Tales of the Aoza
bright as the moon on high, how can I bring it down?Aoza 「青座」is the name given to the Head Priestess of the Hirata Shrine, located on the edge of a pristine lake in the country of Hainan, famed for its silk, customs, and religion. The name means One Seated in the Blue, and her jobs include taking care of the poor, and feeding travellers that come and go from the Royal Capital. When a Priestess ascends to become the Aoza, they renounce their birth name, and up until the murder of the very last, they are known apart from each other by their nicknames. Apart from having divine powers, they were also expected to carry out blessings of the Emperor and the Empress, as well as listen to the common folk and their grievances to help mediate relations between the crown and the people. Their favour and power was the furtherest any commoner could hope reach in Hainan, resulting in struggles for the ruling class to place on of their own in the Hirata Shrine.
the heart and soul of the aozaIt is said that in Lake Hirata, lies the heart of the Priestess, in the form of a white dragon. It protects all those in Hainan, and when glimpsed, is a pure, shimmering white, just like the heart of the priestess. While the Citadel's collection says that sightings of it is no more than the sun sparkling on the lakewater, it should be noted that the lake itself is sometimes strangely stormy, even on the calmest of skies, hinting at an underwater source.
Never let your heart open with the spring flowers: One inch of love is an inch of ashes.Title: Aoza, One Seated in the Sky
Residence: Hirata Shrine, outside the Imperial Palace. It is situated in the middle of the lake which feeds the capital, and can only be accessed by a cave system or by boat. Generally, the cave system is a hushed secret in case of emergencies, and indeed, to visit one can only reach there by boat.
Qualities: Kind, loving. The next Aoza is chosen by the previous one, and is said to be possessed by the soul of the Kind Woman who descended from Heaven to help mankind.
Duties: Management of the shrine, feeding the poor, giving aid to wandering travellers. She is the voice of the common people, and is generally a commoner herself. On festivals she exits the shrine to lead prayers to the Kind Woman, and gives the blessing of the common folk to each new Emperor or Empress.
Notable Aozas: The last Aoza; the Aoza who was kicked out of the line of succession and claimed to be the daughter of a commoner; and the Aoza who threw herself into Lake Hirata in grief and sorrow.Entry about the Aoza from the Citadel's Collection:
In the far east, in the country of Hainan, therein lies a strange custom. Where we have The Common's Voice, they have the Aoza, the highest ranked priestess who serves as a conduit between their Emperor and the common folk. She is garbed in the finest robes, and carries out many important religious affairs such as the festivals to welcome in the new (such being the new year, a new Emperor, and so on).
I. Tales of the First Aoza
The phoenix is doomed to rebirth; flame and dust her callings, eternity, her curseShe is so hungry: She has not slept in days, she feels the weight of mud and blood on the skin: she breathes in air too sharply and she hurts her lungs. Her body is weak, bruised, dying.
A second thought is not given when she tumbles onto a grave, and her eyes are too clouded to read whatever words are on it. She mutters an apology to the dead and steals the offerings: meagre rice cakes, and a bottle of cheap wine. It's time to run again, she lifts up the cakes and munches the leaf wrapping along with the rice. There is no taste to them anymore, and she only knows that she needs to eat, that she needs to keep running. Her very skin and body is burning, burning like the deserts far out to the southwest, burning like the drought in the Empire of Hainan, burning like the sun on the praries to the west.
A last spurt of energy sends her to the top of the mountain: there, warriors on condors and birds-of-prey line arrows, and she stares at the man in golden armour, daring, defiant, all bloody and bruised, clothes dirty and tattered. Eye to eye they meet, and she hopes that he is thankful for his helmet, as she cannot see his gaze from behind it. It is midday, and she does not cast a shadow: in one moment she was a tattered beggar: in the next, she is a glorious phoenix, and in the next she is but a saddening pile of ashes. The warriors still have their arrows notched, and are fearful.
The golden warrior dismounts, and with his sword he nudges the pile of ashes. It too goes up in flames, and is discarded to the side, melting.
General, what do we do now?
The golden warrior blinks twice, and grunts.
