NATION

PASSWORD

Kirinna Main Thread [Kirinna]

Where nations come together and discuss matters of varying degrees of importance. [In character]
User avatar
The Grand Global Archive
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 2
Founded: Oct 19, 2015
Father Knows Best State

Kirinna Main Thread [Kirinna]

Postby The Grand Global Archive » Sun Dec 26, 2021 10:44 pm

Kirinna

Image







Kirinna, garden of the gods, shaped from chaos in the void. In those beginning times, the melding of eternal essences drew forth a creator goddess who in her own nature deigned a world born by her own design. So it was, that through the tearing of her own form did the realm known as Kirinna bear into being. All of it sprang from her: the sun, the four moons, the torrential waters, the deepness of the earth, even the little creatures of life that dwelled upon her creation. Yet as her world prospered, her own power dimmed. The time had come for the garden to receive caretakers.

From her bones, the Creator wrought twelve children. Six gods and six goddesses came forth into being, each attached to an attribute behind their countless names. The gods of Daylight, Storm, Sea, Moonlight, Fire, and Wisdom were joined by the goddesses Passion, Earth, Beasts, Harvest, Seasons, and Death. In tandem, the Twelve governed the natural flow of the garden in harmony, each day rising and falling in blissful eternity as the Creator slept. Eons passed unopposed in this rhythm of existence. Yet eventually, the power of the Twelve too began to wane. Much like their mother, the Twelve first created many lesser deities to reign in their stead. Soon however, they discovered that they could never create enough of these underling gods to manage creation, and so, it was that a new solution was required. Through the planning of Wisdom, the Twelve copied the Creator in bringing life through clay in the manner She had to produce countless beasts of the land. From this twelve races were born, each following the nature and design chosen by their parent god. In time, these mortal beings sprouted cultures of their own, and congregated to form the first kingdoms. Having come to understand their purpose, these children began the golden age of the gods under their illustrious empires. As promised by Wisdom, the new creations were capable of endless feats and energy, yet they also took after the worst of their parent deities. Before long, Kirinna came to know conflict and war. Driven by their primal natures, the mortal realms contested each other and themselves and soon their malice began to poison even the air of the heavens. The Twelve and their divine children came too to know conflict amongst each other, until one in his vision for complete order schemed to rule alone.

Daylight kidnapped his sister goddess Passion, seeking to bend the intensity inherent in her powers for his own. Through violating her being, Daylight reaped from his sister-bride the force of war. Passion, in the endless torture, grew rapidly weak and so too did her domain in the garden. This pulled the attention of the others towards her, and it was then that Daylight's treachery was discovered. For the usurper had chained his sister to his throne, where her essence drenched the seat and steps of a monument he had created for ultimate order. Only chaos was to be found. With his power, Daylight waged war upon his siblings and their creations, reeking destruction upon the face of the garden and upon the shores of the heavens. To aid him in his struggle, Daylight brought forth through his unholy union with Passion a new race, a thirteenth race, who he imbued with the magic he had given to his first children—humanity. The Thirteenth waged their master's war upon the face of the earth, corrupting and destroying with light and fire wherever their cursed touch landed. So it was that the War of the Gods roared. Only through the complete combined effort of the mortal armies and the gods under the leadership of Storm was Daylight defeated and Passion freed.

It was a pyrrhic victory. Passion, in her abuse, was quickly dying. Daylight's throne, having fallen from the heavens, caused immense devastation to the garden, wiping clear much of the earth and its life as well as agonizing the already wounded Twelve. Storm ordered for Passion to be saved, for a resurrection of the garden completed, but it was too late. All was doomed to die. Yet a bleak shimmer of hope existed, for Wisdom in his nature reminded his siblings that they were made from the essence of the Creator, and so might yet save her and her world by returning their dwindling life back from whence it had come. In a last act of desperation, the Twelve were to sacrifice themselves to save Kirinna, but not before instructing their god-children of their last wishes. In this, the lesser gods would be tasked with watching over the garden in full stead of their parents, and with guiding the races of the world—be they the original twelve or a new people of their own design. The Thirteenth and any remnants of Daylight were to be snuffed out. These young gods were to go forth and restore the world in their fashion as the new masters tending the garden. So it was that the Twelve passed on in their sacrifice and an age of a thousand gods began.

Six centuries has passed since the war, since the Deluge, and the garden has began to prosper once more. The mortal beings of the world span the land in domains of their own, multiplying and creating. Though the full glory of the states during the Age of the Gods is only a distant dream, the cultures of the garden have begun to harvest the powers of bronze and iron. With this and burgeoning industry, the multitude kingdoms grow in size and power, looking to span for and wide with influence and fame. Within each, any number of the new gods are worshipped, and though their powers are young, their mission remains and their strength increases with each passing day. The prosperity and ambition of the mortal realms, paired with the touch of new gods upon them, has defined this second age, an age of heroes.


Image


Welcome

The official Kirinna IC forum thread. If you are a non-region member just passing by feel free to check us out! Kirinna is a bronze and classical age RP region dedicated to crafting an interactive story in a fantasy world. We feature a solidified, insular world canon alongside a complex and rounded mechanics system designed to deepen the tone of our setting while providing greater structure and RP opportunity within our community and storyline. We welcome writers of any skill level and currently are home to members of varying levels. If you find what we do interesting, do not hesitate to explore some of our lore and mechanics factbooks (the intro above only scratches the surface) or hop over to our Discord. We are always looking for eager writers and role-players to join us in shaping the world.

If you are a current member, this thread is for you to make canon posts with the greater functionality of the forums. It is recommended you place any post made here on the RMB also. As with the RMB, this is an IC exclusive zone. It is not a chat thread. Posting guidelines for this thread are more stringent than for the RMB, and you must read the instructions and guide written in the Library before attempting to post here. It is critical you follow these rules, and failure to do so will result in significantly steep repercussions. If you are unfamiliar with the Nationstates forums or have any questions, feel free to message a member of the moderation team and they will help you get started.
Last edited by The Grand Global Archive on Tue Dec 28, 2021 12:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
The Grand Global Archive
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 2
Founded: Oct 19, 2015
Father Knows Best State

Postby The Grand Global Archive » Sun Dec 26, 2021 10:48 pm

Reserved.

User avatar
Aoyan
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 16
Founded: Nov 08, 2021
New York Times Democracy

Postby Aoyan » Sun Dec 26, 2021 11:30 pm

Prologue



God was dying.

Cries of thunder shook the earth and the heavens as distant lightning gouged into rock. God was dying, and so were his siblings. The swirling gray-white maelstrom above hid the conflict from view. It could not hide the carnage below.
Qer scanned the battlefield before him. He too was dying. The dark singed hole in the side of his armor no longer pained him, but it leaked his life blood. Breath came slowly and hard. The smell of cinder and burnt flesh and mud mixed with that of rain, though it had not rained in months. His throat ached for water.

Eventually, he gained the strength to stand and walk, balancing himself on the shattered haft of a halberd. The spot where he had fallen unconscious had remained the same as before, except that the bodies of his men now lay broken and scattered around him exactly where they had stood living. No other creature stalked the killing ground, only he. Even the carrion birds repulsed from the corpses that littered the dried earth in disgust. Smart birds, his mind reeled. Smart birds.

He stumbled down from his command post through the stream of bodies, passing friend and foe. Most of them had been charred, burned by intense heat in some fashion. Others had been felled by weapon, mundane or divine. Some, though very few, were the remains of monstrous creatures. The enemy. Who though small in number had always struck down hordes of men when encountered. He dragged his feet carefully around those—their corpses still flared hot to the touch.
Yet it had not only been his soldiers and the enemy among the fallen. He passed one man, a storm giant twice the size of most other creatures, who had been flung and dashed against a rock face as easily as a doll. Among the mounds poked the bodies of small Pykke—beautiful creatures of moonlight—who now lay rotting in the muck. Groups of men and women with all assortments of bestial features littered the crators alongside Gowrei fauns and stout Dhengr and so many more. It had been an army of the east, an army of the world.

The field they had chosen was a sloping pass, wedged between two rigid hillocks where cliffs made scaling difficult. Their planning had been impeccable, as always. Perfect, because they knew that this would be a final fight, because the Usurper would appear here with his legions. Because battle would rage above and below. Any mistake or miscalculation would cost them existence—they had all died anyways.
Qer studied deep gouges in the rock face as he limped past. He shivered. Storm. He’d seen them created too many times for a single life. They’d been carved, snaking, like cracked rivers in the earth by lightning bolts powerful enough to blast the rock apart. Sent from the heavens by the brother of god against the foe, disregarding completely the allies who stood in the crackling path. In the distance, he watched as bolts threw up boulders as the conflict raged across the landscape.
Clouds there parted, releasing a mere sliver of light in their gray blanket, where a substance streamed through the break. It was sunlight, but different. Translucent, viscous, shimmering in a thousand colors—it oozed down towards the earth slow enough that one might be mistaken that they could outrun it. When it reached the bottom, the sunlight enveloped a lone tree whose branches were pulled up towards it. As it did, the tree was covered for an instance, then turned into air. Vapor.

Each time a hole opened, more liquid light poured forth only for the breech to be closed when it had reached the ground—each closure arriving with a thunderous boom and a shaking of the world. Qer felt sick.
But he did not wretch. No, instead he collapsed down on his knees having found a puddle of water. For a moment his heart soared, but his relief died as he peered into the inky blackness. No water here will ever support life. he thought. His tongue ran across dried lips as he was tempted anyways, but he did not drink. Instead, he looked at his reflection in the mirrored surface.
Qer had been a handsome man, strong faced and black bearded. He bore the brows of the phoenix, and straightened teeth. Marvelous in his day, the man who gazed back at him was a wane, hollowed husk—another man killed in the War between the Gods. His head pounded, so he removed his great helm carefully, letting matted, blood-blotched hair cascade from his destroyed topknot. Qer reached up carefully to touch his long pointed ears, which burned at their tips and blazed sore. Ailos healed! he cursed aloud. They seared hot! His gift from god, the gift to his people, pointed ears pained him more than the killing wound at his side ever did.
Qer threw his helmet in rage, the golden object clanking against the rock before resting upright against the slain. The beautiful visage of a carved tiger gazed back at him, with intricate flames sprouting decoratively on the side. It had been a symbol of rank, his symbol. The Tiger General. What good was any of that now? The glory? The honor? His friends were dead. He was dead. The world might be dead. They had won this battle of mortals, but as pawns of heaven, ensuring only that the foe had no children to aid him in his clash.
He screamed, his anger drowned by the clatter of storms. Then—he was somewhere else.

A field in the cool of the night. Stars hung in the sky, glowing above a treeline that swayed in the breeze. His hands could feel the dew of the grass, and when he looked down, his wound was gone. A vision he sneered. He had seen them before. They came from god, whose dying throws rendered him less and less capable of controlling his own power. In the final days, they had been coming to more and more people, striking at random and becoming less coherent. A priest, a general, a page, a milkmaid—anyone could find themselves receiving visions from the divine at any moment. They felt real enough, but they meant nothing. Before the war, visions given to favored people always granted knowledge or insight. Now, nobody knew what any of them meant, or even if what they showed would come to pass.

Qer did not recognize where he knelt, it was indistinguishable from any other field. When he turned his head, he saw it. There, on the ground, was the same scorch marks indicative of the enemy. His heart raced as his eyes sat frozen on the spot—but he did not stay there for long, for he blinked to find himself somewhere else.

Here he saw a battle rage. Not one in the war he fought, but between people he did not know. Between people who dressed like each other, and carried silken banners, and clashed ferociously with pikes. One side—the blues—began to overcome the grays they were fighting. Blink.
He found himself in a city, where wide stone lines cut neatly along the ground. Large monstrous beasts, no, machines rumbled down in each direction. Ahead people in ugly, drab, alien clothing walked beneath the shadow of towering buildings that reached towards the sky and reflected the sunlight blindingly. There was terrible noise everywhere, and Qer, tired of the confusion, slammed his fist into the stone he knelt on. Blink.

A large white tree stood before him. It was beautiful, shimmering where its canopy bore leaves of gold. Behind it, he could see the silhouette of towers—straight, black, and belching fire into the sky. He could tell god was flailing closer to death, for visions began to meld as flashes within flashes, blocking his sight and mind. The same place he knelt, before the tree, gave him the sudden and violent image of small grotesque creatures. Strange creatures. They clawed and gnashed and slashed horridly at massive walls of metal and brick. He grasped his ears to block the maddening sound. Another flash—the shadow of floating ships in the clouds—a beam of light, a horned man, a frozen waste, fire, his own mother, fire, the stars, fire, fire, a mountain, fire, the world from above, fire, fire, fire, fire.

He gasped, reeling back into his last moments in the garden of the gods. His wound was back, the carnage was back, and the storm above raged on. Yet when he lifted his head, he knew the visions were not over, for he was not alone on the field. He watched as a small group approached from the front.
They were not friend nor foe, but the forsaken—humans. Small, short-lived, and stupid, the lesser creatures came dressed in cloth and bearing simple spears. Qer snarled and spit, but their presence made no difference. These children of the Usurper did not join their creator, but did not fight him either. No, they hid frightened and scared and powerless. Pathetic, but not hostile.

Their leader trotted over to him through the gore of the field, ignoring everything going on. Spear in hand, he knelt down with a ram’s skin of water and offered it to Qer, who did not reach out for the mirage.
“You should drink, son of Wisdom.” he said.

Qer motioned away. “It is not real.” he stopped, then looking up, grunted. “But you are, aren’t you human? From another time. Yet your kind dwells not in the realm of Xian. We do not allow you in Wisdom’s eastern empire. Then if not the past—the future.”
His eyes widened. For a moment, the fires of hope kindled in his heart, but then they were snuffed by his own mind. He laughed bitterly, which turned into painful coughing. Blood sprayed from his lungs. “So we win, then? Daylight is defeated. But you, your kind comes after?”

The human nodded, putting away his waterskin. “This land is where I bring my people, old one.”

Qer inhaled deeply, wincing at the pain that returned to his wound. He leaned his head back, basking in the last and quickest visions granted within visions that god unwittingly sent. When he returned, he smiled maliciously.
“Ah. I see now. Yes. You will come here, and then tear yourselves apart. You will butcher each other for centuries, human. Do you know that? You will bring misery and death on others and yourself, and in the end, the greediest and most clever among you will win and clamp a yoke upon the rest. Yes. I see.”

