The Old and The New [Closed; Gholgoth]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]
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The Old and The New [Closed; Gholgoth]

Postby Milenka » Wed Apr 24, 2019 7:16 pm

HRA Voice of Havensky
Milenkan Airspace,

Atticus sat in the a large reclining chair in the lounge on board the Voice of Havensky which served as the official transport for the Skyan Prime Minister.

The airship was long and wide, with two small wing towards the front and very large wings in the rear. Within each wing, there were two banks of small engines that propelled the aircraft forward. The wings could rotate to steer the airship giving the whole craft the air of a graceful giant. The Voice was painted solid sky blue with a golden winged lion emblazoned on the port and starboard sides, contrasting greatly with the Solace of Reckoning which was painted in a dazzle camouflage pattern. This made the sky grey Airship Carrier Benevolence rather drab by comparison.

“Major Squall, I’m surprised you didn’t want to be on your own airship? We could have made accommodations.”

Praetor Gavin Squall turned from the window that looked out upon the Solace and said, “Oh, no need for that Prime Minister. I think Captain Triton prefers me out of the way during the shakedown runs. And besides, there’s not much room for other passengers.”

As he said this he looked at his fiance Edwidge, who was joining him for this trip. Atticus smiled and asked, “Miss Nalôrna, is this your first trip to Milenka?”

“Yes Prime Minister, thanks so much for letting me tag along on this trip. I’m looking forward to the charity event and I think it’ll raise a lot of money for the war refugees.”

They were interrupted by the entry of Ambassador to Milenka, Kai Riva, who had walked in from her cabin wearing a very formal dress. Edwidge stood up excitedly.

“Oh my goodness! You look great! How does it fit? Not too snug?”

Ambassador Riva was Milenkan Kin, physically distinct from the other Skyans due to her two distinctive small horns on the top of her head. While her father was Skyan, her mother was Kin and she had been raised as part of that culture. She seemed like a natural choice for the Ambassador ship after serving as Deputy Ambassador in Jagada. She was tall with sun kissed skin and her naturally dark hair had bright gold streaks in it from too much time in the sun. Her hair was done in a double French braid curved around her two horns. Her black dress, made by Edwidge, started with a high neck that snaked down the center of her body exposing her back and shoulders before flowing down in a mermaid gown. She spent her free time swimming and the dress seemed to hug her toned body. The most striking features of the Ambassador were her traditional tattoos. At the very top of her back was a small blue tattoo of Neva's S ygil representing her overarching Milenkan clan. Along her upper arms, there were three black stripes resembling claw mark on each side. They swirled around her arm extending down to the inside of her wrists where they opened up to a series of five angel feathers. They formed the shape of an open hand - the symbol of the Skyan ambassador corps.

“Edwidge, this dress is amazing. How did you get it to fit like this? I can never get these kind of dresses to fit right. And it has pockets!”

“Well, you are a swimmer right? You’re not my first athlete that I’ve fitted a dress for. I actually prefer working with athletes more than anyone.”

“I was on the swim team in college, but I don’t know if I’m an athlete. Now I just swim for fun when I’m not working. I don’t usually get this dressed up.”

“What do you wear to parties?”

“I mean, I have dresses but not… not like this one.”

“Well, it looks great on you. Come on, let me help you with your makeup!”

Edwidge almost pushed the poor Ambassador back to her quarters in excitement leaving Atticus and Squall on their own. Atticus just smiled.

“Edwidge better be careful, if word gets out about her talents she’ll have half the Ambassador Corp knocking down her door.”

Squall balked, “Well, she’d be pleased to know she’d be regarded in such high esteem. Are you sure the Ambassador can’t keep the dress?

“I’ve seen what the market rate for one of your fiance’s evening dresses are and they’re way over the budget line. She’ll have to buy it outright or take it up with the agency for a waiver. But let’s not talk regulations, what do you have planned for your mini-vacation before your deployment?”

“We’re going to tour the city a bit check out some museums. We might visit the canals during the evening. I’m sure she’ll want to do a fair amount of shopping as well.”

“You don’t shop?”

“What am I going to buy? I have an outfit”, remarked Squall motioning down to his power armor. He had been given a new set of power armor by Glitch which was colored in varying shades of black and grey in a blocky dazzle pattern. The only hint of color was the cloak on the power armor which was Gothic Red.