The orders were to murder the Gaoying Traitress, and she is dead. Disperse, back to the barracks!
The warriors unnotch their arrows, and start to fly back. Only the golden warrior stays behind, and brings out an icicle to inspect the pile. It melts, although not as quickly as the sword, and a small hatchling pokes out, its feathers ashen. It seems annoyed, and quickly spurts out another flame at her assailant.
Quite a powerful bugger, aren't you, Gaoying Traitress?
The little hatchling stares at the assailant, and tries to mimic the speech. However, it is but a bird, and its resulting sound is coarse to the ears.
He sighs, unsure. If the Traitress was truly the human form of a Phoenix, there was nothing he could do to murder it, except…
At this point the hatchling had swiftly jumped off the mountain while spewing another lick of fire at the golden warrior, and attempted to spread its wings and fly. The golden warrior's condor flew after it, but he whistled and the bird stopped, leaving the hatchling free to escape.
It matters not, then. Farewell.
In a patch of sunlight, the hatchling transforms back into a human, and quickly bathes in the water. Before, she was a twenty-something human of astounding beauty, now she is a weak four year old of unknown origins. The best she can do is to find a family to take her in, and conjure up a sob story about how her parents left her. Although…
She quickly reverts back to her phoenix form, not minding the vegetation that is burning. Her tail feathers are sublime: although the longest are barely 10 centimetres in length, they are shimmering with fire and life, glorious blood red etched in gold. They sell for a fortune: for her first few lifetimes she was but a pet, and they plucked out all but one of her tail feathers to sell and create fire-resistant charms. Not in a single lifetime has she managed to make it with all her tail feathers intact, and she does not imagine that the day will ever come. Everything must be bargained to live: death is a failure, and if she must then she will let her own body pay the price. She sees the longest feather, right in the middle, and remembers that there is a powerful clan whose patron bird is the phoenix.
Once, she was their pet, but now she knows better than to approach them in her true form. Her trickery had allowed her to escape, but this time they will not be so easy on her. The Phoenix Tribe is dwindling: Her birth is low, but constant wars of succession has slowly increased her standing. In a Millenia, she may even be the Crown Princess of the Phoenix Tribe, owing to no fact other than all others have died. Forgetting alive Phoenixes, even a feather is hard to obtain, and that powerful clan guards their treasures carefully.
By the river, she plots and plans her next life. Her promise has been kept, and a debt has been paid in the form of the Gaoying Traitress. She had been wise to disfigure her fact before carrying out the deed for all her human forms look the same, and hopes to never reveal her phoenix form in such a peace time.
a tale of the phoenix empressOnce, the Phoenix Empress was mad at the treatment of her people, who were secretly being stolen and sold as slaves.
She transformed into her Phoenix form, and flew for one night to the Imperial Palace. She was so bright that many thought that it was daytime: Flowers bloomed again, and the birds chirped of her coming.
It was dawn when she arrived, and she barged her way in through to the Main Hall: She enclosed the guards inside traps of fire, and just as she was going to arrive, the Crown Prince of the Empire stopped her.
Are you a fool, to barge in like this?
Are you a fool, to stop me like this?
She raised her hand to trap this buffoon, but he was sly and nimbly dodged it, laughing.
Your powers are not weak, but the Emperor is not taking guests at the moment.
That will not do, I demand an explanation for the treatment of my people now.
The Crown Prince knew at this moment that she was the Phoenix Empress, and needed to stop her in her tracks.
Why not this? Defeat me in battle, and I will personally take you to see the Emperor.
The Phoenix Empress considered, and her hair pin feathers fluttered gently in the breeze. She was still angry, and the Crown Prince hoped that she would be brash in her actions.
I accept. If you do not defeat me before nightfall, then take me to see the Emperor.
Frowning, the Crown Prince was ruffled. How dare she look down on him like this!
Are you sure it won't be you who is defeated before nightfall?
At this moment, the Phoenix Empress waved her hands, and a long rope appeared. She held one end, and the other continued to the sky, so high that one could not see the end.
