Nysela drew the golden chariot to a stop outside the Grand Entrance to the Jade Pleasure Dome. “You’ll be safe inside. The Jade Pleasure Dome is carefully guarded and only the most highly honored are allowed inside.” Nysela glanced back at the Exalts who were still hesitating. Everything in Yushan was just bigger and expensive. It was hard to resist snapping off a delicate piece of sculpture when every flower petal could be sold for an estate back in Creation.
“You will find the Incarna in the center. I will stay and guard the entrance from the angry mob that will be reaching us shortly. The damned legalistic Judges probably won’t let me off easily for this one. It’s not in their nature.” Nysela began tracing out constellations of light in Solar script, empowering a defensive barrier around the door. The Celestial Lions flanking either side of the door looked at her askance but a single glare from Nysela reminded them they needed a better reason to risk her wrath. She reinforced the ward with radiant magic circles floating above and below her then began a set of five summoning circles.
Inside the Grand Entrance a servant greeted them, bowing low to the ground. “Greeting Most Highly Honored Chosen of the Sun and Stars. How may I serve you?”
“Oh nonsense, Shukyo. You’re hardly fit to service a flea!” Yujiri strode into the great entrance hall, her geta sandals clicking on the detailed marble and gold floor. After shooing the lesser servant away with her fujian, she twirled around and opened the parasol to frame herself perfectly amid the backdrop of the interior.
“I am Tegami, Proprietor Goddess of the Baths of Venus, and negotiator of the Celestiate Treaty of 564.” Her painted face wrinkled with emotion as she eyed the exalts before her. “No no, this will not do.” With a snap of her fingers, a number of small frog gods scurried up bearing linens more elaborate than anything seen in Creation. Several smaller winged creatures flitted around taking measurements.
“We simply must prepare you for your reunion with the Unconquered Sun, and I personally know that he dislikes any dirt on his carpet! We’ll have a special garment made for each of you – one that will surely please his Holiness.
“Now, right this way – we have our own special baths here that will have you feeling the best you’ve felt in the past century…or decade..or however long you’ve been alive for!” She let out an absurd laugh after that as the lesser gods began escorting the exalts down the corridor towards the Dome Baths.
Caiden sighed as he followed down the corridor. He had been in this building countless times – albeit never to meet the Unconquered Sun. Rarely did he visit the Dome Baths, but presentation in Yu Shan was everything. Tegami was a figure he had rarely come across, as most of his time was spent in Creation. She was, however, well known for her work in the Division of Serenity and throughout Yu Shan.
This option was much better than the alternative. Still, there was always an apprehension from being anywhere near the Games of Divinity. It was almost primal at the core, and required immense amounts of willpower to suppress. He glanced back to make sure Zaela was following.
Zaela’s eyes blazed whitely; she neatly sidled by Caiden to step up beside Tegami, her body language completely different. Zaela-Prismatic Lotus smiled and said, a little snottily, “Of course, we must be perfect, just as our Lord is perfect. Certainly, if he does not like dirt on his carpets, how much more will he abhor Slave Collars around the necks of his Chosen and their escort! So insulting – as if they were petty thieves. Plus, they are impossible to accessorize properly, you know. The Collars must be removed at once.”
At the conclusion of her statement, Zaela-Prismatic Lotus had stopped dead with a stamped foot for emphasis, crossing her arms over her chest and raising an eyebrow expectantly. First lesson in Being In The Spotlight, dear descendant Zaela: act as if you have the authority, and most people will give it to you. Clearly Lotus was not planning on moving until those Collars were removed, and was not allowing anyone else to either.
Raksi, who’d been unusually subdued in the prison – bad memories, perhaps – and then disappeared for part of the procession and returned to board Nysela’s chariot with a much more Raksi-like smug expression, sniggered quietly from further back in the group.
“Oh heavens!” Tegami twirled around, facing Zaela. “I should have known that necklace wasn’t decoration.” She pointed her now closed fujian at the Solar’s neck. “Under Celestiate authority granted to me, I release you from your bonds.”
The collar(s) fell off at once, collected quickly by one of the smaller frog gods. Tegami clapped her hands together, “Now with that out of the way, I’ll make sure that vile thing is replaced with a marvelous Orichalcum choker.”
She motioned towards the Baths. “Now, you get yourselves cleaned up. I’ll have the attendants bring you to the dressing room afterwards so you can look your finest!” A pair of attendants emerged from the steaming entrance of the Bath to escort the travelers inside, while Tegami watched with a porcelain smile.
The Exalts were rushed through their preparations, given a quick clean up and a new set of clothes so they would be presentable to their gods. At first it seemed like the preparations would take forever, Yuraji was taking her time. But then something intangible changed. Like the air pressure suddenly lessening, an unfelt weight relaxed across the whole complex. Moments later more servants burst in.
“It’s time! Why are they not already at the gates?!” protested a frog faced god. “There is a limited time between rounds and they have been summoned!” The servants split off to squabble with Yuraji while the rest shooed the Exalts out of the room. They were lined up before the grand gates that led into the Games of Divinity and without so much as an explanation, the doors were thrown open.