“Well, regardless you should enjoy this time. The coming days are not going to be easy.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the captain coming opening up the comm systems.
“Mr. Prime Minister, Praetor Squall, esteemed guests and staff. We are making our initial descent into Vladika. Please take your seats and prepare for landing.”

On the bridge, Captain Macella opened up a channel to the Milenkans.

“Tower, this is Havensky Republican Airship Voice of Havensky and escorts requesting permission to land.

The Air Traffic Control replied in an almost perfect accent, evident sometimes due to a sharper hiss and more guttural pronunciation of throat phonemes.

“Salutations Voice of Havensky, cleared for landing at runway 27, taxi to terminal 6 via four delta.”

The trio of airships dipped down below the clouds and for the first time Squall and Edwidge could get a proper look at the skyline of the capital. Vladika’s urban sprawl was characterized by impressive high rises, sharing room with large green areas and canals, which communicated with the two rivers that met on the town center. For one of the nation’s largest cities and political hub, Vladika didn’t seem immensely dense outside its core. The combination of a widely organized structure of roads, evolved from many historical modernizations of the ancient settlement’s demographic distribution, and green areas, ensured that the city was far from cramped.

The airship landed with a gentle thud on the runway. The stark white airship opened its lower ramp and a small platoon of White Guard marched out in rows of two carrying the flags of Havensky and the Office of the Skyan Prime Minister Atticus, Ambassador Kai Riva, Praetor Gavin Squall, and Edwidge walked off the ramp of the airship to greet their hosts.

With the Milenkans still in a period mourning after the death of the Empress, the Skyans in attendance would also obverse the period of mourning in solidarity. The shields of the White Guard, normally depicting a golden winged lion, were covered with a black cloth. Squall’s shield was also covered in a dark cloth as well hiding his personal crest. Atticus wore a dark black blazer with khakis and black tie instead of his customary blue blazer and most of the staff dressed in a similar way.

Edwidge held onto Squall’s arm as she walked across the red carpet wearing a dress that was a nod to Milenkan fashion. The dress was a flowing silk backless dress broken up by a high slit up her thigh. The dress was sheer in some places with embroidered feathers that seeming to flow around her body. Pinned to the front of the dress was a brooch featuring a gold winged lion wing next to a raven’s wing. Edwidge was much shorter than her beloved with very blonde hair that went down to her hips in a long ringlets. She looked up at Squall with her blue eyes for just a moment before facing the Milenkan delegation.

The most striking figure in the Skyan delegation was the Ambassador herself. There were no cameras here, but Edwidge knew that she would get plenty of photographers after her.

Heading the welcoming committee was a tall figure, clad in a seamless white ceremonial navy uniform, as white as her hair. Prime Minister Asti Krajisnik, Milenka’s leading political figure in modern times. A tall woman, she had the gaze of a lioness in her dark green eyes. Asti was a human that had managed to achieve immense popularity in the nation, and as a veteran of many years as Prime Minister, was already acquainted with her Skyan counterpart. Accompanying her was the traditional ensemble of Milenka’s reception, notably guarded by a group of tall soldiers, armored with an elegant plate in black and gold, their fur adorned purple cloaks denoting their belonging to the Imperial Guard’s Regiment nonetheless, ceremonially standing on the sides of the carpet of which the visitor’s walked on.

Asti’s normally austere expression yielded at the approach of Atticus, a long time colleague. Maintaining the formality though, she greeted him with a discreet bow, a quiet smile in her face.

“It is an utmost pleasure to have you here once more, your excellency.” Asti said, with her authoritative voice giving room for a lighter tone. “Welcome to Vladika.” The guards stood at attention, their polearms, imbued at the tip not by blade but a dark red beam of energy, aligned with noteworthy precision.

Atticus returned the bow before speaking, “Your Eminence, it is a pleasure to see you again. It has been too long since I’ve visited. If I may introduce Praetor Gavin Squall of the Skyan Legion and his betrothed Edwidge Nalôrna of Xirinium.”

Edwidge spoke for the couple, “Your Eminence, it is an honor to meet you and thank you so much for the invitation. We’re really looking forward to exploring Vladika.”

“The honor is mine, Ms. Nalôrna. ” She replied. Her gaze then shifted to the Legionnaire. “Praetor Squall, an honor to meet you. Your reputation precedes you.”

Squall made a slight bow, “The honor is mine.”

“Ah, before I forget.”, Atticus smiled and opened his hand and an aide handed him a bottle. He presented it to Krajisnik.

“A bottle of Cloud Muscat, as requested from their personal cellar with their compliments.”

