Gods Choked By Rules (Ru Li Cheng)

From Multiverse Crisis MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Gods Choked By Rules (Ru Li Cheng)
Date of Cutscene: 13 March 2024
Location: Three-River Capital Huahei, The Empire of Yinghua
Synopsis: Ru Li is called in to speak to one of his elder siblings.
Cast of Characters: 7580

The palace of Bai Li Ahan, ninth of the nine Bai Ahan gods, was cold and unpleasant. Not physically, of course - physically the halls were warmed by candles floating atop gearwork-cloud braziers. Physically they were beautiful, filled with opulent rugs and impressive silken draperies, with gold clockwork patterns inscribed in the walls and warm marble coating the floors. Water from one of the Capital's three greater waterfalls was funneled in and turned to refreshing mist in halls free from silk or books or rugs, providing an ambient shimmer that made the place feel otherworldly and detached from the rest of Yinghua.

But it was also sterile. There were no plants within the palace of Bai Li Ahan, Ru Li Cheng could not help but notice. Even Ru Li's palace had plants. Flowers were such a key part of Yinghuan culture that their absence struck a deep chord with him as he walked, tasting and feeling the air. Perhaps that was also part of it - perhaps a human would feel the place warm, inviting, and mystical, but to a god it simply tasted off, felt off, felt...mechanical. Rote. Going through the motions of elegance rather than elegance itself. Bound by ritual.

He passed through the double-doors at the heart of the palace and into Bai Li Ahan's throne room. Immediately upon entering he bowed his head and vanished his hands into his sleeves. Here he wore his mechanical mien, his divine metal form, beneath the proper formal robes of a god, and for the first time he felt uncomfortable in his own steel skin.

"Ru Li Cheng is here to speak with Bai Li Ahan."

Unnecessary, but formal. He waited, patiently, for permission to raise his head and approach the throne, even as he cast his senses about to examine the room. No mist here. The only decorations were thirty-six hundred strips of paper, which hung from silk threads that reached to the ceiling. Of them, Ru Li recognized four hundred as his own handwriting.

Four hundred years of yearly reports from the nine bureaucratic gods.

Decoration made of history itself.

The throne itself was hard, uncushioned stone. Ru Li had expected wood, as was traditional, but this was the proof - no plant matter whatsoever existed within this place. This was a sterile land of paperwork, history, and regulations. Even the throne's decoration was functional, engraved as it was with every law and bylaw of the Empire up to the current year. Every Imperial proclamation still on the books, every declaration, was carved onto that throne in painstaking detail. It was probably replaced every decade or so. Several repealed laws had been scratched out with neat, simple strikes.

"Bai Li Ahan recognizes Ru Li Cheng. Approach." The voice was musical, androgynous, but it was musical the way math is musical - precise and calculated and harmonic. It was utterly without any sense of joy or melody.

Ru Li raised his head to finally look directly at Bai Li Ahan. Bai Li Ahan was one of the rare Capital gods who preferred the mechanical mien to the flesh. It was also, as far as Ru Li knew, one of the only Capital gods that firmly rejected all gender, all flesh, all humanity. Even eating was apparently a grudging necessity to it, if the sole bit of untidiness was to go by: a single dish of uncooked dry rice unfinished sitting on the arm of the throne.

Its form was glorious, of course, as all gods were, but eerie. Bai Li Ahan had no eyes, no mouth, no discernable face of any sort, save for a mechanical sigil carved carefully into its head that could be read as LAW or CERTAINTY. The sigil glowed when it spoke, and shifted color when it chose to express itself with the emotions that were nonetheless still part of its existence. Though humanoid like all Capital gods it was slender and delicate like a dancer, decorated with painted gearwork patterns across its bare breasts, and only a single silk loincloth for clothing.

"You sent for me?" Ru Li asked, approaching slowly.

"Your reports have been troubling."

"I wasn't aware you read my reports. I would have thought that Bai Lu Ahan-"

A slender hand rose to cut him off. "I am still the advisor who represents the Ru Cheng gods. I am still oversight for the Ru Cheng gods. Bai Lu Ahan cannot bypass my authority."