The human seemed unphased, only shaking his head as he leaned on his spear. “Not in my time, Ailur. Not in my time.”

Then they were gone.
The thunder and the lightning and the shaking did not slow. Qer’s breathing became more ragged than it had ever been. His eyes, now certain he was back in reality, began to droop in exhaustion. A tiredness overcame him, and he laid down on the hard earth. So this is it he thought. The end. This was the last moments before death. He did not think about his life, not on those days on the river with Yeu, not on his children by her, not on his military achievement. He simply sat and breathed, an apathy having overcome him. He did not care what happened. If they won or lost the war, if the garden was destroyed, if all things were destroyed. What did it matter? This was his end—the only end. Overwhelmed and tired, he let his eyelids fully shut and he drifted into the darkness.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Tue Dec 28, 2021 11:01 am

Image
Tablet I: New Beginnings




Resplendent flowers decorated the palatial gardens of the royal heart. Courtyards of lush palms and exotic scents, hidden behind perfectly carved stone bricks which reached up to the sky and leveled off, only beaten by the blocky towers with their thatch roofing, or the great gatehouses which joined courtyard to courtyard. Urban meadows of yellows, blues, reds, patterned whites and purples, tropical greens—and so much more—tucked within but a fragment of the palace. It was a place of beauty, but it was a mask, nothing more.

Maikana-Ketzani walked with methodical motions—subtle strides wreathed in thin emerald fabric—chitinous claws clicking against the ground as she flexed the digits great Ketzani gifted her people with. To either side of her, clad in gold-tinted bronze, two silent Asharkar with their famed spears in hand, canid ears perked and scanning, tails trained for inaction as they gently swayed side to side. She looked to both as she walked, examining their alien features—a man and a woman of human appearance, adorned with the ears and tail of the same maned wolves they kept—compared to her own carapace beauty, though even that Ketzani had made with great likeness to accursed-man or blessed-Ailur. My crown depends on them. How cruel, Ketzani. To rule the first born, only to have them assure the reign of the second…

Ever onward, she strode through stone gates into another courtyard, admiring the stonework, the inscriptions and the carvings. Pictures of Sawari ruling their civilization decorated the relief-band on both sides, telling the story of those who had been, and now peacefully resided further into the mountains. Maikana-Ketzani reached up and chewed on her nail as she passed into the new courtyard of flowers, the hummingbird-moths already feasting on nectar. Two summons so quickly after the coronation… Why me? This was a joint future, not mine alone… Ketzani, why have you been so cruel? Why have you shown me your favor?

Suddenly she paused, looking around her amidst the gardens, looking ahead at the path which led to the heart of the courtyard, obscured by shadows and walls, but she knew what was within that walled gazebo. The irony-scent caught her attention, many-pupiled eyes darting to her left. The hand of an Isklana, like her, limply emerged from the foliage, half decayed with the bloat already eaten. The stench was of rot, but the iron… the iron was all around her. It watered the gardens. It fed Ketzani’s chosen breed. Creatures of carapace skittered about and chewed on the meat, and as she looked around her, she saw the little signs all too clearly again. Displaced flowers, slightly bent reeds, the piles of collected bronze and copper armor and weapons shoved off to a corner of the courtyard, not yet dealt with. So did the last of Shayakapak-Ketzani’s army serve a house united one last time: by feeding the gardens as Maikana-Ketzani had commanded.

She stared at the hand. Who was he? Why did he conspire? Why her? Why did he choose Shayakapak-Ketzani? Why did he fight against the rightful ruling of father? That wretched rat… How could she have let this happen? Why couldn’t she just see and obey? Why couldn’t she… Why… Thoughts drifted, eyes fixed on the fingers which twitched from the festering insects that gnawed on rotted muscle. Without order, one of the Asharkar stepped over to the arm, jabbed it with the top of the spear, and dragged the appendage back into the flowers and grasses, hidden from sight. Maikana-Ketzani glanced at the sickly crimson, no longer fresh in the very corpse it had come from, that caked the tip of the bronze spear in fleks and sludge.

“Durr dek kra, eron eng gur besh,” one Asharkar said to the other. There is blood on the spear. Clean it. At least that was how she roughly translated it, her Asharaean still a developing skill. As suggested, the dirtied spear was lowered, the cloth of the guard himself used to wipe away the putrid sludge. Unfazed, he stood, and resumed a stance of attention.

“Esharr, saka karsh, er urg bin beksha besh. Urn eron eng,” the guard said as he fell to his knees, ears flattened in submission. Queen, apologies, the spear was made dirty. Forgive the blood. “Ush akra kesh eron eng. Esharr nak il urgar, arkak. Esharr, va,” you appeared offended by the blood. The Queen should not dread the dead. Queen, smile.

Maiakna-Ketzani reached out and brushed her fingers against the fur of the ears, the guard remaining motionless. They secured my throne. They secured my future. Father always told me that once won, they would be unwavering. They would be loyal, like the very wolves they raised for the forts. She placed a hand beneath his chin, her chitinous tail swaying side to side. A faint motion, a silent command, and with himself explained, the guard rose from his kneeling submission. They chose me. I won them over. I won the Sawari as well. Shayakapak-Ketzani, you idiot! Maiakana-Ketzani paused her heart, felt the boiling blood and steadied it the best she could. It was not time for this. Not out here. Not before them.

Softened taps, little steps, dreading eyes. Every step forward they took, the grey nearer and nearer the closed gazebo at the heart of the garden. She’d been here so many times. She’d known this place for weeks now. She had to come here, for there would not be any final chance. The court had told her that the time had passed, that the cleansing needed to happen, that Ketzani had been glutted happily. Even the Sawari had told her that the deed was done, a cylinder of yarn with a clay seal having announced their opinion. A dry swallow down a tight throat, this is the last time.

Doors of luxuriant dark wood greeted her, the gazebo elsewise closed off aside from little windows which banded the top and barred sight in or out. Her fingers rubbed against carved figures, the door itself covered in a relief. When she looked up to see it, she saw herself, larger than all the other figures upon the door, holding a spear with Isklana and Asharkar behind her. Beneath their triumphal road were endless heaps of dead Isklana and revolting Asharaeans from the pasture-lands. She looked away, and pressed against the doors, opening them to the sweet decay of perfumes and putrid memory. The Asharkar with her covered their noses, but did not cough.

“Esharr, ush mog bast, ish urkar,” if you need us, we will come.

Maikana-Ketzani smiled, her lips curling, the face place remaining stagnant as two devolved mandibles jutted lightly beneath the skin. Plush lips decorated with anxious quivers. She simply shook her head, pushed forward, and closed the door behind her.

There was no need for flame in the gazebo, the slits atop all sides of the walls casting cursed daylight into the space without error. Dust drifted calmly in the air, reflected in the daylight, while the walls were illuminated with reliefs of her victory over Shayakapak-Ketzani, a great drama of many years gone by. I hear the winds drift by like soft grains of fallen towers. She looked everywhere but ahead, everywhere but at the end of the small gazebo. But eventually her eyes ran out of space to examine, she’d all but memorized every carving. There were only them.

Against the wall of the gazebo, chained to the wall, a limp figure hung with body abandoned and bloated. Raven hair, undone and withered draped over the defaced flesh of a once divine image. Plush lips deflated and cracked, carapace shattered, health withered to bone, and small festering insects which chewed in silence. They were dead. They had long been dead. They had been punished in the way of old Passion, and put to a gruesome finality. An act of rage. Cold necessity hidden within cruelty. This was it. This would be the last time. She had accepted that, but… This would be the last time.

“I’m going in a few days toward the mountains, toward Waruk. I haven’t been there since we were kids. I wasn’t even there when you took it.”

The corpse said nothing.

“At Waruk they are going to introduce me to the high priestess, and the formal meeting will be done. They… they requested me and everything. I’ve been really elevated to queenship now. And after Waruk, when I leave the divine Sawari, they said they’d send me a fresh envoy from Waruk or Warki. There hasn’t been a Sawari in the palace in… years.”

The corpse said nothing. Maikana-Ketzani swallowed a dry gulp, eyes looking up at the silent figure, a faint guilt eating at her mind.

“I’m having a party at Dur-Asharki with the Durkaratum too! I’m sure you’re jealous you can’t come.”

The corpse said nothing. Maikana-Ketzani stood in silence, staring down at the corpse, looking at the features of decayed beauty. Why didn’t she say something? Why didn’t she appreciate this moment? The kingdom united! Maikana-Ketzani upon the throne! It wasn’t how it was meant to be, but it was how it was. It was how she made it. It was her fault. It was all her fault. Anger festered in her heart. She tried to shove it back, but the phantoms of the past whispered in her ears. She grasped her hair and pulled, her body shaking, tail slapping against the cool stone.

“It’s all your fault, you selfish bitch,” she muttered out. “Why? Why did you do this? Why did you make me do it?”

The corpse said nothing. Maikana-Ketzani looked up, eyes with rage, hate in her nostrils mixed with the sweet sickness of the air. It was her fault! It was always her fault!

“Father made the choice, he made the decision! So why did you do it? Why! I know we disagreed, and-and-and… and I know we fought, but you…” She clenched her fists, “you! You miserable woman! You destroyed our kingdom! You killed Urcha-kaya! Just for me? Just to keep me from ascending? Was our dream that poisonous to a serpent like you? Well!?” She shouted, breathing heavily as she glared at the corpse, as though her gaze would pulverize it further.

The corpse said nothing.

“Stop that!” She screamed, her mind filled with whispers and shadows, the subtle flashes of memory which poisoned her thoughts in this place. “You and Arwa-narak-pakasser, you destroyed yourselves for this? Why!? Why! We had everything ready, we had a future prepared. I loved him and you killed me—you tried to kill me—and you killed him!” Maikana-Ketzani paced, shouting and groaning and crying. She felt tears drip down her cheeks. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

The corpse said nothing. Quietly, Maikana-Ketzani began to sob—broken, resolute, fragile, strong.

“I just don’t get it… We had it all figured out. All four of us could've been celebrating a dream made manifest right now… We had it all figured out. Why couldn’t you and Arwa-narak-pakasser just accept things? Why did you have to do these terrible things? Why did you kill my husband?” She sniffled, wiping away tears as best she could. “You always told me that the dream was evil, that it was wrong. How could you say that to me? Look at yourself. Look at yourself!”

The corpse said nothing. The corpse did not examine itself. Silence took the room, Maikana-Ketzani watching, waiting, and calming. She was speaking to the dead, the oh so greatly dishonored dead. In silence, she brushed her hair back, the whispers in her mind quieting, a sudden wave of control overtaking her. Ketzani be blessed, thank you for your help.

“I’m going to make that dream happen. I’m going to carry us forward. Not just for me, or the gods or the future of this kingdom, but for Urcha-kaya. For the man you killed. You wanted us to rot here, you wanted us to ignore the wishes of the people and the wishes of Ketzani… You wanted what father trusted in me. But it doesn’t matter now. I took Arwa-narak-pakasser’s eyes, and then his life. I did unto you the greatest shame for your crimes, so that you’d know daylight as well as grandmother Passion. It’s… over. I won. Do you get it? I won!”

The corpse said nothing, but Maikana-Ketzani held her rage.

“I’m not coming back to see you again. My court asked me to have you removed, to have this place cleaned to be a monument to my victory. Do you see that wall? Do you see the carvings, the skill in each figure? How they parade the headless through the garden? How they parade you to the gazebo of my victory, where Daylight shines his curses? That is what you are now. That is what you made me do. You have no monument, you have no burial of your standing. You’re a footnote,” she said with venom. “You’re the ending of one story, and the beginning of another. You’re an intermission. You’re nothing.”

The corpse said nothing. Maikana-Ketzani, reluctantly, was satisfied.

She pushed the wooden doors open, the guards waiting for her in the sunlight of the garden. With one final look, she whispered her final words to the woman of all her distress. “I spared them, your children, and they are mine now. They’ll bear no children. They’ll never know the throne. Your line is over. Goodbye, Shayakapak-Ketzani… goodbye, sister.”
Last edited by Isklanapura on Wed Jan 05, 2022 8:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Amemnhat
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 5
Founded: Nov 18, 2021
Ex-Nation

Postby Amemnhat » Sat Jan 01, 2022 7:34 pm

Image
The High Place of Exaltation, Saa

From here, all the great pyramids and spires and statues, and all the other great works of the ancient city of Saa could be seen, illuminated by the low-hanging sun. This place, on this day, resembled the center of the universe. Certainly, it was the center of Amemnhat, an annual ancient ritual that ensconced the outflow of superintendence from the Pharaoh and the inflow of adulations and labours channeled up the social hierarchy. This was the Magnification, the foundation of the Wisened Land's entire social fabric. There, on the Lazurite Throne, Pharaoh Menkheper. Her flowing dark hair danced in the breeze, while the rest of her sat almost disinterested, her glowing, godlike form removed from the simple realities of the ephemeral beings below her.

Here, around the dais of the throne, Menkheper's finest. The closest courtiers, and the highest of the Sma, Amemnhat's priestly bureaucracy - the working hand to Pharaoh's pondering mind. Djoser, the Pharaoh's wiry Valet, stood aside the throne and whispered his saccharine poison to her with a smile. The young new Vizier, Khabesh, looked on with a neutral expression, stood at a respectful distance. To his left, the High Mason, Nebre, who had little interest in matters outside his own purview. To his right, twice his age or more, the Oracle Amesis. By no means a political ally of Khabesh, but whispering words of his own to him nonetheless - both men shared an interest in the success of the realm.

"It is the gravest of insults, Khabesh. Tantamount to rebellion, in some eyes." The Oracle hushedly told him. The Vizier glanced down below the dais to the Plaza of Kings, where three of Amemnhat's Nesuts - the rulers of the Great Cities of Ab and second only to the Pharaoh in their wealth and power, stood with their retinues. Nesut Horemheb of Is was nowhere to be seen, having remained home in his city. "Horemheb's retinue has brought his gifts, Is has paid in full. He may simply be sick, or..." the Vizier shrugged, trying to see the optimistic view. The old man gave him a dour glance, and he trailed off. Fewer attended every year, offering excuses or nothing at all as the peripheries of the ceremony reaffirming the loyalty of the people dwindled. But this was the first time in three hundred years a Nesut had not travelled to Saa for the Magnification, and whether or not he had paid his dues by proxy, his absence was indisputably a message, that would be heard by many. Glancing back to the distant expression of the Pharaoh, Khabesh worried whether the intended recipient would be among them.