The minister was pleasantly surprised, studying the bottle briefly before handing it to an aide of her own. “Much appreciated, your excellence. Skyan wines are a kind of which I particularly enjoy. Now, Her Imperial Highness awaits you at the palace. We have provided suitable accommodations to your needs and those of your committee at the honorary visitor’s wing.”

“Thank you for your hospitality, your excellency.”

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Postby Milenka » Fri May 17, 2019 1:47 pm

The Palace

Vladika, Imperial Gardens

Following an hour long trip from Vladika’s international airport, the delegation and its hosts finally arrived downtown. From the ground level, the city’s architecture and layout was far more impressive. For the capital of a nation so ancient, it was far from antiquated. In fact, the bulk of the city’s center and suburbia were composed by modernist, often luxurious buildings, reaching hundreds of meters tall in its elegant, often sharp skyscrapers. Its historical landmarks stood out in the urban makeup of the city regardless, always accompanied by large parks and squares which evidenced their splendor.

The Imperial Palace was the exacerbation of this all. Built facing the meeting point between the two rivers that bounded the ancient settlement, the gigantic building, whose origins dated from the rule of the nation’s first Archontesses, offered a pleasant evolution between old and new. In its front was a gigantic garden, now turned a public park with public access. Following its central path was a wide pedestrian boulevard, gated. Surrounding the lower levels of the antique seat of power laid an impressive structure, whose many levels each presented gardens containing plants from the entire world. That, also adorned with monumental pillars of black marblestone, made the seemingly secondary garden truly a wonder in its own right. A wide staircase at the center of these gardens lead to the upper entrance atrium, with another smaller garden area, now central, and two small waterfalls below a set of large purple banners.

Flanking the imperial gardens and public park were many of the government buildings. At the park’s right was the Imperial Chamber of Solons, the higher legislative structure. And the left, the House of Representatives, both tall buildings of modern construction, built in a slightly curved horn like form.

Built atop this foundation was an enormous ziggurat like structure, of dark color adorned with solid gold. The venerable building hosted the lives of generations worth of monarchs of both the new and old Empires, with the foundation of the modernized building being older than many nations. Atop this sat a single enormous black obelisk, engraved with golden ideograms in lithurgical milenkan. The thousands year old building managed to stand tall when compared with the more modern buildings.

Squall looked around as they got closer to the palace noticing the stark difference between the buildings here and those in Citadel City. Citadel City was shining and new. Lady Burnham had tried to make it look a little bit aged by planting greenery all across the buildings and streets. However, even then it looked very new. This wasn’t old like ULE was. It was this strange mix that Squall appreciated the more he stayed in the city. The palace was pristine in a way that the Citadel could never really be given how much traffic was going all through it.

“Your Eminence”, asked Edwidge as she noticed the Prime Minister’s choice of attire “What did you do before you were in government?”

Asti kept the walking pace with both hands behind her back. Her discipline and attire made it clear - “I was in the Navy.” She said, before complementing. “Technically I still am, though I have been on the reserve for the last 13 years.”

As they talked, the group slowly approached the palace through the enormous park. Following a checkpoint, the public area had ended, with the entourage now inside the proper enclosed gardens of the outer areas of the palace complex.

“I thought so.. You must have seen many wondrous things out there in the oceans. Though, I imagine not even the wonders of the sea compare to this garden.”

“A bit of a romantic take-” She scoffed. “Most of the time, most we can see in open waters is a plain horizon, or the greyness of an oceanic weather. Though, I believe that even then what you say is true.” She sighed lightly. “I have to admit I miss those sights sometimes, and nothing provided me with better moments for reflection than that environment.”

“These gardens were built thousands of years ago by the second empress of the first empire, and modernized by the subsequent rulers over the ages.”, remarked Ambassador Riva as they approached the palace proper.

Due to the Nation’s mourning period, the violet Imperial Banners, adorned with the golden sigil of Tanai, were at half height, paired with a black strip at their side. As the delegation walked this path, it was impossible not to notice another detail - the dense presence of the black and gold clad soldiers of the Imperial Guard, protecting both the Park and Palace from possible threats or the eventual disrespectful tourist.

