It is traditional to start at the beginning.
In the beginning, there were not two Pattern Kingdoms, but three -- Amber, ruled by Gendo; Rebma, ruled by Moire; and Ember, ruled by Shayla. Each kingdom had a Pattern associated with it, with a strong affinity to the element it dwelled in; Amber's Pattern was deep within Kolvir, Rebma's Pattern dwelled in the deep ocean near Amber, while Ember's Pattern was at the heart of Amber's sun. While Amber and Rebma soon came in contact with each other, due to both Amber and Rebma's interest in sea trade, Ember stayed relatively isolated from the other two kingdom's affairs. This is not to say the First Ember did not have some concept of the outside world -- a great Fire Highway led from the Kingdom of Ember to deep within the middle spaces of Shadow, allowing for shadow travel and trade. But few travellers on our end knew of the extent of the Highway, or of the existance of an entire Pattern Kingdom at one end of it.
This proved to be to the First Ember's detriment. For when Skippy the Logrus Squid appeared in our Reality and destroyed the kingdom and damaged its Pattern, there were few elsewhere who were even aware of the devestation that had been wrought, nevermind able to bring aid in Ember's darkest hour. In the wake of the First Devestation, the survivors scattered or died off, leaving the shattered kingdom a ruin.
Regrettably, little remains in the way of concrete archeological evidence of the First Ember. Ember City and Castle Ember were in ruins when I first encountered it, with most everything of informational worth stripped away by the survivors -- and the redrawing of the Fire Pattern wiped away even those traces as the kingdom was remade. This was an unfortunate consequence of my actions, and one that happened without my concious approval.
However, what traces of evidence did remain before Ember's rebirth I endeavoured to archive and record before the ravages of time were able to destroy them entirely. Statuary, and the remains of proclimation engravings, scattered about the city provided some insight as to the nature of the inhabitants around the time of its downfall. The evident lack of looters (due to the fact that even then, survival in Ember was difficult for the unprepared) had left many of the ruins in a relatively pristine state.
And within the depths of Castle Ember, deep within the tunnels of Vesuvius, there remained a handful of decaying, but still viewable, portraits of the Royal Family of the First Ember. I spent a lot of time cleaning what I could, preserving what remained, and creating duplicates with fresh paint and canvas, in order to perhaps gain a little closer understanding of the people who had come before.
The rebirth of Ember did not remove these paintings.
From these portraits (and my reconstructions), it is possible to speculate what the first Emberite Royals were like. Much like trumps, they can provide insight about the subject depicted, based on the iconography involved and choices of scene, setting, and pose. However, this can only be conjecture -- whatever the First Emberites were like in life, only the Pyricorn knows now for certain.
--- Queen Corrine I
The woman stood straight and tall in the Great Hall of Castle Ember, her feet firmly planted in the middle of the red strip of carpet that ran the length of the tiled floor. Sunlight streamed through the collonaded windows, filling the expanse with warm light. Her body was tanned, toned and fit, not too muscular nor too lush, and she was clad in a sleek, serviceable miniskirted bodysuit in shades of red and sleeves of white. A blue cabachon rested above her left breast, while a blue gem gleamed at the center of the headband keeping her red hair up. Her hair swept upwards, reminiscent of the flames that danced in her right palm, reflected in the red gems on the backs of her fingerless gloves. Her pose made it looked like she held the far tapestry of the Pyricorn Rampant above the Obsidian Throne in the palm of her hand, watching over it with red eyes and a kind smile.
I have observed, over the decades, a certain iconography that crops up in paintings of rulers. Many of the images I have seen include a ruler with the trappings of his or her soverignty, such as a crown, staff of office, royal signet, or suchlike. But all of them have had at least one factor in common -- the presence of the Throne, used to represent the seat of power for the kingdom. My trumps of King Gendo and King Tylor included Amber's Mahogany Throne, my brother Miki's portrait of Queen Moire depicted her sitting on Rebma's Coral Throne, and my own daughter Gabrielle's portrait of myself featured me standing next to Ember's carved Obsidian Throne.
Therefore, while the presence of the Throne in Shayla's portrait is not unusual, the fact that it takes up a small percentage of the entire image is unique. While visible, it is almost an afterthought, hidden partially beneath her right hand that holds the flames that frame the Pyricorn tapestry. From Shayla's pose and expression, it would appear that she is almost taking a protective stance towards the Pyricorn and his dominion of Ember. Her position in the scene also leads one to conclude that she was not so much focussed on the trappings and priveleges of royalty, but more concerned with the whole, living among and supporting the people who would normally fill the Great Hall.
