AKA: The Ever-Flowing One, Lady of Alhambra, The Last Empress
Followers' Epithets: Handmaidens, Esquires, Ravens (derogatory)
Have you ever really looked at the world? Not casually, I mean, really looked at it? It's broken. It's flawed. People fight each other in stupid, pointless wars. Everyone just want to hurt each other, and there's no rhyme or reason to it. But you know it too, don't you? Everything was better in the Kingdom.
And I follow its Queen.
Alhambra is out there. I've seen it. The Kingdom is not dead, it has survived, under the guidance of the Ever-Flowing One. She's not a ghost in a Darkness-made dream-world, not a monster who'd burn the world. She cries for what the world has become. She's kept the Kingdom safe for thousands of years, and she asks our service to help her, so that the last parts of what which was once glorious don't fade. I give mine willingly. Sometimes it hurts, what she asks us to do. I know it makes a few people suffer, but it's only a lesser sacrifice, for the greater good. Because we need to save the Kingdom, need to keep it safe and hidden and safe... and then, maybe one day, we can get all of world back under the guidance of the Queen, and we won't have to have wars any more and... and no-one will hurt anyone.
I really hope so.
The Queen of Tears is unique - she is the only known, still-human survivor of the Kingdom who remains to the modern day. For uncounted aeons she has dwelt in Alhambra, the last remnants of the capital of the Kingdom, and ruled it from where it hides, within the heart of the Darkness. Her domain holds off the Darkness with Light stolen from the world, bringing misery and sorrow to the so-called "Rebellious Provinces", and though she weeps for what she does, she will never stop, because she will do anything to protect her city, and so she teaches her followers, native Alhambrans, and Princesses from the outer world lured into her service, alike to do the same.
Tales of AlhambraEdit
In the centre of Alhambra's noble quarter the Queen of Tears holds her court upon the roofs and battlements of her palace. As she speaks her eyes are constantly inspecting the defences of her city for weakness. Once the Lady of Alhambra was considered amongst the world's great beauties - but no longer. Her bronzed skin has faded and become pale under the dim Alhambran light. Her dark brown eyes, once hailed in song and poetry, have become dull and liquid with never ending tears that mingle with the rains. She has discarded all the adornments and embellishments of royalty for dark purples and blues of mourning worn above her armour, for Alhambra is a city under siege. One hand always grips Ever Dutiful, her simple naginata that has defended Alhambra from countless threats. The Lady of Alhambra is quiet and softly spoken; when she speaks the whole court falls silent and strains their ears.
The only people the Queen will pause her endless vigil for is her fellow Nobles - she receives them in private, and in the presence of those she calls her almost-equals she promptly allows herself to fall to pieces. The endlessly crying Queen turns hysterical as she unburdens centuries of unceasing sorrow upon the Princess and begs her for help. Even the most composed Grace, knowing what to expect is swept away by the flood of emotion. Dedicated Radiant Princesses have been known to become a Handmaidens from this display, either out of guilt or because they saw a possibility of redemption when they looked behind her composed mask.
The archives of Alhambra are filled with texts and teachings from the products of uncounted numbers of scribes, analysing every word of the Queen (and she seldom speaks, now), and building a philosophy, a faith around it. You could spend ten lifetimes, and only scratch the depths of paper, the bottom layers eaten by Dark-Things where no light could reach. But at heart, the principles of Alhambra are remarkably simple.
Alhambra Must SurviveEdit
Alhambra is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is Good. The Kingdom is the Light. The Kingdom must be Protected. Alhambra must remain unchanged and true to the Kingdom . Anything done in the name of Alhambra is done in the name of the Light. If Alhambra falls, the Darkness wins. This is fundamental and unchallengeable dogma.
There Is No Price Too HighEdit
This is the vital corollary to the first principle. This is what leads to the draining of Light, and the horrors that result. Every action which which furthers the cause of Alhambra is not only good, but mandatory. This is the hardest part of the Alhambran cause for many Earth-born Enlightened; the idea that they serve the last remnants of the Kingdom is both romantic and admirable, but they blanch at the idea that they must hurt Earth to allow a rain-drenched city in the heart of the Darkness to survive. But this goes beyond the actions of Alhambra, and into the mind of the Queen of Tears. She, and those who internalise her, will do whatever it takes to protect their Nation, no matter what it involves, and she would do it if she led a small charity in Tokyo just as much as she does as the Lady of Alhambra.
A few Princesses of Tears have asked why the Queen does not simply leave the bubble-realm, and stake out a claim of the real world. If they were very lucky, no one heard them ask it.