I chose this rope as my weapon. I see you have a sword by your side: May we begin?
He nodded, curious at the weapon, and was about to unsheathe his sword when the Phoenix Empress gave the rope a massive tug. In a moment, all eyes went to the end of the rope: Was she bringing down a magic beast? Surely that would be against the rules: she chose the rope as her weapon. Although if it was the beast that was using the weapon...
But no! All eyes went to the sun: that blinding ball of light sped off to the West.
It is now night, take me to see the Emperor.
The Crown Prince had barely made a move, and was incensed by this show of wit and strength. But a promise was a promise, and he bade the Phoenix Empress to come.
II. The Last Aoza
Cry woe, destruction, ruin and decay: The worst is death, and death will have his day.
I feel the pressure of time sink into my heart
And with every passing day,
I feel its beat softly ticking away
And with every passing eternity,
I open my eyes and am blind again.
It's been too short. Too short.
Ma'am, there are reports that the eastern gate has bee breached. It will do you know good to stay out here in the open.
I nod. They help me to dress, and we make for one of the catacombs. I look, dazed, at my attire: normal gear for a commoner, so that they will not notice what I'm wearing. At least someone has common sense. We pass two guards, each with a red smile, gruesome to look at. One of them has his eyes open in shock, and the other is slowly dying, and we can hear his final breaths. There isn't even enough time to give the dying one mercy, so we continue walking down this long corridor. How cold of us to do that, I muse. How very cold.
We make it through an exit behind a scroll, and that is when I realise we're headed for the tombs. Safe enough, as no one would dare to desecrate them, but apart from the main entrance, this is the only other exit. We will be stuck like fish in a painting if they come after us. Someone is waiting for us with a torch, and I take it and light our way. I watch it slowly flicker in the darkness of this situation. I pray for everyone's safety, and especially for those guards we saw brutally murdered. How they never found us after that must be a miracle. To think if we were any earlier...
I hear a soft thud and whirl around, skirts flying. NO. NO.
Everyone is dead. Faces in shock. Life ebbing away. How... did I not notice this?
Looking a little dazed, ain't ya, sweet one?
I... I recognise that... that smiling face. It's the guard. It's him. Wasn't he dying? Nothing makes sense anymore. I stare at the blood on his neck, and realise we've been fooled. What a fake smile. I back away, and my back presses against a door. Cold. Hard. My heart is fluttering, failing. I have nothing to say anymore.
Awh, don't be a spooked horse, come here. I promise this won't hurt a bit.
Such a despicable grin.
I throw the torch at him, and watch in grim pleasure as he writhes around in agony. I run past his burning soul, past the dead bodies, past the closed tombs, and an eternity passes until I make it out the painting exit.
The light blinds me for a moment, and I take a second to adjust. A guard is there, and I reach out for help. He seems startled, but gives a cocky smirk.
If I had known that lovely maidens came flying out of paintings, I would have taken this job sooner! Is something the matter?
He winks at me and I sigh. Men. It's the-
I stop. Why is he covered in blood? I blink. Are you okay? I try to touch the blood on his armour. New, not his own.
Ah don't worry about that, we just secured the perimeter. Can I help you with anything?
I look back at the painting. Please do, I'm the Head Priestess and I'll need some guards to-
For a brief moment, I feel time stop. And start again, with an incredible rush of pain. Blood covers the painting in front of me. Did someone die there? How incredibly sad.
It takes a moment for me to realise that it is my own.
Hmm? Raizer failed? Oh well, judging by the fact that you're still alive, a guard managed to stop him. And you were so pretty too, I didn't think that holy women could be so.
The sword slides out of my chest, and I slump to the ground. No strength left in my bones. As I feel my life blood slowly beat out, I hear some last parting words.
Just a little hint for your next life: you should have kept the fact that you were Head Priestess a secret. A sparrow is safer than a kingfisher, no?
Sayonara, Aoza Hirata.
It's been too long. Too long.
And with every passing eternity,
I close my eyes and see again
And with every passing moment,
I feel life's soft tendrils slip away
And with every passing breath,
I feel the weight of death on my skin.