Also, from her pose and costume, it is a reasonable hypothesis that Shayla was an active monarch. Her clothes are trim and do not restrain her. Her hair is relatively short and kept up and out of the way of active movement. Her hands wear the fingerless gloves of a fighter, but the gems on the back speak of considerable mystic power as well -- or at least access to suitable artifacts.
Clearly, Queen Shayla was a woman of much potency. It is to my eternal regret that I never got to meet and speak with her.
The woman stood on the stoop of a temple building, a broom in her hand as she had been caught in the middle of sweeping the steps that lay before her. She was clad in the garb of a temple acolyte or priestess -- her top was white with the sleeves tied back, and her pants were red, tied with a large bow in front, with stylized flames upon them. Her skin was clear and her straight black hair hung freely down her back. Tucked into the pocket of the pants could be seen a prayer stick, as well as several holy wards. She smiled as she worked, and the smile was matched by the glimmer in her purple eyes. Behind her, perched on a pillar that had a Pyricorn on the top, were two ravens that appeared to be watching her as she worked.
Given the setting of the painting, it is natural to conclude that Rei, the eldest daughter of Shayla, was a deeply spiritual woman. She is clad in the traditional robes of a Lipunese-style Miko, and is accompanied by some of the tools of that trade, specifically the Gohei and Ofuda. The temple building itself I have positively identified as part of the main Temple of the Pyricorn complex in Ember City. Fortuntely, the rebirth of Ember did not eliminate the temple complex's overall layout or architectual designs. As for the two ravens, the signifigance of them depends on which Mythological tradition you subscribe to. They could represent messenger-guardians, bringing the sun and moon and knowledge to the recipient, or in their more dire aspect, the onset of war and conflict. What this meant for Rei, I cannot say for certain. Any or all of those attributions could be correct.
During the Annadil and Herald Crisises, it came to my attention that there were reports of an Elemental Priestess of Fire in the service of the Outsiders, who may have met the description of Rei of Ember. There were also some rumors that after the Battle Of the Keep Of the Five Worlds, this priestess went and married the current Lord Tremere at the time, but wether or not she still survives in the wake of the Logruswrack is a matter of some conjecture.
Indeed, it is questionable that the 'Rei' of the Keep, the 'Rei' of Tremere, and Rei of Ember were even the same person. It is much more probable that the other two were mere shadows of Shayla's daughter. Whatever the truth, it is now in all likelyhood lost to us.
The man sat on a rock outcropping on the edge of a great firey forest, caught in a moment of feigned relaxation. He was clad in a dark, blue-trimmed greatcoat, though the waist was unfastened, revealing simple white pants, a white shirt, and several thick bead necklaces around his neck, even as the gold bandolier crossed his chest. His mop of short, red-orange hair nearly matched the flaming branches behind him, and his brown, almost amber eyes looked out at the viewer with a palpable aura of smug, casual arrogance, matched by the slim upward line of his mouth -- though one canine was barely visible, lending him an almost wolfish aspect. In his right hand he held a thick metal fan up above his shoulder, and flames crackled along its edges. With his left hand, he scratched the 'ruff' of a hellhound that sat at heel beside him.
Given the setting of this image, it is quite reasonable to conclude that Tasuki, one of Shayla's sons, was the Warden of the Corona in his day. Either that, or he just had an interest in hunting and fighting. His clothing is simple, practical, and suited for extremes of weather and ease of repair; yet adorned with fancier accents which hints at an interest in some of the finer things in life. He would appear to have been a reasonable fighter, given that even his 'relaxed' stance shows a willingness to move at any moment. The presence of the Tessen, an "Iron Fan" found in Lipun-esque Shadows, also indicate an interest in the martial arts. His expression hints at a firey temperment, or at least a willingness to say what was on his mind at any moment.
This man stood in quarter profile with arms crossed, his ruggedly handsome face graced with a grin that showed off clear white teeth, sparkling blue eyes, and blonde hair. He was clad in blue and white court finery, which showed off his physique. In one hand he held a pair of car keys, and tucked into his belt were a pair of motorcycle gloves. All this would have been considered unremarkable by Amber standards -- save for the fact that the man was wreathed in flames from head to toe, but was not consumed by them.
At first glance, John, middle son of Shayla, appears to be the archtypical playboy -- he is handsome, well groomed, well-attired for the period, and possesses tokens of masculine expression (the keys and gloves). However, the sheath of fire strongly implies that John was a Fire Elementalist of some sort, and quite possibly a very potent one. Alternatively, he could have been a shapeshifter, with a specialty in flame-based forms. We will likely never know for certain, as both explinations are equally valid.