Subdue the Rebellious ProvincesEdit
For the majority of the history of Alhambra, this has been little more than a principle, much akin to the White Queen's promise of jam tomorrow. "We will reconquer the Rebellious Provinces, the rest of the outside world, and impose the peace of the Queen upon them, restoring the Kingdom," promise the Alhambrans, "... only not right now." Attempts have been made, of course; there are tales of strange castles ruled by pale figures from Beyond the Fields We Know in medieval England, and of white-skinned lords in Central America before Cortez, but they all failed, partly because the lack of Alhambran comprehension of the sheer scale of the outside world, partly because of the self-destructive draining of the Light from their lands, and partly because there is always the clay and green-fire of Storms waiting for them. Officially, although it is of course desirable, it is also a waste of resources which could be used for the city.
But as it stands, in the modern day, this sentiment undergoing a revival. The Queen of Tears has an unprecedented number of Handmaidens and Esquires, and there is a strange coalition forming, between young, idealistic Enlightened from the outside world who want to restore the Kingdom, and the cynical, ambitious high-ranking field operatives of Alhambra who, although still loyal, have grown used to the wonders of the outside world, and want them.
As the Princess of the only remnant of the Kingdom still alive the duties placed upon the court of Tears are further removed from the ground than the subjects of any other Queen. It is common for even young and inexperienced Princesses to lead a small number of Sworn retainers. Alhambra still holds to old social ideas and any Princess who swears loyalty to Alhambra is guaranteed status and luxuries, but the city lives under a constant threat of destruction and even the most important citizens must do their part for survival. A Princess' status means that she can normally push her way onto choice assignments in whatever area of her Calling she desires.
Champions of Tears fight in Alhambra's cautious, even conservative manner; they specialize in using their magic to control the battlefield and curse their foes.
Graces of Tears are bureaucrats, their job is to keep the city functioning despite all the hardships they face. Out in the Rebellious Provinces Graces tend to be given the largest commands, up to and including running entire Enclaves where they direct Sworn and even other Princesses to tax hope for Alhambra.
Alhambra runs on magic, and it is the Menders of Tears who keep that magic running. In Alhambra they serve as a one Calling worker caste, though they are not denied prestige so much as frequently overlooked. So long as nothing is going wrong, it is easy to take the Menders for granted.
Tears' Seekers would perhaps be more accurately called spies. They serve Alhambra as infiltrators, blending into the Rebellious Provinces to find undefended targets ripe for taxation. In established enclaves the Seekers keep an eye on Alhambra's enemies, making sure the forces of Tears can vanish back into their city before retaliation strikes.
The Court of Tears is somewhat of a loss for what to do with Troubadours. There is only so much art you can create on the subject of Alhambra's glorious past before creativity and artistic integrity demands you experiment. Unwilling to endorse new thoughts and ideas Alhambra actually uses its Troubadours as Champions, it turns out that Troubadours magic is actually very good at battlefield control. Unsurprisingly the Troubadours themselves are not happy about this.
There are two broad categories of followers of Tears. The first of these are the young, inexperienced ones. They are found by Alhambran operatives shortly after Blossoming, or are drawn to the Queen of Tears in their dreams, perhaps renewing old oaths, and so are inducted to Hopeful society via Alhambra. Their point of view is rather different from the majority of Princesses, because they have internalised the philosophy of Tears; they are usually true believers, serving the Kingdom, who found them and trained them. Likewise, instead of a largely-self-taught mess of other Radiant Princesses, they know they are the Handmaidens and Esquires of Tears, and so are far more well informed about the technical matters of the Hopeful than Princesses years their senior. Some followers of Diamonds are mildly concerned by how much terminology of the Radiant comes from defectors from this time, and worry that the influence of Tears might be seeing into the paradigm.
The other kind are usually older, and broken by their duties among the Radiants. Tears offers support, help, mortal Sworn to aid you, and can, above all, guarantee safety and support. Many underestimate the influence that a simple "You are doing the right thing" can do to someone whose will is flagging; Tears does not. Likewise, the families of Princesses too frequently become targets in the War of Hope, and Alhambra offers sanctuary, somewhere safe and away from enemies, taking in guests of the Princesses who serve them. That these guests can become hostages is something that it would be tactless to say.
In addition, there have been a few Blossomings in Alhambra itself since the Release. This is viewed as a great blessing itself, and would tend to be more of one, if they did not have a regrettable tendency to be of the "guests", those relatives and loved ones of other Tears Princesses given a refuge from the Provinces, or worse, rebels and non-conformists, rather than loyal Alhambran citizens.
The Queen of Tears does not discriminate based on grounds of physical fitness or social abilities. She is the Last Empress, after all, and all the Hopeful should serve her. With that said, there are remedial training facilities in Alhambra for any Noble who cannot carry out their tasks, and, notably, for teaching them the Alhambran language, so they can actually interact with the natives. For the duties that they must carry out, though, the Queen desires most high Resolve and Composure. It is a shame that so many of those experienced Princesses, who have served another Queen but who are now called to her are often lacking in those Attributes. It is one of the reason that she prefers young, newly Blossomed Princesses, who can be moulded into the proper, Kingdom-trained Nobility that they should be.