Past the tiring amount of stairs amidst the wondrous hanging gardens, the group finally arrived in the internal gates of the palace. Now heavily guarded and escorted by the guard, they found themselves inside an enormous first hall. Unlike the outside of the palace, the chamber was bright, elegantly decorated with fine tapestry. On the sides of the room were each a large golden statue for each of the nation’s many historical monarchs, flanking a long purple carpet also engraved with gold. At the walls sat murals of black marble etched with intricate works of art, each fluidly complementing the other in a continuum that told Milenka’s history.

A mezzanine covered the sides of the large chamber, leading into other secondary rooms. Following the main path on the first floor however lead to an even larger, three stories tall, elevated hall. Small artificial waterfalls and a myriad of plants complemented the room’s stonelike magnificence in a delicate manner, leading the observer’s eye to the chamber’s central perspective - an enormous mural of extreme complexity in its etchings, towering up to 12 meters, with an equally astonishing throne adorned with matching materials and padded with the finest velvets. It stood empty, however, with a much humbler looking figure by its side - a young woman, finely dressed in a discreet, yet graceful tunic. It fit tightly along her body, the black color and dark purple patterns contrasting pleasantly with her long white hair. Walking down the short set of stairs from the throne to the group, she opened a soft smile, evidencing her sharp canines. Asti and the Guards bent the knee, along with Edwidge and Squall. Returning the formality with a bow, she greeted them.

“A great honour to receive you as visitors in such a time.” Said the young lady, in a pleasant to hear yet naturally authoritative voice. Her demeanour was seemingly happy, yet there was a certain latent weight held in her purple eyes.

“Your Grace, at the Behest and on Behalf of the Skyan people we offer our most sincere condolences for the loss of your beloved mother. Please know, the People of Havensky are with you at this time.”, announced Atticus in a sincere soft voice.

The woman walked down the stairs, reaching closer to the group. Hearing those words, the former grin lightly gave way to a wistful demeanour. “Thank you for the kind words, Minister. I believe we had yet to meet in person -” She said, rapidly moving the topic to the needed formal responsibilities of the trip. “I am Alena Tanai, and it is an honour to welcome you to Milenka.”

Atticus made the slightest of bows as he turned towards his escorts. "The honor is ours, allow me to introduce the Skyan Praetor Heartknight Major Gavin Squall of the Skyan Legionary Forces as well as his fiancee Edwidge Nalôrna. I believe you are already acquainted with Ambassador Riva who remains at your service."

Like a shadow behind the Crown Princess, yet another figure followed. Another woman, of stature the same size as Alena's, clad in what looked like a variant of the imperial guard armor, yet much lighter. The pitch black armor with gold etchings intermingled with purple cloth, and in her left arm and right leg, an entirely robotic augment, which seemed to integrate well with the looks of her armor.

At a gaze upon her face, what would be an otherwise attractive demeanour was notably marked by a cybernetic lower jaw, paired with a collection of scars in the right side of her head. Her straight ashen hair was tightly wrapped in a ponytail, in a manner as disciplined as her guarded stance at Alena's side. "A pleasure to meet you, Praetor Squall. As you might know, this is Praetor Justina." Alena said, whilst the figure bowed her head silently.

Squall looked up at Justina and began to size her up. She had clearly been marked by battle and he wondered what fight she might have been involved in to create a wound like that. He saluted her sharply, "Praetor Justina, I look forward to working with you."

Justina kept the silence, returning a devilish smile in return to Squall's mention along with a return of his salute. She then crossed her arms once more, following Alena as she approached them further. "We have arranged you and the Skyan commission private suites in the visitors wing of the Palace, Minister. Once the comission is settled, I would like to invite you for a dinner." She asked in a direct tone, yet not an abrasive one.

"We thank you for your hospitality. Our delegation would be glad to join you for dinner."

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The Old and The New [Closed; Gholgoth]

Postby Milenka » Fri May 17, 2019 6:54 pm

Imperial Museum of History

A couple days had passed since the arrival of the Skyan commission. Due to Squall’s agenda, the nation’s diplomatic corps and its attachees had arrived two weeks prior to the official coronation date, as a way to let him and Edwidge enjoy some days of rest before the Skyan Praetor had to make his return to war.

Dawn had just beset the skies of Vladika when a car left the rear area of the Imperial Palace. For a building so ancient, it was incredibly modern and well equipped in its inner workings. Squall and Edwidge had been given a shared suite, of luxury compared to many high class flats, and so had Atticus.

The group, under Edwidge’s will, had arranged with their local hosts a guided trip to one of Milenka’s most prominent museums, the Imperial Museum of History. A large complex of museums and research centers with an eclectic holding of hundreds of millions of items in exhibition. Squall’s interests were in the famous and fan favorite airspace museum, but Edwidge convinced him of spending the day in the History museum first.