Down below, along the steps of the High Place, the Heriteps. (Mostly) appointed governors who (mostly) carry out the will of the Pharaoh and the Sma in their Sepats. Which Heriteps are closer and further from the Plaza of Kings is a whole political game in and of itself, which mostly served to make Khabesh grateful that the Vizier was not responsible for organizing the ceremony. Below the Heriteps, on the lower steps, other prestigious servants of the Pharaoh, handed these sought-after positions in the annual ceremony as a reward for service and loyalty, or perhaps a bribe in exchange for it.

And then, between the base of the High Place and the ancient blue and gold wall surrounding it - the Locus. The designated place of the many hundreds of Heqas in attendance, high nobility defined by the possession of their own prestigious architectural works; Amemnhat's High Places, to which all land is intrinsically married. The Heqas and their retinues laugh and joke with each other, or connive and scheme to work their way onto the steps next year, to their individual preference. There is a wide space between them at the central gate which is presently adorned with the symbols of Sbat, the Goddess of Wisdom. This space is reserved for small contingents of representatives of those peoples beyond Ab who still rightly pay fealty to the Lazurite throne. Riverlords, Dune Men, Westerlings, exotic guests who attract curiosity and xenophobic sneers in equal measure, and who just like their Abish fellows, arrive in smaller numbers every year. Many of the Dune Men tribes have not paid their tribute in a decade.

Beyond the walls, ten thousand or more Urs circled in a continuous flow, shouting their adoration of the Pharaoh and their undying loyalties, trying to force gifts of dyes, glass, and ivory into the hands of guards. The Chariotry rode between the mass and the walls, keeping them a distance away, and the Vizier was, to be honest, glad for the absence of their commander to oversee them, as otherwise he'd be here looming over him on the dais. The lower nobility had always been the more reliable sort. Further away from any real power, they had less to play for in the political game, and one of their main means of status elevation was to be noticed by the Pharaoh's court. The promise of a Heritepsy, or position in the Sma, or even a High Place to call their own, had brought many an Ur to the Pharaoh's side in times of conflict. Heqas come and go like the wind, falsely secure in their marble walls. The Urs, at least, have stood by the throne.

Of course, the shouted support of the low nobles and the free men even further beyond was very distant from up here at the peak. There were many barriers in between the Throne and its core supporters, and occasionally echoed prayers of good health were slim comfort from the center of the den of serpents. The Vizier looked with on with deep-seated concern for the realm, as the priests circled the throne, chanting their praises and repeating the Names of the Pharaoh.

"Pharaoh, Great One of Sbat, the Five Ladies are pleased with her, Divine of Body, She of the Reed and Sand, Menkheper, Hatshepsut Neferkheperu, Nesut of the Great City of Saa, Sovereign of the High Places of Exaltation, Stars, and Smiting, Giver of Bricks, Designer of Maat, Be Alive, Prosperous, and Well!"


"Be Alive, Prosperous, and Well." Khabesh and his fellows echoed, as the words rolled down the steps and beyond the walls like a wave, hundreds and then thousands of voices empowering another year of the Pharaoh's reign.

"It's because of Maat, you know." The Oracle whispered in his ear, and he just about rolled his eyes. Signs of the gods intervention were clear here and there, but it was certainly convenient that this mystical balance always seemed to be most healthy when the interests of the priests were pursued. "It's because of her lover's quarrel, Amesis." The High Mason cut in, "The tantrums of demigods last decades." The Oracle and the Vizier both looked to the Mason displeased, unwelcoming to gossip on the dais, before the Oracle continued. "She was a good Pharaoh once, but when Maat goes, the realm goes." He continued. "She won't listen to an appeal of the priests alone, Khabesh, you'll have to convince her to crack down on those flouting the traditions. For the good of the realm." The new Vizier, still breaking in his vestments of office, glanced to the Oracle, and then back to the throne where that damned Valet was still in her ear, as she looked on at this ceremony in her name without any real investment. He pondered his options, knowing on some level that Amesis had a point. If the lords stopped giving their fealty, there would be no realm at all.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Sun Jan 02, 2022 9:29 pm

Image
Tablet II: New Beginnings




Chills crept like a slow, crippled beast, from the base to the top of her spine. It was a slow, meandering climb, which dragged along a weight of intimidation and fear with each bone it tread. Maikana-Ketzani had been here before, not so long ago when the forces of Shayakapak-Ketzani had seized the city, but even during those days of rising fires and crimson-splattered gold, did the effect not fail to impress upon her. Waruk was no petty town or city, despite lying so far into the cloud forests and pressed against the mountains. Isklakata was itself a city built on a spine, but Waruk stood high above such things.

Before her pupils, Ketzani-blessed eyes sweeping like a scythe across all that could be seen, Maikana-Ketzani saw the ancient walls which rose high above. She saw the angular towers and the painted stone bricks, the favored lapis and gold of the Sawari as opposed to the indulgence of Ketzani’s emerald and gold. All which lay beyond her gaze of the wall was a city of squat expanse—but at the heart of which stood the mightiest of all structures. A ziggurat of stone, carved expertly, which reached ever upward into the heavens, with days so great that when the tide of clouds would sweep over the city, the ziggurat would stand above it. This was the last great storm temple in the land, dedicated to the old gods of Gwananki. This was the relic of an empire so great, her people would be building upon their ruins for all time.

— — —

Horns, pan flutes and reed pipes announced the arrival of Maikana-Ketzani and her procession. She rested upon a palanquin of expertly carved wood, with golden rods for eight men to hold to, and a chassis of decorative gold and emerald inlay. It was open to the air, fresh so she could taste the scents of the land—her land—and feel the unmistakable attachment to it through Ketzani’s destinies. Many trips to Waruk had been taken in this fashion, with even father, old Chia-tupar-aplum, having come here for his confirmation long ago. Yet this was a different sort of procession now, one born from wartime anxiety, one born from her ever-scanning eyes. Father had come with advisors and petal-throwers and endless throngs of musicians. Maikana-Ketzani had come with Asharkar and Isklana warriors, with maned wolves flanking her, and far fewer musicians and other staff of pleasures.

Through the gates and down the streets, her numbers marched. As she looked side to side, she saw the cleared streets of ancient Waruk lined by Isklana servants, dedicated in life and service to the city of Waruk and their Sawari. People of different sexes and positions, people who she could see were part of certain cultic centers and others who were state servants to warehouse distribution. Slaves, street cleaners, pleasure workers, priests—all rubbed shoulders to smile and cheer for their new Kisharratum. Yet the street felt so empty. She saw none of their masters here, the ancient ones remaining hidden. They’ll come out when I’m confirmed… That’s what they told me. That’s what’ll happen. I will make it happen. Even in knowing the comforts of tradition, the bitter taste lingered in her innards, the twisting constrictor which wound itself around her throat.

Unto new streets and unto a new gate, the procession passed through the second walls and ever onward through the third. A mounting dread built in her chest, a moment of pride and accomplishment now being little more than a mask while the girl beneath wept and screamed. She’d only seen a Sawari once or twice before. What if storm rejected her? Nanki was dead, like his father, the sacred first storm, but his children held his power. She’d never heard of a rejection before, but they turned on Shayakapak-Ketzani, so couldn’t they turn on her? Would my men protect me if the city attacked? Would my Asharkar stand their ground and my Isklana hold ranks? Would we even make it to the first gate? Morbid thoughts of corpses and crushed bones, carapace cracked and splattered, decorated the halls of her mind. But the abyssal thoughts of Myronan streamers cut off when the unison of the pipes sang out their golden melody, and the palanquin began to lower. She was here.

Before her was a great ascent: an endless staircase which climbed into the heavens, broken only by intersections upon each level which led into different tiers of divine innards. For her part, destiny awaited her as high up as the stairs would carry her: unto the cloud gardens and where Nanki’s ruins rested. This was the home of the greatest of Sawari powers, the home of the high oracle Enarshadak, and the place where Ketzani’s light would have to shine brightest. She did not know what to expect, as she stepped down from her palanquin, and flanked by guards began the first steps of her climb. Some Kisharr had come here and been subjected to great pain by the oracle, while others had come and faced little more than a conversation. The only constant was that all Kisharr must come to this place and leave with the approval of the oracle. None was ever recorded for the histories, by way of tablet or kipum, but always within the oral histories which whispered about the palace. Kisharr-koiai-Ketzani, what did you face? How did you bring such divine creatures into the arms of our kingdom?

The air was thin, as it was across much of the mountainous kingdom of Isklanapura, but with each step of the ziggurat, it simply grew thinner. As she walked, she could see her Ashakar in particular growing more sluggish, though holding their composure and stifling their coughs—it was a sight which made her heart skip a beat. Is this a trap? Is this a trick? A game? They cripple my finest guards and I have to face them in such a weakened state? Part of her sought anger, but it was a fruitless sensation, so dreadfully overpowered by the terrors which once more constricted her. Maikana-Ketzani turned her gaze, looking back over the city as it reached all around them, yet so far beneath. Every day the Sawari upon the ziggurat could rise and look out at the land, and see all which was once theirs now in the hands of another.

Ascent ended with a gasp, the composure of the party hardly at any standing which was regal. Asharkar cursed and gasped for air, their breath ever slowly returning to them, while Isklana clutched her chests and needed more of a moment to perfect their stance. Silently, it was the Asharkar who helped Maikana-Ketzani to stand at full height, who looked her over for injury or even the slightest flek of filth.

“Kisharratum,” a voice called out, female to the sound.

Maikana-Ketzani looked up, having taken the arm of an Asharkar captain, while straightening out her travel-crown of gold and emerald. Atop the highest peak of the ziggurat was a large structure, tremendous as all things Sawari were, with a great pair of lapis gates etched in gold waiting for her. Before the gate was a single figure, Maikana-Ketzani at first taking them to be a woman, but when looking closer, took notice of the outfit and the ornamental markers. He held all the charm and beauty of a woman, but intact was a man, having been bred and trained for his part. They’re greeting me with a kalai? Ah—It’s symbolism…

The kalai knelt, and in their subservience, continued to speak. “The oracle is expecting you, your majesty. His divinity is eager to divine upon you the charge of kingdoms, and to entrust in you the land.” Slowly the kalai stood, brushing back his long raven hair past two carapaced horns. “Pleasure, come this way, and leave your party at the gates.”

“Is that the way of it? I enter alone?”

The kalai nodded, “as it was before, as it is now, as it shall always be with the blessings of storm and passion.”

Maikana-Ketzani watched the kalai for a time, before taking her first steps forward, the Asharkar captain walking with her as she held onto his arm. At the gate, she cautiously removed her hand, and the captain stepped back but a few paces before holding his ground. I really need to go inside alone? Do they have the power to dictate to their queen these sorts of demands? Satisfied, the man walked to the gates, pressing against a brick like any of the rest, which sank inward before pushing once more back into place. In a slow rumble, the gates began to grind open, with little more but darkness before her. She looked to the kalai, but he did nothing more but fall to his knees in silence. With a breath, she gently pushed ahead, strides like a doe in all but look, as primal fear told her to beware the dark. Nevertheless, she was a daughter of passion, Ketzani’s chosen. She had to put faith in that.

Within the darkness, a single flame burned upon a tripod, set in the center of the shadowed space alongside a throne of gold and emerald. It was like a blessing from the heavens, Maikana-Ketzani instantly lighting up, a place at last to rest her fatigued body. In quick paces, she circled the throne, looking it over, seeking out any clue or why it was here. A pause came to her. What was she doing? Where were the Sawari? Where was the oracle? Thoughts bled into one another, and she felt a tingling sensation stretch across her body as she heard faint chitters and dragged masses in the darkness.

“Hello? Enarshadak?”

Silence greeted her, yet it was a falsehood. She could hear the muffled sounds, the faint chitters. Maikana-Ketzani looked to the tripod, to the flame, and sat upon the throne. They were here.

Thud. A great step in the darkness.

Far ahead of her, in the darkness which faced her throne, a flash of lightning, as though cast from Storm himself, shot through the blackness. Blinding illumination crackled and swept in arcs of jagged blades. Terrified, eyes dazed by the flashes of a storm within the halls, Maikana-Ketzani covered her eyes and pushed back into the throne. Yet the lightning didn’t cease, and instead it crackled and roared like thunderous Nanki. She felt herself recoil, a scared girl, her tail still dull and horns still budding. No… No, I can't be sent away like this. I beat her. I beat her! Curses under her breath, she stood from her throne, looking into the blinding light, looking to where it was cast from.

Her eyes looked side to side, seeing the ancient columns of stone, the work of some of the first children to be born after the deluge. She saw in the flashes of light that the shadows cast were not only pillars against the wall, but of great beasts—monstrous in size—ever massive compared to any Isklana or Asharaean. But definitely she stared on, and she saw as bolts of godly lightning reached to the peaks of each pillar in the darkness, while copper rods crackled and burst with sparks. Pillar by pillar, a fire spread and illuminated the hall. Pillar by pillar, darkness gave way to light. Ahead of her now stood a vast expanse of statues and wall reliefs, of gold and lapis. Maikana-Ketzani, however, was not drawn to the lush wealth of a room wreathed in ancient glory. Instead, her eyes planted themselves upon the great beast before her.

With methodical steps, leg after leg after leg, three pairs of monstrous insectoid claws carried aloft a vast cloaked creature. It was many times more massive than her, many times more massive than most any in the world. Ten feet to the height, by the same measure in the length, and endlessly fattened with decorations over every cubit of insectoid fur and carapace. It bore resemblance in figure to a massive moth, but Maikana-Ketzani could see already the bristling claws, the giant eyes, and in place of any proboscis as on Ketzani’s sacred hummingbirds, there were instead tremendous mandibles of serrated carapace. Each heavy step was met with the dragging of a gargantuan body, fat from the fruits of a kingdom in reverence. The look was deceiving, she knew that well. These creatures were the builders of the old empire.

Heart racing, she found the oddest sensation of security as the creature approached. The unknown was dispelled, the monster was seen, and the beast was walking seemingly alone. It dragged itself along and chittered, edging nearer and nearer to Maikana-Ketzani, until she could see the small bits of static and little strings of lightning which danced on the antennae and in the mounts of insectoid fur the Sawari possessed. It was awe inspiring, though as her eyes lowered to the mandibles, drooling and glistening, twitching as they were, her heart twisted once more. They were two species, born of two different gods, and though they shared an arthropoidal heritage, the scale of intimidation was far beyond any Isklana. Why did Nanki make his people to be dressed in bronze armor, from head to toe, like he? Why couldn’t he find beauty the way Ketzani did, as she made the Isklana?

