Wednesday June 18, 2003 @ 10:14 AM (UTC)

Here’s another Exalted character story. I was going to make you guess who her personality is based on, but Matt let the cat out of the bag with the two people I would have thought might guess, so I’ll just tell you that she’s based on Faith from Buffy. I tend to play squeeky-clean characters, so I thought playing someone with a more troublesome emotional makeup (can you say “anger management”?) might be fun. She’s supposed to be around where Faith was emotionally when she first appeared. The story, though, is all her own.

Warning: This story is very plot- and character-driven. I really didn’t take much care over my prose, and it’s much more foul-mouthed than I’m really comfortable with. But it got her where I want her to go, so I’m happy.

I will post a picture after I’ve had some quality time with my scanner.


“I’ve been telling you for seven years, Cira, you take plenty of my money,but this place is still a dungheap! What do you spend it on?”

Golden’s mother quivered dumbly in response.

“By the Dragons, woman! If you’d fight back, maybe I’d keep you! But if I wanted a wench without a spine, I’d court a sea-jelly! I’m going to Great Forks!”

Golden’s mother flickered, “When will you be back, Raden?”

“To Nexus? Two months! To you? Never!” His fine face ruddy with anger, he slammed the thin door.

Golden went over to her mother, as usual, and slipped her little hand within her work-chapped one. She didn’t bother saying anything, it wouldn’t stop her blubbering. She wished she could go with Papa, guard the caravans, see other places. But all he could feel was his contempt for her mother. Maybe, Golden thought, he had other wives, other children. The caravans plied many roads. Maybe one more or less made no difference. She stared at her weak, whimpering mother with distaste. “You’re like a dog,” she whispered, and smirked when her mother didn’t hear.

Her name was Golden. Golden Hope, probably, as her mother had wistfully wished for her baby-blonde hair to last, so she’d be a fine fair beauty like her father. Already, most of her hair was brown, and so her name had dwindled. Her mother couldn’t believe her father was really gone, kept mentioning his caravan, and being sure he’d be back this week. When the last of his wages had been spent, though, she was forced to make shift, and realized taking in laundry would no longer feed and clothe a woman and a growing, healthy child.

So she became a courier, carrying shipments for the Guild. When she had completed her second run, she got a bonus! It was a fine, sky-blue powder with a small glass pipe. She did not know its name. By her fourth run, she was asking for half her fee in this drug. This was, of course, the idea. The drug in question came from an obscure little town — the Guild controlled all production, and they never told their employees what the Bonus was. Golden’s mother was a good example of the result — a fanatically loyal woman, willing to give her life to keep in her supplier’s good graces, clamoring for more work, and aching to be paid in drugs they got cheap wholesale.

Golden was turning 8. Her mother was acting strangely. There were times when she no longer seemed small and frightened. Then, she was loud and full of laughter, and wanted to dance and play the games Golden was growingout of. However, most of the time, in between jobs, she spent the little money she had on cheap wine, trying to drink the cravings away until the next call came. She dwindled back into the corners of her life, yearning and morose. Golden raised herself, with help from the streets of Nexus.

When Golden was 12, her mother brought home a man. His name was Jife, and like her mother, his eyes were bloodshot from blue smoke, and his hands soft from lack of work. Together, they discussed the Bonus, what it might be, where they could get it, how it felt when it held you. Soon, the man did not go home, but lived with Golden’s mother. Golden thought he was pathetic. They both were.

There were several gangs in the area. “Youth Entrepeneurial Societies,” they were sometimes called. The most powerful was a group of teenagers called the Fire Cats. Golden had watched them for a while, and especially their leader, a brown-skinned, flame-haired boy named Summer Lion. He was about 16, but strong and charming, so that even those Cats who outnumbered his years were bound to him by love and friendship. There were no girls in the Fire Cats.