Heraldry: The official colors of Alhambra are dark purples and blues (but never, ever black), and white. The Queen still mourns for the lost Kingdom, and so should her followers, after all. Bright colors are correspondingly condemned, because there is such a thing as taste. Veils are not uncommon, and garments are oft-times long and flowing, like how the water cascades from the roofs of the Plaza of Dignities.
One might expect the Alhambrans to have strict codes for the form of Regalia, but actually it has been long-held tradition that the Regalia is the innermost expression of the Hopeful’s soul, and it would be wrong to interfere with that. Now, with that said, there are certain standards of propriety, but at most, a Princess who breaks them and parades around in hotpants, a tank top and an unbuttoned jacket will only suffer informal censure, as long as the color is correct for formal events. The Regalia of an follower of Tears, especially out in the Rebellious Provinces, is just as flexible as that of a Radiant Princess in its manifestations.
The Last Empress expects her agents to receive a proper deference, and for others to comply with their requirements. If a Raven chooses to force Doors [CofD 83] in a social maneuver with a Goal that serves her Nation or Alhambra, she may spend Wisps to offset the penalty from the remaining Doors. Each Wisp spent adds a +2 bonus to the roll.
High Belief (a rarity in the Court of Tears) increases the Raven’s authority: at Belief 8 the first Wisp spent adds +3, at Belief 9 the first and second Wisps add +3, and at Belief 10 the first Wisp adds +4 and the second adds +3.
The Invocation of Lacrima is the principle embodied and founded by the Queen of Tears, and which her Handmaindens and Esquires find come naturally to them. It is conceptually linked to several things, including ghosts, silence, the element of void, “necessary” actions, and all things connected to these, allowing Invoked Upgrades and Invoked Charms to be based around it. Princesses loyal to Tears are encouraged to attune to this Invocation as fast as they can, because most of their signature Charms require it, and use of Lacrima inures them to their actions. However, many non-Tears Princesses have been known to dabble in it, especially more mature ones, who have founded Nations, and have begun to feel the echoes of the devotion that the Last Empress feels towards her own. This will make them suspicious, especially to younger, more idealistic Princesses, but there is an acknowledgement that it happens sometimes, and so such dabblers should be watched, but are not automatically followers of Tears.
Lacrima has the unique disadvantage that many of its Charms expose the user to the Darkness. This is counted as part of their activation cost, and so may not be bypassed. The cold, hard necessities of Lacrima wear down at the soul, sharpen its response to spiritual pain, and smother it in uncaring void through which no joy can be felt. As a result, many Lacrima Charms are marginally more powerful than their equivalents from other Invocations, because of the greater cost paid to use them.
Lacrima applies at no cost when a Princess touches a ghost’s anchor, or is within Alhambra or the Underworld; and when the target of her Charm is a ghost. It also applies without cost in times of true desperation, when failure means death or ruin, and when a Princess intends to act on behalf of the Queen of Tears or her subjects, or in the interests of her own Nation and its members.
The Invocation does not resonate with those who will not do everything for those they protect, who show any moral compunctions in the deeds needed for survival. If a Princess’ situation is such that her present goal can be reached at the least cost to herself and her Nation by a compromise of her Belief, and she chooses another course of action, she cannot use Lacrima for the rest of the scene, and for a further number of scenes equal to the penalty on her breaking point roll for that compromise.
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse - you are all subjects of Alhambra.
Clubs: Delusional. The strength of the Kingdom always lay in its cities, not the wilds, and she will only weaken us against the Darkness.
Diamonds: It is a shame to see such brilliance going to waste, frittered away.
Hearts: So close. So very close... and yet so far.
Spades: Insubordinate curs! Born traitors who serve someone who shows no regard for the burdens of leadership!
Swords: With their loyalty, Alhambra could be rendered safe, and the Rebellious Provinces pacified - but they will not be loyal.
Storms: Monsters. They may once have been the loyal army of the Kingdom, but now they're nothing less than crazed beasts who try to thwart our every effort!
Mirrors: Hubris-filled egotists. To think that anyone but our Lady could be a True Queen... it makes me sick!
Vampires: We are nothing alike.
Werewolves: Beasts. Keep away, and do not carry out operations in the savage areas they claim. It's easier in the long run.
Mages: Avoid. Do not let them know of you. Do not let them find you. There are tales of the Dragon.
Prometheans: Walking corpses, fuelled by some kind of fire? Clearly some kind of Darkened, if they actually exist.
Changelings: Why should we care, as long as all they do is hide?
Sin-Eaters: We know about ghosts in Alhambra. But these things aren't quite normal ghosts possessing people.
Mad Scientists: They'd tear the world down just to see what would happen if they did. Despicable! Despicable yet very dangerous.
Leviathans: No! It can't be! They were said to be extinct! They can't be back! They can't... not again.
Hunters: Rebels from the Rebellious Provinces. Why am I not surprised?
Mortals: Why won't you see? It's a necessary sacrifice.