One last thud, the creature crashing down on the stone before her, seeming to bow for a moment, before sitting up at full height, still far above any reach she could fathom. Then, like a song from chittering whispers, a voice from the deep, an abyssal melody called her to attention. It was not her tongue, it was not a tongue her people could produce in any form but literary—it was the divine speech of their predecessors. Priests, royals and scholars knew the tongue, as was their duty, while the Sawari in turn learned the tongues of the Isklana and the Asharaeans, though never spoke it.

“Be welcomed, Kisharr, to the domain of Nanki—blessed be the shattered king.”

“Blessed be the shattered king,” she mimicked.

With a heavy breath, like an old man’s wheeze for life in his lungs, the creature sang once more. “We have written to one another, by tablet and kipum. I am Enarshadak, high oracle.” There was a pause, unreadable eyes examining her. “Be welcome.”

She looked it over, maintaining a smile, head held high, horns sharp, tail still—yet her mind was fluttering. What horror… he isn’t like the Sawari I’ve seen before. What does he want from me? What is his test? Is he going to crush me with his mandibles? Is he going to snuff me out and declare himself king? This is foolish! Ketzani, help me! Bring in my Asharkar! Shield me from danger!

“You are afraid,” Enarshadak huffed, “good. Your father was afraid. It empowered him in my halls.”

Maikana-Ketzani looked up, fear mixed with curiosity, a sickening soup of thoughtfulness. “What did you do to him? What was his test?”

Enarshadak chortled and groaned, “tests… tests, tests… I have so often been asked about this. Tests for the scribe, tests for the priests, tests for my Kisharr.”

“Isn’t that the contract? The affirmation?”

“Yes… But I am not the chooser of tests. Our gods divine upon us what must be done. Our gods are our players, and we are their instruments.” A sickly crack came from the mouth of Enarshadak, mandibles clicking. “In their whispers I carry your ‘test,’ such is your hunger.”

“What would you have me do?”

Cracking carapace echoed in the halls as skeletal claws reached out from the robes, hidden arms like pedipalps having been tucked under the robes. Enarshadak pulled from the chitinous void a rod of gold and emerald, artisans' work lining all sides as the hierarchy of their world was engraved on every inch of the staff. Instantly, she knew what it was.

“It’s been commissioned? It’s being given? But what about the test?”

“It was made, your rod of kingship, when your armies of Asharkar freed this city. You speak to me of tests, you speak to me of ritual tradition: there is no shyness of war in your people. You fight for the throne, but never before had Waruk been seized and taken. The gods of Nanki’s court remember your work to set us free. I have no test, but I have words. You will sit, and you will listen,” the authority of the oracle boomed like melodic thunder. “We know of the fight between you and your fallen sister, and we know the punishment of Passion was bestowed upon her. Now we must know what you wish for.”

“What I wish for?”

“Survivor of the war of assassins and Ketzanid blood, what do you wish for? At your fingertips does a kingdom unfold. Between your horns can the god's crown be felt. Where your tail drags, so does the land become part of Ketzani’s domain. In the innards we read, destiny speaks of your dreams. In the innards of wolves, read by the Asharkar and their Myronans, we know too that you are Ketzani’s favored. All things unfold around the dreams, for those are the abyssal truths. What do you wish for? What shall become of the domain? Where does your gift guide you?”

The dream, the wish, the future. The answer seemed obvious to her, but she was uncertain of the course. This was a war of power and destiny, to decide what shall become of all things. She had wanted to see her land reach outward, to lay claim to all it could, and grow fat as to glut mighty Ketzani. She wanted an empire.

“To claim all lands which should so please the gods. To see Gwananki as the heart of the greatest empire in all lands. I want to complete my husband's dream, what we dreamt together. That is my wish. Oracle, now you tell me: what must I do? What do you see?”

Enarshadak was silent for a time, before a shrill shriek escaped his mandibles. Shambling from the darkness of the walls, another Sawari approached, wreathed in lapis robes, and carried a fattened lamb to the high oracle. The Sawari held down the lamb, bleating as it was, only for Enarshadak to produce from the darkness of his robes a great bronze knife, clasped in unnaturally long carapaced fingers. With a thrust, he cut down, the bleating given way to crying, to frantic wailing for fleeting life; all the while the oracle dug through the guts of the lamb, feeling and tearing, retrieving the liver from the vivisected innocent. Gently, he felt the liver, read invisible signs upon it, saw the messages of the gods in prophetic consideration.

“A great empire shall rise, Gwananki shall be it’s home. The land will need to be tamed, and there shall be no rest for the master. Storms will sweep the land, coming and going. The time of answers will come, and whispers from the deep will be heard. A blade will always be kept near, to be met by another. Destiny shall write of your opportunity, and Ketzani shall give you the means to seize it. Yours is a reign of storm, wielded by passion. So let storms guide you toward destiny. Your success depends on your actions, and the pause of ancient error.”

The liver fell from his hands, the lamb and gore shuffled away by the second Sawari. “Waruk is thankful, the gods are thankful, and your plan is the plan of the heavens.”

“The time of answers?”

“Many truths are clouded in these lands, and soon shall their questions be seen, and soon shall their locks be broken. You will understand.” The chitinous claw of Enarshadak reached out, the rod of kingship extended. “Take it, and receive the blessings of Waruk. Take it, and become the inheritor of empire. When your children should ask you of your test, tell them the gods gave you reign.”

Enarshadak rose up, bowed and began to back away from the throne. She would see him again, she knew that well—the divine marriage ceremony would be tomorrow after all—but the process had been so… short. Was this the sort of trial that Kisharr-koiai-Ketzani had to face? Was Waruk and Nanki’s court so easily swayed to her side through the liberation of Waruk during the war?

With a great chittering and pause in step, Enarshadak froze in place, insectoid head turned to look at Maikana-Ketzani. “One more thing, Kisharratum. Return the daughter to her home, and let the priesthood of Isklakata divine upon her Ketzani’s destinies. We shall keep her no longer in Wari. Should she be destined as Sharrwassatum, blessed be her. Should she not, speak to your court, and our voice will be heard.”

“You’re removing her from Wari? Why? She’s safe there, couldn’t she stay?”

Ensharadak said nothing, turning and dragging away in heavy thuds.

“Ensharadak, you must let her stay at Wari!”

“She will be returned to you by the time you’ve found home from the Asharkar realms. Be ready. Kingship is your burden, but as is Ketzani’s blessings of motherhood. Few are granted with her powers, and just as few know the mysteries and privileges of being mother to a demi-god.”

User avatar
Aoyan
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 16
Founded: Nov 08, 2021
New York Times Democracy

Postby Aoyan » Mon Jan 03, 2022 12:44 am

Image




It had been the busiest day the Tosado road had seen in living memory. A cool spring breeze pushed ten thousand colored banners over a tidal wave of people as they traversed the route's length. As a pathway, the Tosado spanned the coast of the realm, like an artery it ran from Nakajima in the south up to the Hollyhock Court in Kawanakami town, and on this day a hundred lords marched their camps alongside the usual traffic toward the capital. For it was the height of spring, before the rainy season, and the emperor had summoned his governors and magistrates for the first time in two years to discuss what had been on everyone’s mind—the summer campaign.

Among the parties was Lord Ishii—Lord Stone—and his retinue. They had come all the way from his holding in Myobu, clad in their gray silken colors and bearing his banner—two white lines on silver forming the peak of a mountain. The very same banner Ishii’s father had born, and his father before him. The very same, even though his family had been driven from the mountains down into the Ametakye swampland four generations back. The very same, now worn proudly over the marching columns in the sunlight.

Ishii brought his mare to a halt beside a bridgeway. There, an officer of the road was guiding the baggage trains over the crossing.

“Ishii lord, good greetings!” the officer bowed. He was a square man in every way, clean-shaven and tidy.. Like many of the officers on the Tosado, he hailed from the aristocracy, though Ishii did not recognize him.

“Officer.” Ishii swung off his mount and stretched his legs before returning the bow. “Hectic week on the watch, neh?”

“Yes lord!” he smiled. “Yet more to come still. Nothing we can’t—careful with that cart! Nothing we can’t handle, sire. It is our privilege and duty to ensure the roadway is safe and travel efficient.”

Ishii nodded and studied his surroundings. The bridge they crossed was one of dozens that ran the Tosado—wooden and uncovered. To their left ran a woodline interspersed with farmland. To their right the land reached out a distance before melding into sea. While the retinues took up the center of the road, a stream of commoners ran along either side of the columns, careful not to get in the way. Travel for them was particularly important now, as the starving season was ending, and the planting started. Merchants among them pushed through, dashing towards the inn towns where the parties would stop their journeys each night.

“Tell me, have the ministers passed yet?” Ishii asked, eyes still wondering.

The officer turned his attention from barking orders. “Yes lord. Well, one only. Lord Katsuya passed two days ago. My, you should have seen his entourage, sire! It was massive, stretched from here to the next bridge. Looked like he packed a whole town with him, all gleaning in purples and violets and whites. But what else could you expect from the Minister of the Right? Oh, there must have been hundreds of footmen, lord. And at least fifty palanquins, and—”

Ishii let the man ramble on unaware of his own bad manners. By praising Katsuya’s party, he was insinuating that Ishii’s own retinue was lesser—whether he intended it or not. But it was undoubtedly true. Katsuya was the most powerful courtier in the realm, and he put his wealth to full effect like a peacock bedecked in gold. Ishii had hoped to beat him in a race to the capital,but the gods did not favor him this time. When his attention turned back, the officer was still talking.

“I have never seen so many warriors in one place. Not to mention all the young women bearing arms. My, incredible. In anycase sire, I have checked your seals, and you are free to carry on.”

“Thank you.” Ishii bowed. “It was a—”

Someone screamed.

The attention of both men swerved. Further down the column, as every face turned towards the noise, a commoner woman stood with a spear thrust into her belly. The man behind it jabbed it out and with forty others rushed back towards the forest—carrying several foot carts of goods.
“Bandits!” a man shouted and the traveling commoners scrambled away from the roadway. Just as quickly, one of Ishii’s columns turned and planted their square iron shields onto the earth in front of the nearest baggage. Too slow Ishii thought as he flung himself onto his mount.

Without much thought he drove his horse onward into a gallop, following the trail of the thieves into the brush. It was unthinkable that they would attack the Tosado at all—let alone in broad daylight in front of an armed column. Perhaps it was that very reason they risked it. Surprise was effective. As he rode, sword drawn, Ishii could hear his retainers shouting behind him— “[/i]Lord![/i]”
It did not slow him.

He pushed his mount into the trees, careless as he plummeted through branches and thicket in the direction his query ran. Pine needles and broadleaf scraped against his cheeks as he barreled through. Ishii had been alive for over fifty six winters, yet a lifetime of strength had paid itself well. He was slower now, both in body and mind, but he still held a sharpness that made him deadly. That, and bravado had placed him in situations like this time and again.
His eyes darted to movement between the trees. There, as he rode, a man raced on foot alongside him. A bandit? No, he was too well dressed. He is keeping up with my horse. Ishii noted.

The stranger was clearly not hostile, having kept his straight sword sheathed as he ran. Instead he was headed in the same direction—chasing the same bandits.

“You there!” Ishii called out. “Friend or foe?”

He did not answer.

“You split right, I’ll go left, like a net on fish” Ishii turned his horse leftward as the man nodded in agreement. Before long he pulled out of the forest and onto farmland. Here his horse slowed as it prodded through the flooded paddy, where the rice shoots had just been planted. This gave his own men time to catch up. It didn’t matter, the bandits had been waiting.

Though they were numerous and well coordinated, their equipment was poor. A few arrows rained short of their mark and gray-clad soldiers stumbled onto the field. They formed under an officer, lowering their long spears in the sunlight. The tips gleaned in the sunlight.

Ishii laughed heartily. This was exciting, like the days from his youth. “Bring me my bow!” he yelled with a dismount. Moments later he received it, his top men standing closely around him, careful not to ruin his fun while still warding true danger. Ishii launched an arrow or two—both misses—before his pikemen advanced slowly across the paddy field.

The pace as they wadded through the water gave their opponent time to form their own line. At first, it seemed the unarmored banditry would stand and fight, but soon it became all too clear their intentions. As Ishii’s men neared, the group split open and from between them rode a massive creature. With a single horn and four beady eyes, it roared as its master prodded at it. It was a monster. Some kind of beast from the vast southern jungle so far away. How it got here, how these bandits took it, was beyond guess. What mattered is it crashed through the paddy, spraying water and mud along its path. The spears immediately shattered.

They did not run, or retreat, instead they broke apart, holding their points outward in front of them. The creature crushed one man beneath it almost instantly as he turned to run, but a few pokes taught it to fear the pikes. Now it was a game of placement and timing. The remaining bandits rushed forward alongside it, hacking at the disjointed formation. Their plan worked. Men fell as they were isolated or crushed. They needed their cohesion back. Ishii launched himself back onto his horse. Though more of his men streamed onto the field, he was losing soldiers. He hated losing men, hated losing lives.
Before he could shout a command, the stranger from before dashed onto the scene. Running along a path in the paddy, he wielded his sword in front of him. It was arrow-straight, silvery and double-edged. Half the size of a man standing, the scabbard alone reached past the hip. It was a fearsome tool.

Though the man was unarmored, confidence radiated off him and within a blink he was amidst the fight. Ishii spurred his horse closer to get a better look. The man slashed elegantly into the enemy, freeing group after group of pikemen. Whoever he was, his skill was apparent. The banditry possessed little challenge. When he had cleared the majority of one side, he turned his attention to the creature. Ishii watched as he circled it cautiously—sword point raised. The monster huffed angrily and swatted with its horn. In moments, the stranger committed, swiping towards the monster’s legs. It was too late.

“Watch out!” Ishii found himself yelling. But the man dodged death, rolling mere moments from his own gore. He tracked the beast which came at him wildly, and then, he jumped. Blade lowered like a skewer, he flung himself past the animal’s attack and towards its head. He was now yelling in determination, and for only a moment Ishii swore he did not see the face of a man but—something else? His incisors grew, visible even from the distance. His eyes had narrowed, sharpened, became animalistic. It reminded Ishii of something he could not name. A dog maybe? He was certain he was mistaken.

