DIVA: A Break from Tradition #1

deucexm deucexm at gmail.com
Tue Dec 22 23:10:18 PST 2020

Having finally put the PRECOG tag to good use in the DiVerse, here is what was 
promised: an Imperial story, albeit a relatively short one.  But important!

(It was also drafted at a highly accelerated pace, so if there are inconsistencies 
- well, these things happen.  It's all part of the plan, right?  Eventually.)


A Break from Tradition: A DiVerse Alpha Chronicle
by Felix

Part 1 of 3


In the grand and glorious Gray Empire - which is neither grand nor glorious,
save to those who dwell upon its highest peak and shutter their eyes to the
suffering of the people - many things are rooted in deep, deep tradition.  And
one does not break tradition, for the Empire is built upon it.

It is tradition, for example, to celebrate a birth in the imperial family with
lavish parades and celebrations that go on for days, and to light up the night
with bonfires that compete to be the tallest, fed by the possessions of the
poor.  It matters not that the imperial family never sees the celebrations, shut
within the palace as they are; it is /tradition/.

It is also tradition to avoid responsibility for failure by shifting it to those
not present or otherwise unable to defend themselves, 'to curse the wind and
rain'; blaming one's subordinates, events beyond one's control, or 'rebels
against the Empire'.  Blaming rebels is a particularly long-standing tradition
in most every corner and level of Imperial governance; never are any around to
protest their innocence.

Most of all, perhaps, it is tradition to serve - to act - to live -
unquestioningly.  To question neither elders, nor superiors, nor any answer
given.  For to question is to show doubt, and to doubt is to show disrespect;
and respect, like tradition, must always be upheld.  This principle must never
be questioned, either; it too is tradition, and tradition must never be
questioned.  For to question is to show doubt...

And so the wheel of tradition continues turning, grinding each successive
generation into submission with its ever-growing weight.

So it was, and would have ever been, until She ascended to the throne.


In Her earliest years, the Empress-to-be was no different from any other child
of the Imperial family.  She was sheltered from the harshness of reality,
offered a rich banquet of lies and clever omissions to fill Her head, and
thoroughly indoctrinated as to Her place in the universe - and everyone else's,
far below Her.  As tradition dictated; and as it would have been, had not one of
Her teachers led Her down a different path.

The man himself remains nameless even now; but what is certain is his loyalty -
not to the Empire, but to his God, upon whose will he acted.


The day everything changed, it was a cold morning, and so the teacher led the
way in a thick, fur-lined robe of charcoal gray that obscured all but his
weathered hands and stern, aquiline face.  The Empress-to-be followed close
behind, clad in a similarly hooded robe colored with the deep cerulean of
royalty, Her own hands covered by soft white mittens.  Rather than an irritant,
She found the morning chill bracing, heightening the subdued excitement of the

"What is today's lesson, teacher?" She had asked, when he had shown up at the
door earlier than usual.

"A departure from the schedule," he had returned in a low whisper.  "Dress
warmly and come quickly, before a most unique learning opportunity slips away."

If the Empress-to-be had a weakness, it was Her voracious appetite for
knowledge.  So She had made no protest at the deviation, and simply followed Her
teacher's guidance - out of Her room, across the courtyard, and now up the long
and winding steps wrapping around one of the taller towers clustered around the
Imperial Family quarters, the wind starting to whistle as it picked up speed.

"Will we make it in time, teacher?" She called out, just loud enough to carry
over the noise.  Discretion had been one of Her first lessons, and one that
remained close to heart.

"Let us pick up the pace, if you are able," the teacher returned over his
shoulder after a moment, and the gap between them began to widen.  Even more
excited now, the Empress-to-be hastened Her own steps on the sturdy brightwood
platforms, taking them two at a time - and even then was just barely able to
keep up.

At last they reached the final steps and ascended to the platform encircling the
top of the tower; and after a moment spent catching Her breath, the
Empress-to-be straightened up and gazed upon Her domain with wide and hungry
eyes, hands curled tightly around the brightwood railing.  It was one thing to
be taught geography, another entirely to experience it firsthand.  "Beautiful!"
She exclaimed in a breathless half-whisper.  "The cartographers do it an
injustice with their poor renditions.  For this alone I am grateful, my

"I do not doubt it."  His omission of formal address was a grave breach of
etiquette, but also a measure She had insisted on - when they were alone, at
least.  "But we are not here merely to behold the sights.  Know you what this
tower holds?"