Ru Li wanted very desperately to shift on his metal heel under the glowing gaze of that emblem. "Of course. I just didn't think-"

"That much is evident from your reports." Bai Li Ahan raised a finger. Metal peeled back to show flesh and clockwork as electrum lights danced in its grip. In moments the words of the very reports Ru Li had been filing appeared in the air. A flourish of the finger circled certain words and names in the air.

"I don't understand," Ru Li said, earnestly, tempered-glass eyes meeting the symbol's silver stare, "Haven't I been diligent? I've managed to acquire a number of allies who are here to help with the Rust. By all their accounts I am an asset, and represent our country well. Isn't that the duty of an ambassador?"

"That would be true," Bai Li Ahan said, "Were you an ambassador, and not a bureaucrat."

One of the gears in Ru Li's neck twitched at that, and he tilted his head involuntarily, the closest a metal form could come to a flinch. "I am an ambassador, at least at the moment. Bai Lu Ahan-"

"The Eldest is too permissive with you."

"Pardon?" Ru Li's voice couldn't hide his shock. "He-"

"You are too much like him." Bai Li Ahan's hand settled on the glowing words in the air. "You are both too curious."

"Th-that's...I should think being like our prototype is something to aspire to!" Ru Li felt the heat rising in his coolant, felt the ticking underneath his steel skin speed up. "He is our first, after all-"

"Our eldest and our youngest are both too curious for the Empire's good." Bai Li Ahan turned away, but flicked its wrist over its shoulder, and the floating words swirled around Ru Li like birds. "You are not truly risking yourself on foolish missions for the Empire, are you? To gain credit among the barbarians?"


"Barbarians." Bai Li Ahan's head turned around to give Ru Li a good look at the dim, red-hot glow of its sigil. "There is no word for what you propose in our tongue and there never will be."

Ru Li put his hand on his chest. "But they're willing to help us! I'm risking myself to help them so they'll act on our behalf!"

"We do not need outsiders to solve our problems." Bai Li Ahan turned away. "The Imperial army has had the Rust contained for five thousand years."

"But we could redeploy-"

"The equilibrium is kept, and that is acceptable."


"Have you considered what these barbarians will bring to our gates?" Bai Li Ahan asked as it began walking towards the throne. "How many of them have asked if the Engine of Heaven could be altered? How many of them do you think will want to plunder our alchemies, our studies, our knowledge?"

"I'm not a fool. Of course they have something to gain. But, so do we!" Ru Li patted his chest again. "Who knows what we might learn of other realms, of other Engines, of other methods of alchemy that we could apply to our own world? We could destroy the Rust once and for all, reclaim the lost province, reinvigorate the Empire!"

"And is that truly what you believe?"


Bai Li Ahan turned on him so swiftly that he took an involuntary step back - and it wasn't fast enough. In moments the glowing symbol was blotting out his forward vision, swallowing his frontal cone and drowning the rest of his gaze in red. "Is that why you've so carelessly taken a lover?"

Ru Li stared. Then, "I haven't- we're just-"

"Very well. Then I will be more precise. Is that why you are so carelessly attempting to take a lover?"

"We're gods! We're permitted-"

"Yinghuan lovers. Locals, who can be verified. Not barbarian princesses who specialize in infiltration. Barbarian princesses with unverifiable desires and unverifiable ambitions. Have you considered for an instant the kind of power over this Empire someone could gain as your consort? The unprecedented access to centuries of bureaucratic allocations, of funds, of materiel and manpower movements? Did you stop at any point in your short-sighted lust to think that a barbarian with that kind of access could bring the Empire to its knees?"

"..." Ru Li was silent as Bai Li Ahan whirled its finger around to bring Futaba's name swirling around Ru Li's head. Uncomfortably Ru Li realized that he did mention her quite a lot in his reports, didn't he. Sentences of admiration flowed around him, schools of letters in an ocean of words.