Regardless, the man’s sword found its mark on the animal's neck. It roared in pain, and though the blade could not have felled it with one wound, the attack gave the pikemen time to close and soon the creature was dead. Lord Ishii approached the scene carefully.

“Good work men!” He boomed. “Officer, report your losses.”

A thin man with a bronze breastplate approached, bowed, and began to recount his numbers when a retainer rode up in panic.

“Lord, the remaining foe is escaping”

Ishii turned, watching a scattering of men drag off the stolen goods. Damnit! How could we have forgotten them? How did they escape?

Losing no time, his horse was again pushed onward, pulling through the muck of the paddy. When it eventually found dryland, he looked to see the same strange warrior from before giving chase to the thieves. He is persistent.

In minutes, Ishii caught up to one of the carts, driving his own blade across the top of an enemy who fell with a simple scream. The next braced his spear, but the horse sidestepped as it had been trained to do, allowing its master to drive an iron blade down and into flesh. Ishii pulled her back with his knees on her side, only to see an archer raise his bow from a yard away. Instinct kicked in and he tried to push his mount onward, but he knew he’d have no time. It was the shimmer before the archer fully raised his bow when a figure leaped out behind him. There was a crack as an iron studded club smacked into the bandits temple, dropping him instantly in a spray of blood.

Ishii paused. The assailant had been—a small girl?

“Toshi!” she smiled. “I got them.”

As she approached the man who had killed the animal, Ishii got a better study of her. She was no human. Her skin was the color of red clay, and sharp fangs sat in her upper teeth. Cat-like eyes glanced around, yellow and vertically slitted. Her black-blue hair was tied into two puffed tails and she wore a skirt of reed. It was clear she was only a child, but she wielded a full sized staff-club. She used it to lean on as Ishii approached.

“Hail friends.” He raised a hand. “I mean you no harm. Only to know who saved some of my men.”

He could now get a better look at the man, who wore only a simple set of dark robes. He was bearded, as many men were, and had his hair pulled upward into a neat knot. In total, he was completely unremarkable save for his blade and gruff demeanor. He said nothing.

“Perhaps I should start then. I am Lord Ishii of Ametakye. It was my men you fought beside and my party on the Tosado.”

“I’m Ame.” the girl started. “And this is Toshi.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve never met a lord before, not a human lord anyways. Do you drink blood? You Yan are very strange. Toshi says lords are all ba—”

The man, Toshi, glanced at her angrily and she stopped talking immediately. Reluctantly, he faced Ishii and bowed.
“I am Toshiro, lord. Just a simple traveler.”

“A traveler, huh?” Ishii watched him amused. The hilt of his blade bore a fox. It hit him. “Ah. You are a shrine warrior. A Jo-sen?”

“Yes, lord. We were on our way to my home shrine.”
.
“In that case, if you are headed north, you may use our supplies and rooms as if you were my retainer for as long as you travel alongside us as payment for the men you saved. Does that sound fair?”

“Do you have food?” Ame burst in.

Ishii laughed, and nodded.

“Fruit please!”

“And get your companion some provisions while you are at it, Toshiro.”

“Thank you, but no. We’re going in the opposite direction.”

“Then let my quartermaster pay you for your service.”

Toshiro nodded and without speaking further, walked away. Ishii let him, suddenly distracted by his men catching up. Among them was the road officer. Panting and out of breath, he approached.

“Sire. Please accept my deepest apology. I have failed in my duty to the realm by allowing this filth to tarnish the safety of the road. This was my responsibility.”

Ishii watched him. The face he wore, pale and sunken, was one he had witnessed on many a boy and man. “No.” he said. “No one could have expected an attack this bold. The goods have been returned, that is what matters. Pity the dead though.”

“But my lord, this is inexcusable. I have—”

“Enough.” Ishii interrupted him. “I, Lord Ishii-ka-Yorimasha-go-Ametakye, charge you with burying the dead and safeguarding the Tosado in the name of his Radiance the emperor.”

The officer bowed and was dismissed. Ishii convened with his retainers before turning back towards the roadway. His thoughts lingered on the josen. We will cross paths again. he mused. I can feel it on the wind. It had been an eventful day.




In the dawn, Lord Ishii walked the courts of the palace to meet his childhood friend—the Emperor Yanagi. He had ridden into Kawanakami town on the dusk, where the shadowed streets had been lit for his column by raised lamps. Exhausted from the hard ride and march, he had let his men settle for the nearest open inn while he stayed in the outer courts. The summons had come, as expected, within an hour of his arrival. It was a privilege he held by rank as court constable, and by friendship, and it meant he would be one of the first to speak with the emperor before the official gathering. Such he shared with the ministers of the right and left only.
Men he considered rivals.

Ishii had hoped to beat both to the capital, to speak with his friend for the first time in two years before anyone else could whisper into his ear. Sadly, he knew Katsuya had made it first, but he had heard nothing of Lord Zoku—even when he sent his men into the streets to poke around—and for that he was hopeful. He shivered.
The spring morning had been cool, not yet warmed by the changing season. The birds had been up as early as he had and they had painted the breezeless quiet with their song. The Hollyhock Court sat still and empty. Unusual he pondered. Normally, courtiers would already be milling about, but today he walked alone in his thoughts.

The palace had always been the grandest building in the realm. Stretching across many city blocks, it formed the northern edge of the capital. As a complex, it was built around a hundred buildings connected by a thousand cloisters, corridors, galleries, and halls, with equal measure of courts and gardens between them. Gazebos dotted every corner. Broad, sloping roofs of bronze and clay tile sat gleaming in the sunlight. Kawanakami grew each year, but the palace was untouchable and so was the nature around it. It was its own city, established for a court of hundreds, where each name of importance held a slice dedicated to their use. If he had time, Ishii desired to stop and write a few verses to reflect the tranquility of the place—but time was short.

He had spent considerable effort in preparation, rising far before the sun. Servants had combed his graying beard, washed his hair and body, and selected for him long-sleeved robes in his colors—silver with a pattern of white mountains. For his scent, he stuck with his usual, lotus mixed with the leather of the road. Earthy scents, grounded scents. Scents that reflected his home province. Thick wooden sandals clanked against stones as he walked.

After a considerable journey where the only souls he passed were weaponless guards, he finally came to the audience hall that his summons had instructed. He stepped through the gateway separating the courtyard from the previous, and when he did, he was immediately greeted by the sight of two women.
They were resplendent, blinding, and he recognized both immediately as the emperor’s greatest consorts. The daughters of the ministers.

The first to notice him was a thin lady of middle height, inky black hair long and straight. She wore scarlet red robes that trailed behind her and boosted her warm, golden complexion. Ai. They called her the Indigo Lady, though she never wore the color. Ruby had always been hers.

“Lord Ishii.” she turned, her fan fluttering. A courtesy bow followed.
How the peak of Mount Tola soars,
Was it so those years ago when first we met?


He bowed back.
Away with this tired view,
Old craigs and hollowed ridges,
Bring thoughts of useless time.


“Ah” she said, her mouth hidden behind the fan. It bore the words of her poem. “Not so, sir.”

She closed the fan and passed it to him—a clear gift. Ishii took it thankfully. “It is good to see you, Lady Ai. Has your father arrived in the city safely?”

“Hmpf. If he has, he says nothing to me. Nor have I seen my brothers. What games he plays.”

The other lady meekly bowed when her chance came. She was heavier than Ai, but paler in complexion, fit with dark hair of browns. Her face was not as dignified, but it was softer, more delicate. Her robes, as always, were bedecked in soft lavender and pinks. Shikibu Ishii said to himself. The Lavender Lady. She was the mother of the crown prince, and daughter to Lord Katsuya, and the personal favorite of the emperor. She reigned supreme over any lady in the realm, but that was an authority she would never exercise.

“Lord Ishii.” she said. One could mistake her voice for the wind.

“Lady Shikibu.”

“I had seen wetland peonies the other day, blooming at the rebirth of the year. If you would, sir, please accept bundles of these as a gift for your service to my husband.”

“Thank you, my lady. I will have them vased for my quarters.”

“And know sir, if you will, that I still weep for your daughter—and for you. Such tragedy can only be deepened with time. I pray that the gods and spirits hear my anguish for you.”

Ishii gulped. “Thank you, my lady. So sorry, but I should not keep his Radiance waiting.”

The two ladies bowed and Ishii returned the gesture, then making his way up the steps to the audience hall, which he entered with all the ceremony required. When he reached the inner chamber, he braced himself to see Yanagi again after so long. Two years was an eternity in court time, and so he was eager to meet again and plant the seeds for his involvement in the summer campaign.

When the wooden sliding doors opened, it was not the emperor who greeted him, but Lord Katsuya.

“Ishii-ka-Yorimasha.” he said, fanning himself slowly.

Ishii gritted his teeth. The smell of wisteria hit him like a wall. Bastard.

Lord Katsuya, Lord Wisteria, sat on the floor in violet robes. He was a tall man, with a long thin nose and slender eyes. A very thick, but short beard covered his face, and white touched the corners of his hair near the ears. Every part of him seemed stretched, but he moved with the greatest grace imaginable. Everything he did bore an air of dignity, and though he had seen over 53 winters, he looked not a day over 40.

“Katsuya-go.” Ishii greeted him with fake civility. “I was not expecting you here. Apologies, but his Radiance has summoned me for an audience.”

“That so? But why not expect me, Ishii-go? As Minister of the Right, should I not be privy to imperial matters, particularly during a gathering of the court?”

“Ah” Ishii struggled to keep a blank expression. “But Katsuya-go, it is my understanding that his Radiance wished to see me in private. As is my right as court constable, and as a confidant of his Radiance.”

“That is your right. But in these times, is it not important that our ministers are kept up to date. If his Radiance did not wish me here, why was I informed of the meeting? Would it not be that it be kept from me if I was not to attend, neh?”

“Apologies, Katsuya-go. But I deeply wished to use this as an opportunity to converse with my friend of old, irrelevant times. Would it be beyond shameless to ask for a private chance to speak with his Radiance?”

“So sorry, but Lord Zoku did not get that privilege, and he is Minister of the Left.”

Damn! Zoku had beaten him too. A bead of sweat formed at his temples. Ishii felt trapped, caged, pinned like a hare in a snare. Katsuya, you smug bastard. In truth, Ishii did not hate the man, though he had been outplayed horribly. In fact, he had always liked him. Yet the crown prince was his grandson and as a result, he stuck his nose where it never belonged. It got worse with age.

“Katsuya-go, I humbly ask you for the opportunity.”

The fan stopped. A crack of a smile formed at the edges of the man’s mouth. “That so? Well, if you insist, Ishii-go. I suppose such an earnest request must be granted out of courtesy. Very well. I shall leave you be. Please inform me of any pertinent details relating to the realm that his Radiance discusses with you.”

“I shall, sir, as you request.”

Katsuya stood, straightening the lines of his robes. He stepped down off the raised floor platform and moved towards the doorway behind Ishii. As he approached, he stopped, and leaned in.

“Oh, and Ishii-go, I heard that you experienced trouble on the Tosado. Bandits attacking in broad daylight, what times these are, neh? Next time, you should—no, I formally invite you to travel with my party out of the capital. That way, there is greater safety.”

Ishii clinched his fists tightly. If any of his men had been here to hear that, they would not have hesitated to lop off Katsuya’s head for such a slight. They were both fortunate then, that there were no others to hear. No swords to clash. No rights to fight. They were both lucky, in particular, that Ishii was not one to kill over poor manners like so many others. He understood—he hoped—that Katsuya was toying with him drunk on power and starved of court politics. That his transgressions today were superficial at best—done, because he could, not because he had any reason to. That in short time he would cease, and he would go back to his old self—noble, but restrained.

That, at least, Ishii could tolerate.
Last edited by Aoyan on Mon Jan 03, 2022 12:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Amemnhat
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 5
Founded: Nov 18, 2021
Ex-Nation

Postby Amemnhat » Mon Jan 03, 2022 10:48 am

The Palaces of Truth, Saa

The High Place of Exaltation was, of course, the official heart of Amemnhat. It looked over all of Saa, hosted great ceremony, and possessed the Lazurite Throne on which the Pharaoh held court. Of course, practically speaking, there were several complications. Firstly, that the Lazurite Throne was unsheltered, exposed to the scorching sun in day and the cold winds at night. Secondly, that to arrive at the dais of the throne, one had to rise more than one thousand steps. Thirdly, that many members of the Sma happened to be old and weary men. The end result, that the Palaces of Truth, vast and ancient in their own right and located a short walk from the walls of the High Place of Exaltation, had become Amemnhat's brain.

Aside from a few days a year, this was where the Pharaoh and her court resided. Members of the Sma occupied whole wings of the complex, the Wise Government earning its name from their meticulous recordkeeping. Every day, many hundreds came and went with the latest insights from the length and breadth of Amemnhat, and every day uncountable papyrus and ink was consumed. Khabesh could, if he so desired, spend weeks burying himself in censuses, tax accounts, riverboat traffic. It was a veritable library of governance. The Priesthood, for their part, had cordoned off a building for themselves, painting the ceilings with star maps and granting the Oracle a generous residence. Khabesh had been given his own space on his appointment as Vizier, though he hadn't a whole section, sharing a roof with the suites and offices of other distinguished courtiers and guests. The Pharaoh, of course, had something like a Palace within a Palace, closed off to all entry without her express permission. A private sanctum where she had mostly vanished from the public eye over the past years.

Khabesh had been fortunate enough to secure an audience with her after days of pushing, finally convincing that Valet that it would go against Maat for him to not be able to speak with her. He sighed as he passed through the threshold into one of the many courtyards, reflecting on the obstacle that Djoser posed. One that he did not yet have the political capital to clear away. When his father had secured this position for him, it had seemed like a coup, a stroke of political genius - a future for the family. Now that he was here, he understood better the resignation of his predecessor. How could he restore Maat, rejuvenate the realm, improve his family's lot, if he as Vizier didn't even have regular access to the Pharaoh?