The woman in the portrait was striking, there was no doubt about it. If her shapely physique, green eyes, and long mane of wavy red hair did not grab the viewer's attention, the fact that she was caught in a moment of unassisted flight, her expression one of joy, would have done the job. She wore a deep green doublet and matching hose; the doublet was double stiched with darker green thread, and her feet were sheathed in soft brown leather boots. The neckline of the doublet was partially unsecured, revealing the golden ruffles of an undershirt which matched the gold sash tightened around her waist and the gold gloves that protected her hands. There was a sheathed sword secured within the sash, and its hilt was evocative of a bird of prey. It was easy to imagine the ruffles of the shirt as the splayed wings of some bird; especially since behind the woman, framing her, was the image of a great flaming phoenix, its wings outstretched, its beak open as its head was lifted to the sky.
It would be easy to mistake Jean, daughter of Shayla, for a Haradian lady. She is well-figured, yet her clothing is practical and set for ease of movement. A sword is at her side, possibly indicating some faculty in the warrior arts. Yet, her pose hints at magical ability as well, and with the phoenix in the background, some affinity with fire.
In light of recent events, the presence of a phoenix in the image raises another possibility. It becomes a plausible idea that Jean had some knowledge of the Phoenix, perhaps even to the degree of having wielded some of his power, centuries before the rest of Reality was aware of the Phoenix's residence in Cathuria. Perhaps someday somebody will be able to ask the Phoenix if this is true.
The tall, thin man stood on a patch of greensward, in the middle of a rocky, hilly landscape. Despite the gathering clouds in the sky, it was still a peaceful setting, for the far mountains and nearby lake were pristine and provided framework for the gothic-looking castle in the background, visible over the man's shoulders. He was clad in well-worn, long dark robes, though they were open in front to reveal a grey sweater (or perhaps a vest) and grey slacks trimmed in red and gold. The edges of the robes and the knees of the slacks were scuffed and slightly dirt-soiled. The man also wore a red and gold striped tie, though it was slightly askew around the neck of the white shirt that he wore beneath the woven garment. His skin was relatively light, compared to the other people in the paintings, though his cheeks and nose were graced with a fine spray of freckles. His hair was short and flaming red, unkempt, but it suited the man's expression, which had a measure of wry good humor in his eyes and mouth. In his left hand he held an upright broomstick, and in his right a slim wand, though there was some tape wrapped around it. At his feet, on a flat rock, sat a chessboard with red and gold squares and pieces. He did not appear to notice the flying, light blue car that was soaring over the castle battlements.
Ronald, the youngest son of Shayla that I have been able to identify, apparently had some experience with classical magic. Both the broomstick and the wand are readily-acknowledged mystical representations, and the robes are such that one might find in any school of magic. The setting of the portrait is interesting, as it does not depict an Emberite scene; instead it is green with plantlife and blue with water. it is quite possible that Ronald had achieved some of his education out in Shadow, though regrettably I have been unable to take the time to seek in Shadow for such a school that he would have attended. The presence of a chessboard is generally used to indicate thoughtfulness and a tactical mind on the part of the subject. It is quite possible that Ronald was more a thinker than a fighter, though the scuffs on the knees of his pants could indicate a willingness to get his hands dirty, so to speak. As for the meaning behind the car in the background...
Sometimes, a Flying Ford Anglia is just a flying Ford Anglia.
The woman stood on a rocky, dusty street, framed by tan stone buildings on either side. Wherever this place was, it was clearly rather dry, given that one could see past the woman, beyond a rocky plain, to spare mountains and a clear sky with few clouds. She was clothed for heavy travel; a white overcloak which hid most of her body hung over her shoulders, secured at the neck with a simple black tie, while the boots on her feet were stained with dust and dirt. Despite the severity of the landscape, the woman herself appeared to be in a good mood. Her hair was black and short, with long bangs, and her blue-grey eyes were clear and attentive. Two thin gold earrings hung from her ears. Her left arm was swept out and back, lifting the cloak to reveal more of what she was wearing -- a white jacket, a white miniskirt -- as well as the rows upon rows of tiny single-shot pistol crossbows that hung on supple holsters within. A small black cat with green eyes peeked out from behind her ankles.