The building itself was of impressive architecture, yet not nearly as old as the historical landmarks in Vladika. It dated from the 18th century, having started originally as a government building then donated to the purpose of a museum following Milenka’s first constitutionalist revolution.

The reason for their early morning arrival was due to their special attention. The museum had a tradition of not closing for visitors in normal circumstances, and therefore they had to arrive at an earlier time for a closed tour, prior to the museum’s opening hours. As they left the car, they were greeted on the museum’s forefront by a middle aged man, dressed in a three piece suit, with a thick pair of glasses in his face. The bald man had a light tan to him, and a complexion distinct of that of what they had seen of Milenkans thus far, with a grizzly short hair and beard.

Alena, whose previous reserved behaviour was always steadfast for stately roles, was this time the first to greet the man. “Professor Aurelius!” She said, opening a smile in her face. “So happy to see you again.”

He returned with a forbearing grin, as she approached to give him a quick hug. That moment aside, she introduced her guests.

“Professor, these are Prime Minister Lance Atticus, Praetor Gavin Squall and Miss Edwidge Nalôrna, of the Skybound Republic of Havensky. They were greatly interested in making a visit, and so was I once again. Apologies for the sudden request for this procedure, you know I don’t usually do this so quickly before schedule.” She said, her tone slightly lighter than usual.

Ambassador Riva complemented, introducing the man to the Skyan visitors. “This is Doctor Aurelius, Curator of the museum. He will be guiding us for today’s trip.”

“Thank you so much for your time. I’m so very excited to see the exhibits.”, said Edwidge with a slight bow.

Atticus reached out a hand to shake it, “A pleasure to meet you Professor.”

Once inside, Edwidge was met with a grand reception hall, empty if not for the security guard. A wide and diverse collection of statues and works of art sat there, with several wings ramifying from that point. The museum was known for one of the largest Kylarnatian collections outside of Kylarnatia, but that was not the focus of the day’s trip. Naturally, they headed for the center’s expertise, Milenkan History. As such, the group walked up the wide set of stairs into the second floor, where they were greeted by a long mural, four meters tall and dozens of meters long.

It was antique, but preserved. There was a certain ominous aesthetic to it, a retained sorrow expressed in the sharp etchings of the mural. Unlike the works of art in the palace, these etchings weren’t made in a mural of expensive stone, nor coated in gold. Instead, the foundation for this hulking piece of art was basalt rock, far more abundant. Alena had spent many of her days in this museum, learning history there under the Professor’s tutelage. As such, this trip retained some affective fondness of her growing years, a period that in fact was about to meet an end.

Doctor Aurelius promptly began an introduction, standing in front of the left side of the large mural. “This here you see is the one item in this museum that we would show to anyone that could only see one artifact to understand our history. It is an engraving, made by an unknown individual circa year 3390 in the Milenkan calendar, or year 700 in the calendar you are most familiar with.” He pointed at a series of initial drawings, which portrayed a female silhouette guarding her son from large male silhouettes carrying spears and another individual, chained.

Edwidge stepped forward to focus on the mural a bit. Her demeanor shifting from a friendly emissary to one of a student. She focused on the drawing with an eye for artistic detail. She took out her notebook and pencil… carefully doing a small drawing that mimicked the woman as she listened to the professor. She assumed that this was the famous Tanai.

“It is a story on the foundation of this very nation and people from its roots, eternalized in stone in a period where they thought it would all be gone. Here, we see the seeming end of a tale of two cities, Svopristav and Vladika, a bit more than 4700 years ago. These two city states were large rivals at the time, whose power struggles dated centuries prior to that. Vladika, the city in which we are at today, was but a small settlement in between rivers Matka and Alat, the rivers you see meeting in front of the Palace. Its main source of wealth were the control of the area’s tin mines, which gave them a reasonable network of allies and tributaries. Svopristav, on the other hand, was a larger coastal settlement on the Tana sea, whose trade allowed it to be the main source of copper within the region. The two cities had an old rivalry, which resulted in many wars and power disputes over spheres of influence.” He took a break to resume pacing, and continue his explanation.

Edwidge looked over to Squall knowing that would peak his interest. He was listening to the professor intently now as the professor spoke of battle. She squeezed his hand playfully knowing that history wasn’t exactly his forte unless it involved swords or things exploding.