Here in the courtyard, luxurious water fountains attracted many bureaucrats and priests to come and sit. In past times, so Khabesh had heard, these courtyards were filled also with lyre players and singers. Before Pharaoh had barred music from this place. So deep in thought, Khabesh didn't even notice the looming figure in white robes stalk up to him, nearly bumping into the bearded visage of the Oracle. "There you are, Vizier. You secured an audience, yes?" Amesis asked probingly. Khabesh didn't bother to ask how he'd found out already, just nodding. "Yes, that is correct. I'm on my way to speak with her now." Amesis gave a toothy grin, a withered hand grasping his shoulder. "Good, good! Now is your chance to impress upon her the importance of action. I've foreseen it, after all."

"Yes, bringing the nobles back into line is the main point of discussion for today, but the Pharaoh nee-"

"The Pharaoh, Be Alive, Prosperous, and Well." Amesis interrupted.

"-and Well, yes, she needs to hear about a number of issues." The Vizier picked back up, "Not the least of which the dispute between the High Places of Pearls and Song, which only the Nesut of Saa can pass judgement on, and-"

"Oh, you can speak to our fellow advisor on that. The High Mason is responsible for such things."

Khabesh frowned, head tilting. "Since when? Never mind. On the subject of our colleagues, where is Commander Nephthys? We need to speak about the military situation in the case of a revolt." The Oracle scratched his balding head for a moment in thought. "Mm, ah, of course. Heritep Baut in the West did not arrive with his tribute last week. She is riding with the Chariotry to collect it."

"What? The Pharaoh ap-"

"Be Alive, Prosperous-"

"- and Well, yes." Khabesh spoke over the Oracle exasperatedly. "She approved a military expedition?"

"No, my boy. I sent Nephthys. I told her I had seen visions of her victory, and off she rode."

"And, had you?" Khabesh questioned, receiving a strange stare in response.

"Of course." As soon as it came over him, the look was gone, and Amesis was back to his aged genial self. "In any case, you must be off to your audience. Remember, the realm needs order. It's an aspect of Maat, after all." The Oracle nodded to him knowingly, before trodding off across the courtyard. Khabesh watched him for a while, before sighing and pressing on. He walked past the fountains, sharing polite nods with nameless bureaucrats and priests, before passing through another set of doors and down another long red hallway. Digesting what Amesis had told him, Khabesh felt little better than before. Perhaps it was for the best that some kind of action was being taken in the West, but if the Pharaoh's councillors were running the nation of their own accord, then her superintendence was vacant from their decisions. That would call into question the whole structure of their society - much for Khabesh to think about.

Approaching the gates of the Pharaoh's sanctum, there was Nebre, the High Mason, apparently leaving her own audience, or perhaps just waiting for him to intercept. A bob of short-cut black hair was penetrated by her long gold-pierced ears, and the luxury of glass spectacles sat on a sharp young face. "There you are, Khabesh. You should consider your recommendations before you pass that threshold." The Vizier stalled to a stop, looking down and sighing. The curse of government of and over the wise, was the constant stream of advice and teachings that just about everyone dispensed for free. "Look, Nebre, that's all good and well, but I've just taken on a full helping of the thoughts of the Oracle, so if you'll forgive me I have little room for those of an, architect..." Khabesh waved his hand airily, but Nebre simply furrowed her brow, refusing to be dismissed. Khabesh went to apologize for the insult, but the High Mason spoke first.

"Do you know why I have the right to stand on the dais, same as you?" Nebre asked, pointedly. Khabesh sighed again, shrugging. "No, in all honesty I do not. Erecting obelisks is important, certainly, but..." Khabesh trailed off, starting to doubt the merit of his honesty as her face only grew more irritated.

"Are you familiar with the High Place of the Ibis?" Nebre asked, filling the silence. Khabesh simply stared at her, confused as to the point. After a few moments, she filled the air again. "Three days south-east of Hath. Three hundred and eighty cubits tall, in the shape of a beak. Four thousand kha of land, two villages, a quarry for stone, and a grove of hardwood. Ruled by Heqa Selkh, fourty years old, an ally of the Nesut of Hath but with too few soldiers to garner much attention. How about the High Place of Wellness? A day's ride south of Is, three hundred and ten cubits tall, in the shape of a dome. Its ancient health pools still bubble. Two thousand five hundred kha along the lake, a fishing village and a small trade port, ruled by Heqa-"

Khabesh nodded along until it was clear she wouldn't stop on her own. "Yes, that's excellent, but how is it relevant?"

"One of Amesis's hierarchs felt similarly a few years ago. He mixed up the High Place of Bulls and the High Place of the Bull. One is five thousand kha of coastal farms, the other one thousand kha of western frontier hills. The hierarch told the Heqa he had foreseen in visions his land undergoing a flood." Nebre stared at him a moment, almost seeming to relish in recounting the incident. "He had to resign. The point is that the cadastral obelisks assign all of Amemnhat to the High Places. To manage our architecture, is to manage much more than that. Let me ask you something else. How much do you think it costs to maintain the walls and buildings of Saa, each year?"

Khabesh blew out air between his lips, looking up at the roof as though it might tell him. "I haven't a clue."

"Nine hundred talents. And that's just maintenance, and just for Saa. Let alone all the High Places out in the desert, and forget the two more at least we raise or reconstruct a year - though we used to build more. In any case, I oversee more spending than the priesthood." Nebre informed him of that last fact triumphantly, and he tired of the chiding by a woman barely his own age. "Very well, I see your point, I apologize. Please... just share your advice so I can get on with it all."

"Well, let me ask you one more thing." Khebesh bit his tongue as she continued. "How much do you suppose the average free man in Saa makes, in a year?" He just shrugged, jaw open, exhausted of this grilling. "A talent? Half a talent?" He offered.

"A talent?" She asked back, surprised. "Saam's graces, you are the son of a Heqa." She openly rolled her eyes, laughing a little to Khabesh's frustration. "Some won't see that in their lifetime. The answer is twelve deben. But, more to the point, ten years ago it was eight."

Khabesh raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. "The nobles may be insulted by the lack of Pharaoh's affections, but her lack of action has been the best thing for our economy in a century. Merchants like stability, you know. Regular tax rates, reliable laws. Active government is so... inconvenient. Besides, most Pharaohs that do act will only bankrupt us paving roads on sand dunes, or start a war over this insult or that. There's nothing more dangerous for Amemnhat than a Pharaoh with ideas." The Vizier furrowed his brow, taking a moment to process her words. "What are you saying?"

"Nothing, I am just asking questions. For instance, I know what you're going in there to advise her to do, whom does that help?"

"Wh- the realm!" Khabesh blustered.

"The realm? What is the realm? I've never seen it, felt it. I'm more mindful of the people. Don't start burning trees to benefit the forest."

It was Khabesh's turn to roll his eyes. "Spare me your foreign metaphors. I am tired of everyone thinking they're so clever."

Nebre prodded a finger against his chest. "I don't have to be your enemy, Khabesh. We could do great things together. Maybe even sort out that land dispute your father has." At that, the Vizier's face softened. He went to speak, but Nebre's finger came up to point in his face. "Don't start a war." With that, she turned and started to leave.

"Well- perhaps we could speak about that soon?" Khabesh called out after her. "Oh yes, of course!" She replied without looking back, waving her hands in the air. "As soon as I am able! I am just so busy, erecting obelisks and so on..." Khabesh thought about pushing the matter, but bit his tongue as he watched the High Mason stroll away. He internally groaned as he considered the self-made mess he would have to clean, before turning back to the threshold. The Vizier spared a prayer to Sbat that this conversation would go more smoothly.

User avatar
Tyrrhusca
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 3
Founded: Mar 24, 2021
Corporate Police State

Postby Tyrrhusca » Wed Jan 05, 2022 8:35 pm

The Traveling Tales of Pupli

________________________________________________________

PART ONE

The tress swayed in the wind, leaves hungrily absorbing the sunlight, permeating their rustling groans throughout the town. The birds gracefully danced in the air, warbling their morning calls and sailing away. The townsfolk, which could've only consisted of five or so families, tilled the fields while the children avoided the work running through the pastures and fields. As the day continued like no other, and the sun sunk beneath the horizon, the town went into slumber. The birds huddled in their nests, and trees stoped their peacock dance.

The following morning, the trees swayed, birds warbled, and the town resumed its seasonal motions. As mid-day came about, the townsfolk gathered to celebrate Tingunia, the Day of Lurushil, a day of love and family. Though it was often dangerous to feast, the year had been the most bountiful in recent memory as the food was always scarce. The villagers wished to treat themselves after a season of laborious work.

There was but one pig to share between the five families. Still, plenty of bread and assortments of vegetables to be generously handed about. As they communally enjoyed their food in the village center, where they had dragged out tables and had a bonfire in the center, a lone man had been seen approaching the village on foot. Garbed in white, with a red-bordered himation, the figure carried a walking stick with a satchel on his back carrying survival necessities.

No village, Misala being no exception, received travelers. A man was arguable the most valuable tool for a town. When a man leaves or is exiled from his town, too often, it is for the betterment of the town. Thocero and Plecu, two of the village's most muscular men, grabbed their poled farm tools and met the lone traveler at the fringe of the town. The village folk watched silently as the three men talked among each other. After no more than a minute, Thocero and Plecu lowered their guard and escorted the traveler into the town. Thocero disappeared into his home, leaving his farm tool at the door. Plecu, too laid down his weapon as he sat down.

"Here is Pupli, son of Larth of Cainua." Plecu motioned to the traveler as if he was selling an animal. Thocero emerged from his house with a chair and placed it at the table before returning to his own seat. Pupil sat down and thanked the two men.

"I thank you all for your generosity," said Pupli, bowing his head. "I am a Ceper (priest), from the village Cainua, two towns south of here along the river Tara."

One of the townsmen inquired before taking another bite of bread. "What brings you here, so far from home? During, Tingunia, should you not be with your village as a Ceper?"

"I follow in my father's footsteps as a Ceper. I have been called to the great city of Larthial, where I am to finish my teachings at their great college. My father remains behind at my village, too old to travel far." The Ceper takes an offered plate and begins to eat alongside the village. "Is there residence here I may take up in? My feet grow weary from the road."

"I believe my wife and I can house you for the night." offered Thocero.

"Many thanks and Vinia's blessing. I can pay for the trouble."

"No need; we are honored to have you join us on this day of love."

As the Ceper became acquainted with the townsfolk and vice versa, laughter blotted out the birds and trees. The men and women finished the food while the children, who had never eaten so much at one time, were too fatigued to frolic around the fields. As the food disappeared into the stomachs of the village, the women retrieved the wooden bowls and plates to be re-used tomorrow. As the sun never failed to descend in the sky, blanketing the earth in a dim orange hue, the village gathered around the village center and listened to the Ceper.

The Ceper asked, "Have any of you heard the tale of Guniaurina?" The villagers nodded in disapproval or quietly admitted they had not. "No one? Well, if there was ever a night to hear of such a story, it is the night of Tingunia." The Ceper recited Guniaurina, the tale of a man named Thesanthei, a great Tyrrhuscan warrior.

________________________________________________________


Thesanthei hailed from the city Rasela, in the northern fringes of Tyrrhusca. A man whose talent with spear and sword were unmatched. A man who could cut even the bravest warriors in half with a single strike of his mighty sword. He was respected by every man, friend or foe, and caused any lady swoon of infatuation by his touch. He served the great Tyrrhuscan King Venetesh, who chose to marry him to his daughter, Princess Nerinai. Nerinai, in her own regards, was legendary throughout every city for her beauty alone. She was enthralled by the great Tyrrhuscan warrior and dreamt of their union.

However, after campaigning in lands in the far north, outside the grounds of Tyrrhusca, Thesanthei was left to die after the battle. Thesanthei led his army to fight a band of deserted soldiers in the northern forests. The two forces clashed underneath the thick trees, where sunlight struggled to pierce through the dense foliage. The daylight was swallowed, leaving the two armies to fight in the darkness. It was hard to tell who friend or foe was, only being able to catch glimpses of where the enemies' weapons were, the men hacked and stabbed their fellow countrymen to death. During the fight's climax, Thesanthei was pierced through the back by a short spear. Thesanthei collapsed to the ground as his warm blood was absorbed by the thick roots of the trees. As the light in his eyes dimmed, Thesanthei was thankful that he was to die underneath the tree, where the leaves would catch his soul. Thesanthei laid there ready to eternally rest.

Hours after the battle, haven been left to die, Thesanthei found himself propped up against a tree near a small, clear pond. He bore no wounds, his armor unpunctured, and his clothes only stained with sweat and dirt. With a parched throat, the warrior feverously cupped the pond's water in his hands, throwing it back into his throat. The birds sang, and deer walked around him unfrightened. It occurred to the warrior that he must be dead, a ghost trapped within the forest, his soul caught by the trees. Yet, the ground, water, and himself felt as real as if he were no ghost. As he panned the environment, he heard singing, coming closer. Placing his helmet upon his head and grabbing his spear, Thesanthei readied to meet any foe.

A beautiful woman, garbed in white with pale skin, whose hair was as dark and brown as the tree bark, came into view. They made eye contact, causing Thesanthei to lower his guard. The women approached him, holding the necklace he received from his dear Nerinai. "I am Thesanthei of Rasela, warrior of King Venetesh. Who are you?"

The women smiled. "I know who you are, handsome warrior. The man who broke King Pumpna at the Manthva Heights, the greatest warrior of Tyrrhusca. I watched you fight here in my forest. I saw you collapse in battle and be left for dead."

"I am dead then?" asked the troubled Thesanthei.

"No, you are not. I healed your wounds and replaced your armor. No man of your honor ought to be killed by the hand of your allies."

"My allies?"

"Yes," said the Icthuarvu (a Tyrrhuscan forest spirit, often a woman). "You were stabbed in the back, not by a foe, but by your King."

"You accuse my King of my death? I am to wed his daughter, Princess Nerinai. I am his son-in-law; he would not organize my death."

Wrapping both her arms around him. "A man so great as yourself is a threat to a King. You were deceived by him. He betrayed you but offered your death be heroic, to do you the minimum respect. A man of a thousand battles yet stabbed in the back by some brigands? That is no death of a hero." Thesanthei, convinced by the Icthuarvu, had no words. This betrayal cut into his heart deep, leaving him a husk. Betrayed by his King and severed from his betrothed. "Do not grieve, handsome warrior. Leave your troubles behind and join me in the pond." Thesanthei held the woman's hand as she walked him into the pond. Mist seemed to flood the air until all he could see was the angelic woman who led him through the water. As the fog disappeared, so did the forest. The two entered a cave, where hot spring bathes bubbled and emitted steam. Sunlight rained down from a circular opening at the cave’s ceiling.
“My name is Vesia, daughter of Shertur and -”

“You claim to be the daughter of the Gods?” interrupted Thesanthei.