Money was running short for Jife and Cira. It always did. One day, Jife looked blearily at Golden, now 13. She was sitting on a creaking table, mending a rip in her pants. Jife had an idea. “Cira!” He wandered into the second room of the small house. “Cira!” he said, his eyes focusing on her finally. “Your daughter…she’s yours, right? The brat?”

“M sleeping, goway.”

“No, Cira…I know a guy! He’ll give us maybe 50 jade for a girl!”

“Jade?” Cira started to wake up, “What’re we talking about?” she squinted.

“Your brat, honey, she’s well named! We can sell her to the panderers…”

Cira blinked. Something was wrong with this idea. “Umm…” she tried, “But what if she doesn’t want to?”

“Pff, a girl that age doesn’t know what she wants. It’ll be good for her to learn a trade.”

“I dunno…you ask her.” Cira buried her face in her pillow again.

Jife turned happily back to the front room, but Golden was gone. Not unusual, but he felt a vague discomfort. Maybe he’d been talking loud. Maybe he should have closed the curtain. Huh.

Golden stood in the middle of the Fire Cats turf, where she usually saw them. It was a burned-out building, a few spectral timbers still rising from the ground in the pile of bricks and broken tiles. “Hey! Lion!” She only called once, and then she waited. It was about ten minutes before he came, sauntering out of a nearby wine-shop, a talkative large Cat and a tiny, silent one in tow.

He walked up to her, and nodded. “You called?”

“Yeah. I’m Golden. I wanna join.”

Tom, the large Cat, laughed, “Y’gotta piss standin’ up to be in our Entrepeneurial Club. S’in the bylaws. We marks our territory.”

“Think I can manage. If you can shit with your mouth like that, anythin’s possible.”

Summer Lion laughed, and the small one, Lynx, sat down to trace patterns in the dirt with his knife. “Trashed you, Tom,” the leader noted.

“Yeah,” Tom said, unsure of where this was going, but smarting.

“There are no bylaws, Tom.” Tom sulked, “and she’s a scrappy little thing. Kinda cute.” Golden watched with interest. “Maybe I wanna let her in.”

“A girl! Lion!”

“I didn’t say for sure. Maybe she’s good in a fight,” Lion touched Golden’s wiry shoulder, “an’ then I don’t see the problem.”

Now Tom understood, and he cracked his huge fingers. “Bet she folds,” he said, as if that would spoil all his fun.

“I don’t fold.” Golden said.

It was a hard fight, at first. Tom’s pop was a boxer, and he swung hard. But Golden was small, sober, and scared. She needed to win. She dodged him, managed to take his shots without bones breaking, evaded, survived. “You aren’t winning,” Lion said, almost gently, from the sidelines, as Golden picked herself up off the brick piles and circled again.

The very gentleness in his voice inflamed her. Letting her down easy? Suddenly, she wasn’t scared anymore. She was angry. Her fucking father just sired her and left her, like a horse in a stable! That stupid Jife thought he could just dispose of her like furniture, sell her to a friend. And worst of all, her useless, dishrag, junkie, streaked-out mother. Her own mother didn’t remember her, and would sign her over to a pimp for a case of wine she’d drink through in a week! And now this pretty-boy ganger and his flunkies thought she wasn’t a good bet? Her anger rose in her like a flush, like floodwaters of blood. She felt herself boil and crackle under her skin. She was powerful. She growled, and threw herself at Tom, fist first. She saw his fear before she hit.

Tom never really forgave her for his nose. But that didn’t matter — Tom was an ass, anyway, and after that day, he wasn’t the toughest Cat. Golden Tiger was. She was vicious and strong beyond her small frame, and she seemed to take a savage joy in fighting that the other Cats respected and almost feared. Besides, she was Summer Lion’s girl. No one would mess with Tiger while Lion stood behind her, and no one would challenge Lion while Tiger was on the prowl.