“The story of Milenka begins at the last of these wars, where Chief Marek of Vladika was captured after being outflanked in battle, and held hostage in war. His son, Malkiov, was of young age and unable to rule, and his wife therefore acted as regent, together with the local religious leader. They attempted a signed peace treaty with significant concessions, but Svopristav refused the deal in order to take advantage of the disorganized command in the city-state. It is not known how long the conflict lasted, but following years of war and a siege of Vladika itself, the coalition surrendered and Vladika became a tributary to its Rival. This scene depicted in the mural is a poetic representation of the moment of Milena and Malkiov’s loss of Marek, and the subsequent domination of Vladika.”

“Following this moment is a spiral of obsession and desperation, one could say. Post war, Vladika was in total collapse, with the revenue from their tin mines diverted to their overlord and a brewing civil unrest.” He says, whilst pointing to the next section of the mural depicting scenes of famine, revolt and penure.

“An important disclaimer to make at this point is that this source of information is largely conflated with religious lore. Sources we can compare with are mainly written historical references to vocally transmitted folklore, which suffers from the same phenomenon. So keep that in mind.” He said, then following on.

“Milena’s concern was twofold. She first feared for her and her son’s safety, due to the perceived chaos in Vladika. And additionally, she had an obsession with the return of her husband. For years negotiations were attempted with Svopristav, which always denied, for reasons you might know. It is unknown if she actually aware that Marek was dead and refused to believe it, or if she genuinely did not know. But the core methodology in which she found to solve these issues was attempting to restructure efforts to regain power.

Edwidge jotted the name down in her book. Milena… was that the name of the woman? She had presumed Tanai.

The first attempt was done through diplomacy, attempting to gather a coalition against Svopristav once again. It failed, however, and Vladika’s army was too greatly outnumbered and under equipped to even have a chance, now having to prioritize internal control of the city state over anything else. The unrest was not aimed directly at her, but rather at Svopristav, but this was as much of a concern to her. Overprotective of her son, fearing losing yet another one to conflict, her efforts on his protection grew obsessive. Malkiov never left the castle, was educated at home by the high priest, and constantly guarded by practically a fifth of the castle’s garrison at all times.

Together with the high priest, with diplomatic and military methods out of question, the two diverted efforts in a subsequent series of rituals to attempt to provide them good omens for an eventual war to come. Be it the return of her husband, a plague in Svopristav, or anything else their gods and spirit could give them. Many rituals were done, and as we can see in this sequence of depictions, they grew larger with time, and more violent. Milena’s story is one of sorrow turned into obsession, and here this is clearly evidenced. At first, sacrifices of animals were done. Then herds. Then, after months of failed success, humans. The cruelty and scale of these rituals only grew with time, to a point they could no longer be held in pure secret. First, the victims were criminal convicts. But soon the entire prison had vanished, and abductions had to be made. Unrest grew against her, and in short time only her trusted war priest was by her side.

In a race against a rebellion that was bound to happen, they did one last ritual.” He said, his voice growing darker and more ominous. Alena heard silently, avoiding commenting on his point of view on what was her dynasty’s founding member. But she knew why. In a way, she agreed, and the Milena of that period was far from the founding Milena, which nevertheless she learned never to idealize. The story of Milena and her deeds, as well as the first empire, was never taught without long moments of reflection and a melancholic concern for the future.

Edwidge too paused in her drawing. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to use this anymore. Not if this is what she did, but she kept listening. She knew from Squall’s stories what happened to people that grew too desperate.

“At the night of a long winter, a week before solstice, Milena and her trusted priest met in an altar of black marblestone.” He said, pointing at the mural. “This altar was surrounded by a host of bound men and women, bodies bare in the snow, coated in oil. The priest lit the fires, and soon a pyre of flesh had melted all of the surrounding snow. At first, nothing seemingly happened, with the pair chanting for minutes to no effect, until they gave up. Milena sighed, and turned her back to the pyre, only to gaze the absence of the priest. She turned back again, and he had now began a hypnotized walk towards the pyre, oblivious to anything she said.

The man began to burn, not from the flames which he lit, but a cold, purple flame, which consumed his entire body and the other remaining flames of the pyre, which turned into a purple haze.The priest did not show pain, with only his decrepit burning corpse falling. Where he was, stood a silhouette.” As he spoke, he pointed at the following mural. A tall, black figure of humanoid silhouette, whose eyes overwhelmed even in the mural. It had a weight to it, a veiled magnificence whose lines which portrayed the picture did not naturally depict. But paired with the story behind it, its shade was certainly ominous.