“Yes. I am the daughter of Shertur, whom you know as the God of Passion, My mother is Caesia, another god, however, she is not so famous.”

As Vesia lead Thesanthei through the cave, they stopped at the edge of a hot spring. Candles added orange hews to the room. Carpets, pillows, and other fine clothes created a soft bed and ordained the walls and floors of the cave. Thesanthei grew ever more entranced and intrigued by his surroundings and the fine maiden who held him close. As the Tyrrhuscam warrior grew ever more comfortable around Vesia, he long forgot the troubles of his life. His betrayal. His wife.

Vesia stripped down to her bare skin and entered the hot spring, submerging herself below her shoulders. Thesanthei, put down his spear whilst removing his armor. Stripping down, Thesanthei joined Vesia inside the inviting water. The two held each other close and enjoyed the company. Thesanthei’s sense of time seemed to slip away, slowly being lost in the company of Vesia. Afterward, Thesanthei and Vesia cuddled together on the soft pillows and blankets. Surrounding the two doves flew in the air, however, like children after playing, nestled to sleep.

Months, maybe even years seem to pass by as Thesanthei lived in the pleasure-filled company of Vesia. They dined, drank, and loved. However, after every touch or kiss, the pleasure seemed to fade away. Thesanthei yearned to fight and to feel the pain that makes a man human. His time with Vesia was too blissful. He felt as though he wasn’t even alive.
“Why do you seem gloomy, my love?” worriedly asked Vesia.

“I dreamt of the great Tyrrhuscan forests, the clashing of iron and bronze, the feel of grass and mud, the cool air, and the blanketing warm sun. Days, months, years have I been away? I no longer see the sun for but a moment in this cave. I wish to leave and return home.”

“Leave? This is your home. Has our love for each other not meant anything? You were left for dead by your supposed friends. What have they done to earn your affection which I have failed to do?”

“Not even you, prettiest maiden, can cause the nightingales to call out during the days for their loves. You can not make the season’s change, and allow me to explore the world and taste steel all the while keeping me here?” Thesanthei, convincing himself now was his time to leave, removed his head from Vesia’s lap and grabbed his equipment.

“How can you complain of the purest, most endearing love that any has ever showered you with? Are you so soon to forget our love and cast me away?” Thesanthei ignored her pleas as he dressed, tightening the leather straps of his cuirass, graves, and helmet. The warrior picked up his spear, making way towards the hot-spring where he sought his escape. Vesia pleaded, has she trailed behind him. “Forever ungrateful has a man been for the gifs his women have bestowed upon him. Stay with me, my love, and I will do evermore to please you and drown you in praise and pleasure.”

Thesanthei turned to address Vesia. “Let your generosity and love be known for all. Though I may miss your love, and treasure your memory, sing praises of you, and hold you in high regard, no mortal man such as I can withstand such love. It overwhelms me. I am no god and can no longer withstand such numbing affection. I praise your love, yet I long for the grass, smoke, and taste of life with all its glory and pain.” He then turned to make for the exit. “I ask you set me free from your domain and let me return to the world of man.”

“See what you miss, great warrior. The perfume of the sweetest rose, whose allure could temp even a goddess, the finest pillows and blankets, the warm embrace of my arms, the cool air to clear your mind, free your body of all pain, and from me you shall feel the touch of a god.” Vesia grabbed his arm in a final attempt to win back the company of Thesanthei. “We shall marry and from our union host the grandest feast any mortal had live to eat and drink from. Why do you turn you continue to turn your back on me?”

“Oh beautiful maiden, your touch has been the most euphoric, your presence the most affectionate, and your love unyielding. I can not complain of such a life any man who as not yet felt may dream of. The desire you have spurred within my heart can not be extinguished and for you, in the mortal world, I will serve. Though it may bring me pain and death, I long back to the realm of man. Here I am your slave of love, ever entrapped by your affection, but freedom to feel all other sensations I desire. To the realm of man I go.”

Thesanthei stepped into the spring. Mist choked the air, shrouding his surroundings save for an arm’s length away. Trudging through the water, the songs of birds and trees filled his ears as the forest where he was left to die emerged through the mist. The green blades of grass swayed in the chilling air. The discomfort was pleasurable. Thesanthei meandered through the dense forest, stumbling upon the battle site. The bodies of the fallen remained, some the fest for nature while others seemed untouched by death, though still pale and lifeless. Left where his body once collapsed lay the necklace his dear Nerinai gave to him. Thesanthei picked up the simple necklace. It had no markings, no gems, but it was worth far more than its weight in gold for it was from the prettiest women in Tyrrhusca.

The warrior left the forest, retracing his steps before the battle, and made his way Rasela to reunite with the women he loved. While he ventured down the road, through small villages of farmers, he soaked in the songbirds, the farm animals, the weary travelers, and the rushing water of the river Tara. His body grew fatigued from the road. Retiring for the day next to the river, where he pitched a small tent and laid down a hide blanket, he laid not but a few feet from the water. As he closed his eyes, all he could see was the sound of the river. The heavy flow crashing against the rocks, tearing away the soil on the river banks, while animals fled or prayed on one another, diving into the water seeking a meal. The sound faded off as the darkness of slumber consumed his mind.

Thesanthei awoke within his tent to the call of his name. Clearing eyes from the lingering weariness heard the voice of a woman calling his name. Thesanthei, the voiced summoned. Learned from prior experiences, Thesanthei kept his guard up. Men often meet their doom when they let the women seduce them into comfort. Grabbing his spear, the warrior left his tent. The river, ceaselessly flowing and the birds undisturbed. Thesanthei a voice called from behind him. Turning, he saw the woman who beckoned his name. She had an ethereal glow and beauty, similar to that of Vesia.
“Who disturbs my peace alongside this river?”

“I am Caesia,” the woman said with a curtsy. “ I have watched you ever since you entered Guniaurina, Thesanthei. You slept within my domain, enjoyed the fruits of my toil, while you enjoyed the love of my daughter, Vesia. Yet, in breaking her heart, here you to sleep in the dirt with none by your side.”

Thesanthei dropped to one knee, bowing his head. “Oh great goddess, I had no malintent towards your beautiful daughter. Oh, how I enjoyed her embrace and the blessings she bestowed upon me. I am forever in her debt for saving my life. However, my soul was too weak to withstand her unrelenting praises.”

The goddess approached the humbled warrior. As she moved, the blades of grass seemed to reach for her as the trees arched towards her allure. She placed her hand upon his shoulder. “Rise, great warrior of Tyrrhusca, rise Thesanthei of Rasela.” He rose to his feet as commanded. “If you destine yourself to repay the debt you owe to the betrayed Vesia, return to the pond within the forest and reside within Guniaurina where you and Vesia will marry. If you do not seek this, Vesia’s love is as strong as her wrath and she will seek vengeance against you.”

Thesanthei, unwilling to capitulate and lose his freedom, refused Caesia offer, risking the retribution of Vesia. The goddess nodded in acknowledgment before phasing through his body. He felt the coolness of the river as they touched. Turning to face the goddess, she pulled him in for a kiss before the river seemed to shackle the warrior, pulling him into the frigid stampede.

________________________________________________________


The village, who had listened intently, was left in silence. Silence grew to mumbles of displeasure and anger. “Is that the end of Thesanthei?” Thocero voiced the silent masses’ thoughts.

“No, this was but the first half,” explained the ceper. “Thesanthei does not meet his end here, however, the moon is ascending to its peak.” The villagers had moaned and grumbled in annoyance. Tonight had embodied the purest entertainment and pleasure they had known; distracted from the hard toil of the field and the hungry nights. Pupli, acknowledging the displeasure of the crowd, conceded that tomorrow before the day began, he would depart with the final half of Thesanthei’s journey to and from Guniaurina. Satisfied by the ceper’s promise, the village dispersed under their thatch-roofed houses and nestled to slumber, eagerly awaiting to hear of the fantastical tales of gods and men.

________________________________________________________

PART TWO

The ceper awoke to Thocero and his wife rustling around the house. Ascending from his cloth bedroll, he felt his stiff back croak. Sleeping on the ground had taken a toll; causing his back to stiffen. Rising to his feet, putting his tunic back on, Pupil greeted his hosts. He gratefully accepted offered bread. It was hard and stale, though his morning hunger did not discriminate. The three ate around a small wooden table. The ceper thanked his hosts once more for their generosity.

Leaving the hut, the sun momentarily blinded him. The village was hard at work. Men and boys carried tools and pulled carts to and from the fields and storage houses. Women and their daughters carried pots of mud and feed around, dispensing them in enclosures for the livestock to devour within moments.

Pupil offered his services in the field. He picked out weeds in the crops while removing crops that had spoiled or been infested by insects. Ferrying the discarded plants to a pigpen, where the filthy hogs screamed with joy as they consumed their extra snack.

The work was hard and monotonous, draining on both the mind and soul. Despite this, the whole village pitched in every day. Though it was simple to work, without riches or glory, Pupil earned more respect for the simple farmers. They were both welcoming and generous, yet at any moment one may offend the gods, and the poor farmers would face crop failure and famine. They were the most susceptible to thieves and tyrants, yet they endure.

Lunchtime came around and the village once again gathered at the center of the village. Though they had no feast, just pieces of bread, they all happily joined together to listen to the ceper finish the story of Thesanthei.

________________________________________________________


His body whirled frantically, tumbling, crashing into the riverbed, all the while helplessly ferried downstream. Starved of air, the only discernable object in Thesanthei’s sight was glimpses of sunlight peering through the opaque water. The glimpse of the sun was only a tease as his body flailed about; his head in an uncontrollable spin left Thesanthei drowning and nauseated. The warrior hit his head on an object, perhaps a rock, sending a shock into his body. The river changed colors before fading away, the warrior’s eyes calmly subdued into rest.

Thesanthei awoke on the shore from the warmth of a body. Opening his eyes, Vesia, the temptress, swarmed his vision as she leaned in for a kiss. Their lips met, the softness of her touch soothed the warrior, reminding him of the bliss he found within her cave. He closed his eyes; however, he felt her slip away and found himself alone, washed up in the riverbank. Rising to his feet, Thesanthei was burdened by his soaked attire. However, he continued on down a nearby road. With each step, he furthered himself in distance from Vesia. His attraction for her grew as he dreamt for her touch despite this. He dreamt of peace within her domain. Long forgetting the reasons he left, Thesanthei grew weary and hopeless. He bent over to rest, supporting himself with his arms against his knees. Whatever water evaporated from the river was replaced with sweat as the sun’s rays were unrelenting. From his kneck, a naked gold necklace slung down. Standing upright, Thesanthei held the necklace in his hand, the only token of his betrothed. It was the only item within his possession that allowed him to carry more.

Walking through small farming villages, whose roofs were nothing but thatch or dirt, save for the wealthier villagers who supported wood constructs, Thesanthei watched the contentness of the people. Despite their poverty in food and material, they found happiness within their family. The warrior grew blue as he wandered alone. He watched the cotton world above, silently accompanying him to Rasela, where he was to finally marry his betrothed, Nerinai.

After three days of travel, the warrior, no longer recognizable due to his untidiness, approached Rasela. Her walls had blacked scorch marks that told the tales of her battering. Inside the city, houses were let in ruble as scavengers or the homeless rummaged through debris for treasure or to recover scraps of their former lodgings. After inquiring with a man who appeared to be a soldier, Thesanthei was informed the city was plundered by King Rasca of Manthva, who sought to avenge the defeat of his father, Pumpna, who lost at the hand of Thesanthei’s host. King Venetesh had been slain on the field while Nerinai was left as scrap for savage soldiers who were starved of attention. She had been left behind to rule as a harbinger. To warn those of the onslaught that follows behind those who levy arms against the great city of Manthva.

The warrior ran through the cobbled streets of Rasela, making way towards the palace. The orange roof of the palace caved in, freeing smoke that painted the blue skies with a haze. The pearled columns and arches were blackened, while the statues of bygone heroes were disgraced or fallen to the floor. Thesanthei grew increasingly panicked as he ascended the palace. With everybody strewn about the steps and gran halls, fright turned to anger as vengeance boiled throughout his body. Within the castle, a party of bodies littered the floor. Frozen in their war dance, the men and servants laid lifeless where they had been cut down. Thesanthei, as if walking on ice, meandered through the bodies, careful to not lose his footing as the dead impeded his journey.

At the rear of the lines, surrounded by friend or foe alike, laid the body of King Venetesh. His death could have been a mural on a wall, depicting him in his valiant last stand. His body, in reality, had been disfigured in the fight. A laceration across his stomach turned his body inside out. His right leg had been crippled with a cut across his calf. The King’s clothes, stained and shredded by war, sponged up an insignificant amount compared to that which painted the floor. More notably, the King’s disgraced corpse looked inhuman. Where once there had been a nose, completing his handsome face, was now red with raw, meaty flesh, clogged with a crimson sludge. With no time to respect the King, Thesanthei ventured through the maze of halls and corridors, seeking Nerinai.

Venturing into the princess’ room, Thesanthei soaked in the destruction. Fractured furniture, torn clothes, and jewelry dirtied the room. The door was splintered, spreading seeds of wood across the floor. Laying upon the bed, soaked in blood, a woman with glistening black hair laid upon the bed. Her dress was torn from tugging, and her skin was bruised and cut. The warrior knelt to one knee at her bedside. Removing the hair cloaking her face, he saw the young face of his Nerinai. Closing his eyes, bowing his head, the warrior pleaded as he grasped her hand within his.

“Hear my cries and calls for forgiveness, rulers of all domains. Though it may be destined for my love, Nerinai, to meet her end, to be disgraced and abused, I kneel here and beg for her return.” The humbled man began to shake in fright as cool tears collected the dirt on his face. “Oh rulers of the domains of gods, give Nerinai my share of glory when she takes the ferry across to the domain of the dead, for as you know, she has earned every pearl for her loyalty; this I know.” The warrior opened his eyes to see her face once more. His vision resembled broken glass as the tears that clung to his eyes distorted the world. Unable to stick to his fate, the warrior continued to beg until slumber seduced him. The warrior slept on his knees, clutching the hand of Nerinai, waiting by her bedside for her to return.