Meryl would appear to be another traveller among the children of Shayla, given her clothing choices. She also appears to be a skilled fighter, or at least a markswoman, given the sheer number of crossbows she has hidden about her. The landscape itself could be anywhere in Shadow or close to Ember, which does not help our purposes in determining why Meryl was painted in that location. The black cat could represent either bad luck or good luck (depending on which source you use) on the part of the subject, or the random occurances of Chance in one's life.
Interestingly, two alternate Meryl's have appeared since I learned of this daughter of Shayla. The first was Meryl's analouge from the World Of the Dead, a reality which had never seen the Logrus Squid destroy Ember. She participated in the attack against Amberite forces when Hel made her final attempts to conquer our own, and was accompanied by a woman known as Milly Thompson, who wielded a rotarary magic wand unit. Regrettably, the two of them were killed before the final conclusion of the cross-universe battle, so we were unable to question her about her upbringing.
The second 'Meryl' is currently one of the bodyguards of my brother, King Miki of Rebma. I have not yet had a good opportunity to meet with her and speak with her at length; apparently she too is accompanied by a 'Milly Thompson', another bodyguyard. It may be worthwhile to investigate wether or not she is just a Shadow of the original Meryl, or a reincarnation.
This woman, despite her her height and slimness, stood straight and tall on the ramparts of Castle Ember, the grin on her tanned face reflected in her sharp green eyes. She was clad in a miniskirt-dress, all in shades of red and orange, cut for ease of movement, with tough boots, fingerless gloves, and elbow pads all in brown. Her hair was red and wild, barely held in place by the thick red headband she wore, pushing the bangs up and the hair back into a thick ponytail. On her lower left arm, she wore a curious device : a thick metal bracer with various magical accoutrements attached to it. She held up her left index finger, and flames twisted up from the device to blossom above her fingertip. Those flames were reflected in the various large cabachons on her outfit, and behind her they formed the coiled shape of wings.
When I viewed this portrait for the first time, I wondered if the artist had decided to paint Queen Shayla when she was younger. However, subsequent research revealed that this was actually Shayla Minor, the youngest of Queen Shayla's daughters. Indeed, the similarities between the two are striking; but Shayla Minor possesses a youthful exuberence, expressed by her pose, grin, and lack of major hair care, that Queen Shayla does not have in her own portrait. Given the larger, bulkier set of magical items about her (the bracer and the gems), it is reasonable to conclude that Shayla Minor preferred strength over finesse. Either that, or that she needed more items to control and channel her powers without harming herself and others (unlike her mother).
It always puzzles me why some children are chosen to be named 'Minor' -- after all, it's not like at birth we know what they will look like or how they will behave when they are grown up. Yet, almost invariably, there tends to be at least some common thread between the newcomer and their ancestor. But that's a mystery to be dwelled on another time.
Over the decades, I have noticed a growing trend among certain members of the Royal Familes of Order. We have become more curious about the universe around us, both in determing what came before the formation of the Pattern and Logrus, and in moving forward to shape a future where Amber and Chaos stride forward (sometimes uniformly, sometimes fitfully) to create a new Reality, greater than the sum of its parts. We are no longer content to wrap ourselves in the 'fuzzy blanket of ignorance', secure in our belief that we are the chosen members of the 'One True Kingdom', the sole focus for Reality.
Regretfully, some of this interest has been spawned due to our increased awareness of the Outsiders and other hostile forces. We seek to learn what caused kingdoms and societies to fall, in order to prevent the destruction of our own. But the remainder of the interest has been encouraged by our innate curiosity, the desire to learn more about Reality, the forces that shaped its birth, and wether or not it has a place in a 'Higher Order' of existance.
These are questions that can be answered, to some degree, by the study of Archeology across Shadow and among the kingdoms of Order and Chaos. The discovery of Panopticon University, among other educational institutions, has encouraged this practice.
But Archeology can only tell part of the story. It is as much an art as it is a science; and the true history of a place or time can only partially be revealed to us. The rest cannot be known for certain, we can only guess at what came before. Only those who lived at the time can truly know what happened to the peoples who came before, and for the most part, they are lost to us.
So, where does this leave us?
The Past is past. What we learn from its study can serve as guidelines, lessons, and warnings for our current existence -- but we cannot allow ourselves to be chained to what came before. Otherwise, said 'lessons' will have been for naught, and the story will just repeat itself. We must live within and with what exists in the Present, but at the same time prepare as best we can for the Future -- for we are the ones that make that Future, wether by the application of powers or the use of our own hands to shape it.
This may not be the "best of all possible worlds" -- but it's what we've got to work with.
--- Queen Corrine I