Jife they dealt with as soon as Golden joined up. When his face was bruised and swollen past recognition — and even past seeing — they deposited him, groaning and whimpering, in the Docks district. “I’ll be surprised if we see him again,” Lion smiled like a flash of sunshine, and they strolled back to their own turf.

They were good years. Merchants paid them protection money — not to refrain from using their muscle against the store, but to use their muscle and influence to keep the bands of younger cutpurses and sticky-fingers clear of them. A few notable bands of youngsters were hard to intimidate or catch, so a small cut of the protection money would appease them and bring stability to their scavenging life. They hustled other street gangs for turf — it was amazing how much they would wager on a fight between their own hulking champion and the little girl with the the gold-streaked hair. Eventually her reputation grew, but by then they had as much turf as they could hold, and ran several of the local kid-tribes on the side. She didn’t go home at night — she and Summer Lion slept at inns and taverns, or napped in the sun during the day.

She never went home to sleep, but occasionally she would stop by and stare at the hut, or leave a little food, break a few wine bottles. Jife hadn’t come back, and her mother lived her frantic, unhappy time by herself. She didn’t want the other Cats to know about her visits, and so one day when Dodge, a sneak-thief in one of the Cats’ junior tribes, announced Golden’s mom was going crazy, she feigned indifference. “Yeah, what. Old lady’s always crazy when she tokes.”

“All I know’s Old Man Bastion says she’s foamin’ at the mouth like a mad dog.” Dodge shrugged incuriously.

Lion glanced at Golden and drawled, “G’won, Golden. Don’t want the hag tearing up our neighborhood.”

Golden shrugged, shot him a grateful look, and sauntered off. As soon as she reached the corner she broke into a run.

Her mother was indeed foaming at the mouth, but there was no chance of her tearing up anything. She was lying half-in, half-out of her dilapidated residence, quaking softly and staring at the sky with vast-pupilled eyes.

“Mom…” Golden said softly, and half-lifted her. In response, Cira spasmed slightly, but did not focus, or speak. “Mom!” Golden said gruffly, loudly, but nothing changed. Still blindly, the weight in her arms shook her head, with growing insistence. A husky growling hum oscillated with her movements. Golden held her mother’s narrow wrist and felt the pulse skipping and dancing wildly within. “Blood and sun-rot, Mama! Be strong for once, you mewling bitch!” she shrieked, trying to curse away her tears.

Cira smiled enigmatically and lapsed into limp rest. The waltzing blood coasted to a halt. The black circled eyes rolled back. Golden dropped her and stood up, blind herself with rage, fear, and sorrow. “What the fuck did you do this time, Mom?” She punched the wall, and looked inside the front room of the hut.

An iron-bound chest sat on the rushes of the floor. It was a type she’d seen before, the small ones her mother carried for the Guild. The wax seal was broken, and the contents were scattered around the box — small, open vials with painstakingly inked labels. Powders of various colors, granular or soft, dry leaves and berries untouched in their little jars. A fine layer of powder overlaid everything with gray, white, pink, blue, yellow. Golden covered her mouth and stepped back. “Just had to know what your poison was, huh,” she muttered. She fished a kerchief out of her pockets and tied it over her mouth. Grimly, she put every vial back in the chest and closed it. Then she carried it to the river and threw it in.

The Cats were skittish. Talking was right out — Golden Tiger flattened anyone who dared a quip or even a greeting, and Summer Lion freely admitted that while they’d been together every night since it happened, no talking had been on the menu.

Two weeks passed. Golden was starting to come out of it, and she strutted back to the hangout, trying not to look as ashamed as she felt. The latest hangout was an old hotel, built too near the flats with not enough foundation. She had to duck to enter the wide round-top casements, partially silted up. As she blinked in the dimness, she realized something was wrong. Usually, there would be at least half a dozen Cats here, drinking, gambling, or just funning around. The stillness was…she felt an air movement behind her and dodged too late. She was thrown to the ground as someone’s boots hit her back, and before she could get up, she felt a garrotte slither around her neck.