Edwidge gasped a little at the implications. This sounded like a terrible for so many innocent people. She quickly looked to Squall to see how he was doing with this story. Squall had seen people burned alive in person and she was quick to make sure he seemed ok. Squall didn’t show any signs of stress though… but was listening intently. She shut her notebook shut. She wanted to design something of a love song and was hoping to use this as inspiration. However, the cruelty shown here proved this was no love song.

“This silhouette presented itself as Tanai. The void, before all life and after all death, sovereign in absence. Folk said it empathized with Milena, and gave her the news Marek was dead. It said to her that through Malkiov, she would be able to return him to life and have the power he always wanted to achieve, by doing the ritual yet again with Malkiov’s presence.” He muttered, the academic curator telling the legend in the best of his storytelling capacity.

“Through much hardship, as she was now alone and could trust almost nobody in her court, which mostly deemed her as insane, she prepared the second ritual. In a misty night, with her son blindfolded, proceedings began, as we can see in this next drawing. The obsessed widow watched as the fire began, muffling her son’s ears not to hear the screams. But even with that he knew something was wrong, and reached to open his blindfold to watch the purple pyre unveil. Milena stood paralyzed staring at the haze, whilst her son was now the one marching into the flames. Her obsession with her son engulfed her thought from outside, unable to control her muscles while she now was the one walking to the fire.” The curator paused briefly, taking a sip of his water bottle after the long exposition.

“From the burning purple pyre, resurged a new body, Milena’s. But it was beyond her, standing steadfast and bestowed by four large raven like wings, horns and the gaze of the void itself. This event is known as the Knell, the announcement of Tanai through her vessel to the physical world. She was then endowed with immense power, able to raise the dead themselves, with a host of entities loyal to Tanai taking control of peoples all over Vladika, whose form took a shape similar to hers, but lesser in splendor. The first was Svir, lord of War and Wrath. Neva, Patroness of Love, Lust and Deceit then claimed her own. Volkova, deity of Ambition, Wealth and Envy followed, with Tavda, lady of Justice and Punishment then claiming her own vessel. Finally, Svyaz, lord of knowledge and gluttony claimed its own vessel.

These five entities, along with Tanai, formed the upper echelon of the hierarchy. In order to style themselves accordingly in the physical realm, their names became their possession’s surnames, which would later form clans under their host.

Following the five major vassals’, each entity associated to one then continued to arise upon the citizens of Vladika. This all lasted a mere second, before all inhabitants of the city were possessed. Possessed by lesser forces, these beings, which would be known as the first Kin, had powers beyond a human, yet were nowhere near that of their overlords.

As he spoke, he walked to the center of the mural. Six large silhouettes, each for an archontess of the first age, with a notable centered figure of a four winged humanoid, taller than the others. All others had either two wings or no wings, as well as some having horns. Each had a distinct coloration for their eyes, which he rapidly explained. “As her Grace and the Ambassador show, each of these had a distinct eye color, which transmitted on to their offspring and vassal clans. The Royal Family, of direct descent from Tanai’s motherly line, kept purple eyes, whereas clan Neva, of which the Ambassador probably is related to either directly or from a vassal clan, had sapphire eyes. Clan Svir had red eyes, Tavda yellow eyes,Volkova green eyes, and Svyaz had grey eyes. Anyhow.” He interrupted himself, returning to the main topic of the mural.

Edwidge glanced over to the Princess and then to Ambassador Riva looking into their eyes. She had noticed before, but now the coloration of their eyes really connected with her. She would file that away for future designs.

“This began an age of uncomparable expansion of this Empire, which then was only known as Milena’s Empire. Or, in Milenkan, Zarstvo Milenky. With time, the nation began to be known as Milenka. Her rule lasted centuries, due to an unnaging and unnatural lifespan, only ended when another vessel was chosen to continue this line. I will be a bit brief here, but what is important to know is that while Milena was a conqueror, her successor, Kalina, consolidated the realm. In this mural, we can see the proclamation of her first code of law. Her successors kept with this pattern, dominating large swathes of land in their rule. Now, one might ask, if the Empire had such power, splendor and wealth, why is this mural so poorly done? Where are all these legends and powers today? ” He asked rhetorically, before rapidly continuing.

