room of gold-painted bricks and masonry, clearly not part of the Tri-Kahn's palace. A pair of bulky priests guard the single door, amply lit by five braziers inside the room and several in the hallway outside. Both the men carry heavy spears and wear the ceremonial head-dresses of Ahlat, but they are too low-ranked to have earned their embroidered loincloths. Only a few tattoos mark their arms and chests.
Neither looks at Anstice as he lays on a simple stone bier. A wash stand is next to him with water, soap and towels and he has been provided with the vestments of a mid-level priest, though the less formal version, pants and a sash to wear across his chest.
There appear to be no marks other then a large purple spot across Anstice's left cheekbone. Despite having knocked him cold for enough time that he's been carried to one of the Bull God's temples and guards placed, the blow did very little actual damage.
One of the two guarding priests turns to leave, trotting down the hallway. Probably informing someone that you've woken.
Anstice He moves over to the door to look around, wondering at the scenery. He ask where he is in old realm, figuring Ahlat's priests probably use it somehow.
Priest: "Harborhead." The man's accent is thick and his voice muffled by his mask. He probably doesn't speak very good Old Realm.
Anstice "Mhm. What happens to me now?"
Anstice "Mhm. Figures."
Not giving any further response, the young Priest thumps his spear against the flagstones and stands up straighter, looking over Anstice's head. Within a few minutes, the other guard-priest returns on the heels of a higher-ranking cleric.
As the new priest sweeps into the room, Anstice is glad for the flowing cream-colored robes of casual vestments. This priest must be one of the War-God's direct offspring or the bastard of a Lunar. Thick black hair covers his bulging forearms and his bare face has a bulge to it that suggests he wanted a muzzle but didn't quite get one. His nose is flat and very large and his eyes are shining black. Standing nearly three feet taller then Anstice, he must weigh 400 pounds. He folds his arms across a chest that would shame a plow ox or three. His voice rumbles the stones and the bones in Anstice's ears.
Anstice: "Morning... is it?"
Auron: "Evening. You have slept six days, Exalt."
Anstice: "Son of a...I'm not entirely sure I did anything to warrant THAT sort of attack."
Auron: "It was required to move you here. You had to be moved with mundane means to avoid disrupting the enchantments that hid you. Having you appear during that particular meeting would have been an unwanted disruption of the proceedings."
Anstice 'Yes, but six days?"
Auron: "Ahlat did not wish you to attempt escape during the travel."
Anstice "Yes, I can really afford to anger Ahlat at this point... So, I ask again... what now?"
Auron: "You are free to leave. But Ahlat has asked that you not return to Chiaroscuro until after the wedding."
Auron: "Yes. There is to be a wedding soon among the royal family. After the wedding, Ahlat will be happy to see you where-ever you wish to go."
Anstice "Who between? See, I have this very worrying thought it is my buffed up duplicate, and one of the royals who looked entirely too much like my circlemate."
Auron: "The new High Priest Anstan will be wedded to the Tri-Kahn's only unmarried daughter of legal age, Mendhari. Ahlat and the Tri-Kahna are arranging the marriage as we speak."
Anstice "That would be my circlemate."
Anstice "If you will pardon the crudity, why in the blue bloody hells is Ahlat going about making a muscle-bound copy of me and marrying him off to someone who knows me?"
Anstice "And if I don't wish?"
Auron: "Then you can leave now. But I know nothing of what you're upset over."
Anstice "Have you met the new High Priest?"
Auron: "No. He has been staying close to the Avatar, in Chiaroscuro."
Anstice "I have. He looks like me with a hundred pounds of muscle, and minus the tattoos. Guess my name."
Auron: "You're name is Anstice Cyzarine and you are an Exalted of the Stars. I was told this by the priest that brought you. As for any resemblance you have to our new High Priest Anstan, I would suggest that you are not extraordinarily unique in appearance."
Anstice "When did you FIRST see Anstan?"
Auron: "I have not seen him, I told you that."
Anstice "Hear of him."
Anstice "Surely he spent some time training, moving up through the ranks?"
Auron: "There are many High Priests I have not heard of. He is from one of the smaller temples to the west."
Auron: "Just that she is the only marriageable daughter of the Tri-Kahn at the moment. She is somewhere in the North, but a messenger has been sent to retrieve her for the wedding."
Anstice "I happen to have spent the last couple of months with her."
Auron: "Does she remain qualified for such a high-level marriage? Ahlat will be most displeased if you have fouled his plans.." The bullish priest's voice is clearly a warning.
Anstice "Define qualified..."
Auron: "She must not have borne a child by another man. Nor be engaged to another man."
Anstice "The first, you're good on."
Anstice "The second... does being engaged to me not count?"
Auron: "That is impossible! Illegal! She does not have her mother's agreement, or the Tri-Kahna would not be negotiating!"
Anstice "Hey, I'm not native here. But she seems to have been acting in accordance with betrothal for a while now... and notice she hasn't talked to the tri-kahna in months?"
Anstice "That's going to be fun. Since she isn't in the North any more."
Auron: "A sorcerer sent the messenger. It will find her where-ever she is."
Anstice "That's nice. You do realize she can't come, right?"
Auron: "What prevents her?"
Anstice "There's this whole issue of almost having died, and healing times. Last I checked, she couldn't walk a mile without passing out."
Auron: "If she is so wounded, Ahlat will arrange for her to be brought here and tended. She will be in perfect health for her wedding to High Priest Anstan."
Anstice "She's going to drop everything and rush to this message when she believes herself betrothed?"
Auron: "She will come, if at the very least to discover the cause of the message."