Chapter 17: Life Waters
Through the ages after the Collapse, guardians have organized themselves under different banners. The hunters have their loosely-aligned groups that seem to be concerned more about territory and bragging rights than anything else, while the warlocks have their secretive covens that pool astronomical geniuses together as they peel back the layers of the universal onion. Titan Orders hold the most meaning to the day-to-day survival of our current civilization, as they were the ones that built and man the protective walls of the Last City.
The titans hold their traditions to the highest standard as well as the strictest of secrecy. Hushed discussions in dark corners revolve around rites, oaths and ceremonies that have bound titans together over their 12 ages.
Incredibly tall doors parted to allow Telemica entry into the vast and dim room. The hall and pillars seemed built of pure onyx and lit only by hundreds of handmade wax candles and reflecting moonlight off The Traveler, illuminating the space through huge windows that took up the entirety of the outer wall. Telemica was clad only in a veil of white silk that was draped over her body, while the two attendants flanking her were in full fieldplate armour. Telemica did her best to walk evenly, but recent injuries made walking at all a painful effort. Under her veil healing wounds of varying degrees of severity covered a good deal of her body.
In the center of the room was an empty pool with concentric rings of steps built-in going 13 feet deep. Her attendants stopped a few paces short as Telemica found her place at the side of the pool.
“My wounds are deep…” she sang out in a sorrowful key.
The one secret that nobody seemed to guess at was that all titan rituals were sung, the notes just as important as the words. From their earliest initiations, titans were taught to sing, a cipher that only another titan would know how to unlock. Every rite and ritual was a musical production, and a titan’s song was as core to their identity as their light.
Out of the shadows, several titans converged on the rim of the pool. A titan knew who respected her by who attended a ceremony as important as this, and Telemica’s heart was filled to see who stood with her tonight. The lords and ladies of the Titan Orders came to pay respects to one that has proven herself extraordinary. They were dressed in ornate ceremonial garb that was halfway between their military dress uniform and a warlock’s ceremonial robes, a wardrobe never seen by non-titans.
“Embrace hardship, for a titan shall endure all.” hymned the gathering. Each guardian began to intone, holding a deep trance-like note that filled the chamber and vibrate sympathetically off the walls. As the vibration became all-encompassing, a glowing blue liquid began to stream into the pool, being fed from a thousand winding pathways embedded in all of the surfaces of the room which seemed to whistle as if it was wind flowing through a host of flutes. The illumination of the liquid found its way to the centre as the pool filled to the brim. Once the pool was full, the intoning stopped.
Telemica allowed her veil to drop behind her, exposing her full form to the caress of the light as she stepped into the pool. As soon as her toe met the mysterious liquid, thin and intricate markings on her skin with thousands of details began to glow the same colour, as if her skin was taking the liquid in. Slowly she made her way in, and the markings glowed even brighter than the pool. By the time she was submerged up to her neck, it was clear that the entirety of her was covered in the markings. Without pause or hesitation, she sunk fully into the pool and floated freely in its centre.
If anyone who didn’t understand the ritual had seen this, after the first few minutes had passed by there would be an intense urge to rescue what looked like a naked and drowning woman. However, everyone in attendance knew Telemica was breathing freely and in a deep trance, reliving her greatest victories, deepest defeats and each death with excruciating hyper-realism. All her personal angels and demons did battle in her mind. Failure to survive this trial would be the loss of one’s light, and a permanent and painful death.
One by one, and in a pecking order that was a social calculation done over generations, guardians in attendance sang their praise of Telemica and dipped their bare dominant hand into the pool, lending their light to her survival. Not everyone standing around that pool was beholden to help Telemica in her struggle, instead singing her failure in notes of defeat. It was an honour to even undergo this ritual, but not every titan survived it. This was a judgement at the highest levels of their society and judgments were in the interests of the survival of civilization. Weakness could not be allowed at any cost.
Telemica’s wounds began to open up slightly, spilling blood into the pool and dimming the brightness of her markings. When a titan died and was revived by their ghost their markings were lost, unable to be recreated or duplicated, even if their body was salvaged. Every titan had different markings created through hardships, and those secret markings helped to inform the choice of a titan’s mark, considered the public face of this titan secret. Titans given the choice of this judgement of peers or death gladly risk all to retain their markings and their honour.
Titans who deeply embraced the Crucible and died often were the exception, though a life lived too long in such training and not in the service of the City was sometimes seen as dishonourable and unworthy. It was a grey area for the Orders and their traditions.
One by one, the lords and ladies of the Titan Orders shared their light and her pain. Her markings brightened. Wounds closed and became shining scars that sprouted their own markings like flora, telling the tale of the wound in a language only the Order seneschals could completely decipher.
Telemica opened her eyes, signaling the others to intone again at a higher and more triumphant key which drained the pool. Once her head was above the liquid line she took a deep breath of air, but not as urgent as one would expect from someone who was submerged for close to an hour. Those in the circle looked upon her markings with reverence for they were proof of a titan of truly exotic qualities. The markings she earned this occasion were certainly not alone, as her body was a dense maze of shining scars. Her attendants stepped into the now drained pool and affixed her armour to her still luminescent body. Once fully clad with the exception of her helm, she stepped out and rejoined the circle, her body was now far brighter than the liquid was, shining even through the armour and creating a dancing aura of light around her.
“Every wound adds to my story. Every injury etches a path of fate on my skin. Every victory paid for in pain.” Telemica sang, the others intoning in the background to elevate her notes like a symphony.
The lords and ladies of the Titan Orders slowly backed into the darkness from whence they came, never turning their back on Telemica. She was left alone by the empty pool to reflect on the experience, and the experiences that brought her there for as long as she wished.
The dawn sun was just breaking over the City, and it was customary to spend a day and a night on the wall as a simple watchguard to allow one to decompress from the experience. To fly the flag over the walls that the titans built and guarded for generations. The posting superseded her suspension from active duty because it was mostly ceremonial and quiet. Telemica took her time before slowly donning her helm, pivoting sharply and marching doubletime to her honoured post.