The Imperial Manse: why do you enter? What, or who, are you willing to give up?

“Everything has been leading up to this point.”

As the airship crests the horizon and comes into view of the Imperial Manse, the Circle is greeted by ranks upon ranks of Dragonblooded soldiers outside a massive set of doors with mist billowing out. They settle on a plan: Ember will distract the crowds using the power given to him by Felicity as the Circle rushes into the Manse, hopefully holding it open long enough for Ember to join them. As they prepare, they watch as Tepet Ken-sha strides out onto the stage set up in front of the Manse. He announces to the assembled Terrestrial Exalted that now is the time to crown a new Emperor: “This is the moment where we leave uncertainty behind!” As the Circle climbs onto the warstrider and All Fates Saved straps in to pilot it, she offers one final thought: “You all saved me… Now we will save Creation.”

There is a moment of shock that ripples through the crowd as the Warstrider touches down in front of the Imperial Manse. Tepet Ken-sha seizes the opportunity to rush inside. As Rey and Valeria wrench the doors open, and the rest of the Circle throws themselves into the mist, Ember begins to speak. “It’s time to understand who is in charge. Here, now!” Having stopped the assembled crowd in their tracks, Ember hurls himself inside the Manse too, as Rey and Valeria slam the doors shut. Inside the misty darkness, Rey illuminates the room with eyes like searchlight, revealing a dozen people. In addition to the Circle and Tepet Ken-sha, they spot Requiem for the Unnecessarily Slain (as Jorek gasps again to see his daughter so corrupted), Felicity… and one other figure who evades her view.

A booming voice asks a question of those assembled: “Why do you enter?” Each figure steps forward and explains why they have come… and as the room is illuminated by light, they all take in the huge space with slowly moving glyphs on the walls, and five ladders leading high up into the air. Felicity, while wanting everyone to have a fair shot at the Realm Defense Grid controls, makes sure they know who is in charge: “I still control this manse.”

Valeria discovers that by “donating” Essence to the manse (and, by extension, to Felicity), she can access the ladders that lead up to another platform. Jorek faces down the Abyssal Exalt who was once his daughter, offering her a chance to be redeemed, like All Fates Saved had been. Requiem only laughs, calling her weak, and asking Jorek if he wants to hear her sing.

Moving up to the first platform, Valeria is confronted by the shade of the Magistrate from Nexus; Jorek by the Council of Nine and Pearl; Rey by the drug dealer she beat to death; and All Fates by She-Who-Knows-Ten-Thousand-Things. They each essentially ask the same question of each Exalt: “Why did we have to die?” As they each struggle to answer, but ultimately come to the conclusion that their deaths were necessary, they are allowed to continue. Requiem for the Unnecessarily Sacrificed speaks to an invisible figure (possibly Quiet Word), but finds herself unable to admit that death is necessary. At that moment, she is plucked off the ground by the manse’s wall, her body sparking with lightning: Jorek tries to catch her, suffering shocks as he reaches Final Beat out to her. She tries to hold on, lightning coursing along her body, Jorek’s, and All Fates’ through the warstrider… but it isn’t enough. As she falls down towards the ground, Jorek is pulled back by Rey and All Fates. The second death of his daughter hits him hard, but he reasons that “If my legacy is not her… it must be up there.” All Fates kindly replies that “She was not your daughter… she will be re-born.” “I was hoping she would be redeemed…” “Me too.”

Watching Requiem’s pain, and finding herself unwilling to help her, Valeria limit breaks, her heart hardening to a sharp, cruel point. She rushes up the ladder to the next level with Speaks-of-Silence in tow, determined to make it to the Realm Defense Grid, even at the expense of her allies. Valeria waits for Ken-sha, knocking his hands off the ladder and letting him tumble down to his doom. Safe in the knowledge that a competitor for the Grid has been destroyed, Val turns her attention to a sigil on the wall. It simply says: “Blood”. Valeria tries cutting open her palm to satiate the manse, but to no avail. She turns to Speaks-of-Silence: “I need your blood… all of it.” And with those words, the two of them run her through with Valeria’s spear, her blood spurting all over the walls. Although her spear’s evocation allows her to keep Speaks-of-Silence alive, the Solar indulges the Great Curse, manifesting itself as deliberate cruelty.

Down below, the other Solars are about to begin their ascent just as Eyes Alight also fails the test. Lightning about to snatch her off the platform, she chooses instead of leap off and save herself. Rey, finally catching sight of the other mysterious figure racing up a ladder, catches up and knocks her hood off, revealing none other than Tepet Final Rush, her mother. Mother and daughter stare at each other, holding on to a ladder, until the former reveals why she is there: she wants Rey to give up in her pursuit of the Realm Defense Grid. “Happiness is not up there, Rey,” she explains. Rey is finally able to unload years of frustrations on her mother, telling her that she is her own person, and can make her own choices. “I know how to make you stop,” Tepet Final Rush smirks, and with that, knocks Ember off the platform, sending him tumbling down. Rey immediately leaps straight out into the air, dive bombing towards Ember. She manages to catch him just in the nick of time, landing hard on the ground below. When Ember asks her if she doesn’t need to get back to the top in order to save Creation, she simply responds that he is Creation.

Having reached the very top of the Imperial Manse, Valeria, All Fates Saved, and Jorek stare at a vast array of computer terminals. The only indication of how to activate them is another sigil on the wall demanding blood. When Valeria asks Felicity if more killing is the only way forward, and calls her out for having spilled so much Solar blood already, the terminals unlock. They decide that, as risky as it is, redefining the Realm Defense Grid Grid is the best way to take control of Creation and seize their destiny. Felicity, sensing that Valeria is about to use the Grid, grabs a hold of a sigil on the wall and begins to rocket up to the top, with Rey and Starlight Dove in hot pursuit….

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