The Empress-to-be glanced down at the courtyard, marking the location of Her
quarters, then back up and over Her shoulder.  If the tallest spire was to Her
left, then that would make this-  "Ah!  Is it not the Forbidden Treasury?"

"The Royal Treasury," the teacher corrected gently, gesturing toward one of the
imposing doors and its clearly visible Imperial crest.  "Forbidden to all else,
perhaps, but yours to possess by right of blood."

For a long moment, the Empress-to-be was silent.  Then She looked Her teacher
squarely in the eyes, with the piercing gaze he knew all too well.  "Does not
tradition dictate that only a sitting Emperor or Empress may access the

"You are well-informed.  But tell me: how many of them have done so?"

"... only the very first Emperor, if I have recalled my lessons rightly."

The teacher smiled one of his rare smiles.  "Indeed, that is what your lessons
say: that of fifty-six rulers, only a single one opened the Treasury, in order
to store the riches of his conquests.  So your lessons say."  He raised a single
finger.  "Another question.  Do you believe all your lessons to be completely

There was another pause, this one longer and more uncomfortable than the first.
The teacher could see the turmoil in his student's eyes, as honesty warred with
tradition - but the answer finally came, accompanied by a grimace.  "I cannot...
fully... agree with that statement."  Here, away from everyone else, the
Empress-to-be could speak with candor; yet still She guarded Her words, the
lessons having been driven deep.

The teacher dropped to one knee and looked directly at the Empress-to-be.
"Neither can I," he whispered, with a mysterious sparkle in his eyes - an
expression She had never seen before, completely open and unguarded.  "I know
too much, you see.  More than I have taught you, more than I am allowed to say.
Though I have already said far, far too much, and will doubtless say more - if
you wish."  He remained kneeling.  "One last question to determine whether we
continue with today's lesson."  This time the teacher paused, taking a quiet
breath.  "I can only ask once.  Do you trust me?"

The Empress-to-be's eyes narrowed.  The gears in Her mind spun rapidly,
recalling everything She knew about Her teacher, past experiences and
impressions and conversations, and comparing it with the other people She had
met - stewards, chambermaids, councilors, cooks, guardians - and after a long
moment She closed Her eyes.

"I do," She whispered, and opened Her eyes again.  "Let us continue."

With a firm nod, the teacher stood, tossing back the hood of his robe to expose
his jet-black hair, styled in a long braid.  With a single tug it came loose,
and he presented a curious-looking hairpin to the Empress-to-be: a birdlike
design in silver, set with deep crimson jewels, glistening in the center of his
palm.  "Does this please you?"

The Empress-to-be blinked.  "It is... well-made," She returned, "and I can
appreciate its beauty - but at the same time I would not deprive you of it."

The teacher chuckled softly.  "So I see.  Now - /look again/."

She looked back down at his hand, and stifled a gasp - for where the hairpin had
been, there now rested a gleaming crimson key, looking as though it had been cut
from a single massive crystal.

"Things are not always as they appear," the teacher intoned quietly.  "You
already know this is true, surrounded by deceit as you are every day you live
within the castle walls.  It is my hope..."  He swallowed, suddenly tense.  "My
hope that today's lesson will provide you the... ability... to see through
appearances, and discern the truth of any matter you behold."

"This is a dangerous undertaking, then."

"For both of us," the teacher confirmed, turning and sliding the key into the
metal lock in the center of the door with a soft whisper.  "I am fully prepared
for this to be the final lesson I teach you, and to be exiled - or more likely,
put to death - for my crimes against the royal family."

The Empress-to-be felt Her heart racing.  "Crimes?  You have done nothing of the

"I have already told you your lessons are untrue," he returned with a slight
smile, "and that alone - in many eyes - is bad enough.  And now we are about to
break tradition even further, and enter the treasury.  Or at least /I/ am.  You
might happen to /follow/ me, but I would never /lead/ you inside."

"... So I see."

"Yes, I can tell.  Words are a weapon; wield them well.  Now - you must remember
this, milady," he continued, sharply, causing Her ears to perk at the unexpected
address.  "I have only a hairpin with me.  /I cannot provide you a key./"

As the Empress-to-be pondered Her teacher's phrasing and emphasis, She heard the
sound of the lock turning, and a *clack* - and then the shrill protest of
age-old hinges as the treasury door began to open.

Without another word, the teacher vanished into the darkness; and the
Empress-to-be followed.

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