"You are careless, Ru Li Cheng. You are the youngest, and the most curious, and the most naive. Even Bai Lu Ahan cannot have ignored the dangers of bringing barbarians in against our greatest foe. No doubt he accepted your proposal out of his own misguided ideals. But I have no doubt that he, also, noticed how foolish you are." Bai Li Ahan tapped one of the mentions of Futaba's name. Suddenly, Tamamo's name came surging forward, and Lilian's, and Hibiki's, and Ultraman Belial's, drowning out Futaba's.

"They're skilled, and strong, and admirable heroes," Ru Li said, his voice tight, "A foreign Maintainer even the Emperor showed deference to, her lover and a powerful lady of war and wisdom, a brave fighter doing her best to act according to her word, and a hero I was proud to help."

"A barbarian Maintainer whose goals we know nothing of. A savvy, skilled, and dangerous, highly-placed individual with enormous influence. A reckless child swinging her fists at all before her. An alien you permitted into your holy form without a second thought."

More names. Petra. Angela. Ishirou. "A...a friend, someone who specializes in monsters, someone like us-"

"A degenerate maniac with a history of inflicting misery for its own sake. A base machine with dangerous capabilities and an army of nightmares. An exile from his own homeland uncertain of his own direction in life."

"What do you want, then, as allies?" Ru Li demanded, "Do you want more vassals to be taxed, more people to tell you how right you are, more-"

Bai Li Ahan raised its finger and pressed it against Ru Li's face. Ru Li stumbled backwards as silver light flooded his senses. He screamed, the sound of metal being ripped in half, and slumped to his knees.

"You do not raise your voice to me," came the cold, melodious mathematical tone. "We are not equals, Ru Li Cheng."

"Th...this is against the laws of the gods," Ru Li managed through the ringing agony in his brain, "We are all equals in the eyes of the Emperor."

Bai Li Ahan bent at a ninety degree angle and settled a finger under Ru Li's metallic chin. "We are not in the eyes of the Emperor. Your actions are beyond the Emperor's purview. You are acting outside the Engine of Heaven. You are acting outside your purpose. You are risking Rusting."

Ru Li froze. Every gear in his body stopped ticking for a brief instant. "You...you don't know that that will happen."

"You do."

"I don't."

"The motion of your clockwork ceased for a fraction of a second at the truth. Heroes should not lie. And you desperately want to be a hero, Ru Li Cheng."

Ru Li tried to look away. Bai Li Ahan's single finger held his face fast, and so too fixed his gaze upon the glowing sigil that devoured the rest of his sight in its light. "We are not equals, Ru Li Cheng. I am your elder. I am wiser. I am more experienced. I can see in full what you see only in part. I am the one with authority over your station. I see the disaster you will bring upon us through your pursuit of these childish desires. I abide by the law while you flaunt it. You teeter on the brink of self-destruction, and with it, the destruction of a ninth of the Empire. Even now your leaving has done irreparable damage. Thousands of bureaucrats are being trained to cover for you as you selfishly go about playing hero to impress your barbarian lover and the rest of them." Bai Li Ahan's other hand rose, pointing at the ground.

"This is your home. Your duties are sacrosanct. Sacred. You lost the right to argue with me the moment you chose to abandon them. You are lucky you are even still considered a god. Had I my way you would be scrapped."

Ru Li's mechanical eyes whirred and clicked. "You're not-"

"You are a threat to the Empire. And I am not the only one who feels so." Bai Li Ahan released his chin and stood, turning away. "You may have Bai Lu Ahan's ear and the Emperor's interest, but that will not protect you if you continue down this path. And if the Rust begins to grow upon your body you will be destroyed without a second thought. As you know is correct."

Ru Li lowered his head. "...yes."

"Realign yourself. Rewind yourself. And consider, perhaps, how much influence you are allowing your barbarians to have over you as you chase the approval of those who clap when you clear the lowest of bars because they are so used to people failing even that."

"You are dismissed."

Ru Li rose, shaking, lowered his head, folded his hands into his robe, bowed, and walked out, as quickly as he dared to avoid being unseemly. As soon as he was alone, he unfolded himself into his flesh mien and started walking briskly towards the airship dock. The sooner he was through the warpgate, the better.

He did not care to linger on why that thought was in his mind. He only wanted to be away from that cold stone palace and that striking, faceless gaze that saw right through his soul.