Edwidge took a little bit of offense to that remark. She hadn’t worked with stone before, but she was quite certain it was a difficult material to work with. It did last though. She knew that there were more beautiful examples of stonework, but she felt that she had to take the artist's side even if this work was ominous. She didn’t expect any of her dresses to last for centuries much less for decades. The list of possible materials that might have been available flashed through her head before she remembered to pay attention.

“In year 3382 of the Milenkan calendar, the Empire was in the peak of its powers. It had lands far beyond what Milenka is today, with imperial colonies in what is now Vetalia, Havensky, Jagada, and many other nations. It had grown to be feared by all who heard of it, and those who knew better would submit before doom was there. An infinite pool of manpower, thanks to the necromantic armies, together with the large wealth from the lands it controlled, made it a seemingly unstoppable enemy.” He said, briefly pausing for another sip of his bottle.

“That was, until a coalition of nations allied against them. This was known as the Great Coalition War in Milenkan literature, and while the allied nations had won a few tactical battles, strategically victory was in the Empire’s side. That is, until the Shroud. A ritual of unknown origin or method, executed by the religious and scholars of the coalition, veiling Tanai’s influence over the physical realm. This mural was written shortly after that, amidst the absolute collapse of the Empire following this catastrophic event to its order. The armies crumbled, communication and organization fell, and entire colonies and subjects either were cut off from contact or rebelled. This was the doom of the first Empire, marking its end and the rise of centuries of warlords and petty queens, fighting for the remainders of the once ascending realm.”

“That is quite the history… thank you for sharing.”, remarked Atticus.

Ambassador Riva spoke next responding to the hidden thoughts that were surly on the rest of the party’s minds, “As you can see, Milenka wasn’t always a modern progressive country. We all have our moments of darkness in our history and this is ours. We, however, prefer to have it out front and in the open. There’s no sense in hiding or pretending we were always so noble and righteous.”

“Milenka was an Empire. A nation with imperialist intentions and that happened to have better capacity to put these intentions into practice through the resources it had available. For what it’s worth, no empire in history is free of sin. Though without a doubt the way we began is swarmed with points for reflection, points that, through the subsequent centuries following the shroud, us kin had a lot of time to reflect on.” Alena replied, arms behind her back stalwartly.

“This mural tells a story of a people who collapsed with the First Empire. After the collapse, we, who controlled large portions of Gholgoth like many empires in our time do, became victims of genocide, foreign invasion and pillaging just as much as any other nation, if not more. Our kind isn’t made of monsters or aberrations. The height and splendor of the first empire, the chaos of the subsequent centuries and the strife that reunified our nation shaped a common consciousness in us that forever warns against the kind that exploits an ephemeral source of strength against those who can’t defend themselves.” She said, her words a bit passionate in tone. Her stance kept serious, though this topic was close to Alena and her people. Due to their history and phenotype, they always had a reputation of cruel demons abroad, which they for generations fought against.

Edwidge looked at Atticus knowing that such a speech was going to give a rare approving look. It’s not that Atticus wasn’t nice, but he rarely had the look of pride on his face.

“It’s difficult to say this without sounding condescending, but I think your Prime Minister would be very proud of your perspective.”, remarked Atticus.

Alena returned with a sly smile, shaking her head. “This isn’t my perspective, it’s Milenkas. If there is one thing that unifies us, is this collective awareness of what we were and how we grew beyond it. Human or Kin, we all learned that through a lesson that is hard to be forgotten.”

Alena turned to the professor and spoke in a polite - if not direct way.

“Professor... why don't you show the Praetor and his beloved the war room? Take the Ambassador with you as I recall some exhibits from her family line in that room as well."

The professor bowed slightly and gestured for the rest of the party to follow. Atticus looked around and quickly understood what was happening. The exhibit hall was quiet. Her guards were at a comfortable distance away. This was as much of a private audience as he would ever get.

“Prime Minister Atticus… As you are aware, with my coronation comes also another title. One whose intricacies I soon need to know. Tell me, what is it like to be a Ghothic Lord?.”

Atticus bowed his head slightly pausing a bit, “Your Grace, I’m sure that Prime Minister Krajisnik has already briefed you and is more tha-”

“As skilled as she may be, she is not a Lord. She didn’t have to face the Scandinvans, the Kravenites and so many conflicting interests of a variety of foreign powers in person, often beyond the support of her own. You did. Not in a way that caused harm, but one that restructured international order as we know it without bloodshed. Which is why I ask you.”

“Very well, your Grace”

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