She managed to get her fingers under the garrotte before it tightened. It was metal, and it bit sharply into her fingers as well as her neck. She felt the skin give, and blood greased the wire’s groove. She saw a pair of feet, overlain by pulsing stars. There were two of them.

She shot herself off the silty floor with her free arm, and heard the strangler grunt as her head hit him in the chest. She got her feet under her, but he didn’t lose his grip. Now she could see the other man. He was dressed in drab street clothes, unconvincingly ripped. He was pulling a very expensive knife. The garrotte was tightening. Her eyes seemed tight in her head, like they would pop any moment from the pressure. The knife man was being blotted out by stars. She was not going to get out of this. They were going to kill her and dump her in the river like her mother’s drugs. They — they had something to do with the gang. That’s why the hideout was empty. Those fucking termites! They’d sworn blood brotherhood, the little shit bugs! She and Lion had swapped more than blood! The little — she felt her anger mounting again, circulating through her the way her blood could not. Her bloody fingers slipped on the wire, but she pressed anyway, and got a grip. A little rational part of her wondered if that grip was the wire on her bones, but the rest didn’t care. She roared, and pushed, and let the hot anger flow into her arm. The wire broke with a resounding twang, and she opened her eyes to see Knife’s face acquire a dazed patina of fear. Strangler still had one arm around her collarbone. She grabbed it, jump-kicked Knife in the head with both feet, and cranked Strangler’s arm on the way down. He screamed. It all seemed so easy. She almost laughed that she’d let them fight her. She swung Strangler by his limp and cracking arm, and bowled Knife over with him. Knife’s head intersected a standing wall with a wet crunching sound, and Strangler shakingly got to his feet and ran trembling and sobbing from the building. She turned to watch him go, and caught her reflection in a broken pane of glass, clothed in a coruscating nimbus of light. She paused to consider it.

As she’d guessed, the people in this part of Nexus were much more inclined to duck for cover than run for rope when they saw an Anathema stalking down the street. And when one had her hand around his throat, the average street tough was quite willing to say whether he’d seen Summer Lion.

Summer Lion was down by the docks, alone. He didn’t hear Golden coming until she was right behind him. She lifted him by the back of his jacket and punched him in the face. “Hi, Honey!” She hefted him across the wharf, and he clutched at a piling to avoid going over into the filthy water. “Why’d you do it, Lion?” she asked conversationally, lifting him back up.

“Tired of gangs, wanted to start a shop…”

“Without me? Well, y’know, baby, you aren’t any great shakes. If you’d just asked me to go, I wouldn’t have cried, and you’d stay pretty.”

Lion flinched, “Nah, Tiger, you don’t get it…they gave me money, to start my shop…if I’d set you up…” he gurgled.

“Really?” She searched him deftly with her free hand and came up with a heavy purse. “Whaddaya know. I think you didn’t perform to their satisfaction, so I’ll just take this.” She looped the purse into her belt. “Who were they, Summer Boy?”

“Didn’t say. Lemme go, Tig—”

“Don’t want to. You’re my boy, remember? I’m gonna love you and squeeze you. Problem is, I don’t know my own strength anymore, and your throat might not take much more squeezing.”

“Nrrgh — okay! They didn’t say, but I saw Guild chits in their purses.”“Good boy,” Golden said, and dropped him. He started to slither backwards, but Golden stopped him with a booted foot. “Not done yet. You’re still pretty.” She drew the assassin’s knife slowly and laughed at the fear in his eyes.

It wasn’t as bad as he’d feared. She left him with a broken nose, two shallow cuts on his cheeks, and some bruises. She turned to go, then turned back. “Oh, and honey?” she kicked him in the groin as he lay on the wharf, “I want to see other people.”


Here is my first sketch of Golden. It needs to be inked in the worst way, but here you go. Her hair is dark brown except for the oh-so-manga tendrils, which are gold.

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