Thesenthei awoke to the feeling of soft caressing. A tender hand slid over him as he slowly escaped the chains of sleep. He raised his head to see Nerinai, who looked upon him with loving relief. The warrior, doubting his eyes, wiped away the weariness. “You live?” The warrior rose from the floor. “Do my eyes deceive me?”
“No, my love,” replied Nerinai. Thesenathei pulled her in for a kiss. “I have waited years upon end for you to return to me, Theseanthei.” The two hugged. The warrior felt her soft cheek pressed against his. “I have remained faithfully yours, longing for your return. What happened? Why did your return take years?”
Thesenthei recounted the battle. The blood. The cries. The dead. Though he knew he ought to disclose his time in Guniaurina, his affair with Vesia, the warrior knew he could not. His fear of her wrath and the damage it may cause warded him off from telling the complete truth. The warrior, though not lying, recounted his time vaguely. He told her about his walk across the country, including his encounter with Caesia. He withdrew their talk about Vesia but included the goddess kissing him before falling into the river. Nerinai listened with intent, her eyes locked with his. Thesenthei witnessed sparkles grow in her eyes. Nerinai pulled him close again upon finishing his story, kissing him upon his lips before nestling her head between his head and shoulder.
Years went by after their reunion. Nerinai lost her titles after the ascension of another family to the throne of Rasela. However, her happiness was within her stomach.

She had been carrying the baby of Thesenthei, who retired his spear to settle down. Life for the warrior had been as close to bliss since he left Guniaurina. The gods had bestowed upon him a life of adventure, glory, and now a beautiful wife.

Vesia, in her jealousy, schemed from the dietal realm. She had observed Thesenthei and Nerinai. To enact her revenge, she saw to remove Nerinai from the picture, for who was she to compete with her? She had pleased Thesanethi in every regard. Yet, she was rejected. Tossed aside for a dethroned princess. Vesia visited Thesanthei in his dream.

The warrior appeared through the mist, walking a familiar path in her cave. Thesanthei appeared on guard as he walked. Soon the two’s eyes had met. “Oh beautiful Vesia, why bring me here? Must you continue your advances? I yearn for peace with my wife and child.”

“You know not what you want,” Vesia replied, moving her way seducingly towards the warrior. “Have you forgotten the pleasures you played with while in my company?” Vesia’s face looked worried for him. “Was bliss too much to shoulder on your weary back, handsome?” Vesia slowly circled him, gently rubbing his back and shoulders with her hand. “
Thesanthei stood still in silence for a moment. Her persistence led him to not try and avoid her advances. “I sought a true life. One with true feeling, not numbness.” The warrior sighed and sat down on a slate of rock. As he sat down, pillows and blankets appeared, cushioning him. Vesia took the chance to sit upon his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Return to me…” they locked eyes. Vesia leaned in for a kiss. Thesantheir closed his eyes and pursed his lips, waiting for her plush embrace. However, after a moment, he did not meet her. Upon opening his eyes, he was back within his room, laying next to Nerinai. The sun rose, sending an awakening glare through their window. Thesanthei decompressed with a sigh, staring up at the ceiling. His body was greasy with sweat as the inside of the room cooked. Nerinai laid next to him, her belly plump with child.

As morning turned to day, Thesanthei could not shake off a feeling of impending doom. A vision of Vesia on his lap, leaning in for a kiss, haunted him, repeatedly attacking him throughout the day. His attempts to ignore the daydreams were unfruitful. Thesanthei went off on a horse ride to distract his mind. As he wandered down the road, he heard the rushing of water. It swallowed his ears; his vision went black; he felt out of control, swirling in an abyss. He once again saw Vesia, though this time she was unclothed, alluringly laying by the hot spring where they first explored each other. He resisted his urge to approach her. She called out for him to join her. He resisted. Soon Vesia faded into the abyss; his eyes and ears regained clarity.

He was now on a dirt road, flanked by olive fields where men and their sons were hard at work. Thesenthei felt his stomach spoil. There was something wrong. Turning his horse around, he raced back to his house. He was met by a frantic servant who rushed to inform him his wife was in giving child.

Running through the courtyard, breaching the front door, and ascending the stairs, he burst into the room. Women surrounded the bed, blood-covered their hands. The servants turned their heads slowly, looking upon him with sorrow. Pushing them out of his way, the warrior knelt beside Nerinai and clutched her soft hand. Thesanthei roared in anger, dismissing the servants with the wave of his hand. He once again found himself kneeling beside lifeless Nerinai, though he was too defeated to cry for help this time. Resting his head upon the bed, he passed out as he did before.

In his dream, he was back in Guniaurina. Vesia played her tricks, though this time, Thesanethi gave in to her seduction. He welcomed her, embraced, joined her in the hot spring, and enjoyed the numbness of bliss. The warrior packed his gear, prepared his mouth, and rode north upon waking up. He once again walked under the dense foliage. The forest was eerily quiet. The animals paid him no attention. Approaching the lake, he looked upon the sun. Before he descended into the water, he looked upon a bare gold necklace that hung around his neck. He cast it off into the grass before stepping into the water. Thesanthei was swallowed by a thick fog that soon evaporated, leaving nothing behind but a golden necklace left to rust in the forest.

________________________________________________________


As Pupli finished the story, he watched the various reactions from the townsfolk. Some felt sadness for the warrior’s demise, though some of the men jokingly suggested he ultimately came out the winner. The story spurred discussion among the townfolks. He saw couples cling more closely to one another during the tale as Thesanethei lost his other half. Though the ceper himself did not know if the tale itself was true or false, he watched as the townfolk united over the tale. It entertained them; distracting them from a hard day’s work.

Pupil quietly escaped the crowd, disappearing into Thocero’s house to retrieve his things. He had his break, but his pilgrimage to Larthial to the great theological university there. Grabbing his knapsack, his walking stick, and a few pieces of bread left out for him, the ceper tried to slip past the crowd. However, he did not make it far before they caught him leaving.

The villagers pleaded with him to stay, however, he regretfully told them he must go. In truth, he did want to stay. The village was nice and quiet, the people appreciated his stories and knowledge of the gods, plus in such turbulent times, small villages such as this one almost needed a priest to communicate to the gods to prevent harm and pray for benevolence.

Despite his own wishes and those of the town, he departed towards Larthial. The village went back to work as he ventured down the road. Walking down the road, Pupil observed the trees swaying, the birds singing their love songs, and the village sounds drowning out in the distance.

User avatar
Tyrrhusca
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 3
Founded: Mar 24, 2021
Corporate Police State

Postby Tyrrhusca » Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:17 pm

A Feuds' Errand

__________________________________________________________________________

PART ONE

Marus sat alone upon his knees beneath an alter. He held his arms up high, waiting for his shower. The Augur chanted. “Sakreu ost threvu ceisim Shertur thicu!” I sacrifice this animal for your glory, Shertur. Dancers encircled Marus. They wore exotic hairdresses of animal bones and furs. They were the messengers to the gods. As they stomped, danced, and ritualistically screamed, the emotion and chaos within the room swelled. Their feet, an ensemble of thumping, mimicking the approaching gods. Marus broke a sweat as the screams, stomping, and movement around him increased. His hair straightened, and his skin tightened. Though he could not see with his eyes, his mind conjured the image. Above him, the ox, whose life would be forfeited to the gods, became restless. It, too, grew nervous. He heard its heavy breathing as it shuffled its feet. He saw its panicked eyes.

Just as the orchestra of chants, stomps, and screams reached its climax, the sound echoing through the halls, the ox cried, and Marus began to drown. Thick liquid seeped beneath the alter and soaked Marus. The beast soon grew too weak and collapsed, shaking the foundation of the alter. The only sound left was that of the Augur, who kept repeating the zealous lines and the dripping of blood that smacked the floor. As he finished the ceremony, Marus stood up, wiping the red sludge off his eyes. He approached the Augur, who finished the ritual by placing a wreath of yellow roses upon his head.

Discarding his stained clothes, Marus slipped into a heated bath. The clear water turned various hues of red before becoming partially opaque by the time he was shoulder deep. He unleashed a sigh. Today was the day. Taking a prepared bowl of clean water, he splashed the blood off his face and used the remaining water to rinse through his thick dark hair. While he cleansed himself, he heard another step into the water. Instinctively, Marus lunged for his sword. The woman jumped and nearly slipped in. "Forgive me, Caputis; I did not mean to startle you."
"What are you doing then? Why did you not announce yourself?" Marus resheathed his sword.
"I-I did, Caputis. I figure you did not hear me; I apologize for not speaking up." The girl timidly looked down.
Marus knew not whether she had or was lying. He was vacant of reality, but regardless it would be wrong to apologize to the servant. "Very well. Speak up next time or fear you are to be left by a brothel by your masters." The woman nodded her head. She grabbed a cloth and sat behind Marus upon the edge of the bath, and began to cleanse his back.
Marus drifted effortlessly back into a daydream.

Vinia vividly envisioned his first blessing. He came of age to be a man, though, in truth, he was still but a boy. The dancing wolves, bears and other dangerous beasts that danced around him caused him to have horrid visions during sleep. He remembered choking on the oxblood as it ambushed him and flooded into his eyes and mouth. The ritual frightened him. Marus never liked the religious obligations, though its importance to appease the gods was well acknowledged by all men.

Accompanied by his guard, Marus made his way from the Temple of Shertur back to the palace. Like rocks in a river, his guards drove a wedge through the bustling streets. The crowd shouted his name as he passed. Some attempted to push their way towards him, clawing through his guards like ravenous beasts though his guards held. Whether to tear him limb from limb or to show affection, he did not know, nor did he care to find out.

As Marus and his attache got closer to the palace, the traffic exponentially died down. Most ordinary folks had no business venturing close to the palace, save for the servants who knew better to barrage passing nobles.
The palace was colossal. Sitting upon a coastal ridge, the entrance was along a single cobbled pass that meandered upwards, soon rising above most of the city's buildings. Passing through two gates, Marus reached the palatial gardens. Hedges and rows of flowers were attended by a company of gardeners. Architects and sculptures worked away upon towering columns, painted in bright greens and oranges, sculpted with depictions of heroes, gods, and other beasts. The palace had been the project of Marus' lifetime. It was his prized jewel. Though he would never admit it, he cared more for it than his own wife, Aula.

Entering the palace's main hall, Marus was getting by an army of servants frantically running about. The aroma of cooked pork and fish dominated his nose. Amid the panic, Marus felt arms wrap around him.
"There you are, Marus. How did your blessing go?" Turning his head, he saw his wife wrapped around him. Here grasp was clinging, yet not restrictive. Her brown hair put up ornately top her pale, flushed face. She smiled at him with pearly teach and fruity lips.
Sternly, Marus replied, "I would hope well. I didn't pay those priests for anything." Marus threw off his cloak onto a chair, which was swiftly cleaned up by a servant. He attempted to politely escape her grasp and attend to preparing the ceremony, yet she clung on as they walked. "Admittedly, I am quite nervous." Marus conceded.
"You, nervous?" Aula sighed. "You've fought battles against fierce warriors, traveled unknown lands, governed cities, yet a wedding has your skin crawling? You should feel proud and happy, if not ecstatic. Why do you worry?"
"Is it not natural? She is my daughter. I feel little glory in giving her away to a man I hardly know to be good for her. All he has is a family with a good name. The Tethatharvu have waged wars against my forefathers, now they are to dine in my hall, and their son is to marry my daughter?" Marus plummeted into a chair, resting his face in his hand. Marus felt Aula's hand softly rest upon his shoulder. Must she press on. Marus sighed.
"A good name gives power, but you know that." She reassured.
"I do. That is why I agreed upon this in the first place." Marus brushed her arm off.
"Why must you be so cold? Surely, you must see.." Marus grabbed her arm. His face shriveled with discontent.
"Do not question and ridicule me in front of others. No more of this. I am not here for your lectures. I do not wish to be beastly with you, but my temper is short at this moment. Go on. Ensure the house is in order before they arrive." Marus cast her arm off. With a sullen face, Aula departed through the doorway and disappeared behind the swarm of servants.
__________________________________________________________________________

PART TWO

Teucer sat upon his horse, leading a column of thousands. The punctual march of the feet to the tune of drum and horns filled the ears of all around, announcing their presence.
"Son, do you know the history of these grand roads?" inquired Teucer. After no response, he looked behind him. Thocero seemed to have been left behind during the monotonous march, his eyes droning off in the distance. Teucer raised his left hand as he reined in his horse. The column's band blew the signal to stop: three quick, successive high notes. Thocero seemed to be dragged back to reality as the thousands of feet stopped. "Answer me when I speak to you, son." Thocero seemed confused.
"My apologies, father, I was lost in thought." Thocero seemed disinterested in his father's lecture.
Teucer signaled the column to resume their march as his horse trot forward. "These roads were laid upon the land long before our time. The roads began in the southwest, in Satria, before expanding across all Tyrrhusca following the conquest of Marce Calisni. They were essential for his regime to control all the subdued city-states." He once again looked upon his son, who was clearly only listening, not absorbing his words though he made eye contact. "I do not lecture you to bore you, but to teach you the knowledge you will need to survive as ruler. Men in power do not solely remain in power due to might or by the respect of name, but most importantly, they endure with knowledge. Heed my words unless you foresee yourself mutilated and disgraced. You are cementing the most powerful alliance the Tyrrhuscans have seen in generations today. You must make yourself presentable."

The column of Scasnai neared the outer gates of Tusena after several days' ride. Surrounding the city were quarries that dug up the earth, extracting her wealth. The sound of metal tools striking rock soon competed with the marching of the soldiers. The quarries of Tusena allowed the city to develop into a jewel. It had towering walls, glistening gates, and upon a coastal ridge, a colossal villa. The column of men was in awe of the city. It would appear to have been built by the gods due to its size. Teucer saw through the facade. He alone could drown the Velpu family in wealth as the real wealth came from the olive groves.
As the party drew close to the gates, Teucer signaled the band to announce their arrival. Within a few moments, the band erupted into a triumphant song. The horns projected elevating notes as the drums promoted an authoritative tone. The city gates crept open, inviting the column of tired soldiers into the city. Lines of soldiers and hired thugs lined the streets to keep the common rabble from interfering. The city's onlookers looked upon Teucer and his family with inquiring, almost uninterested, eyes. City criers shouted, "Welcome, Lauchum Teucer Tethatharvu, and family, of the great city Scansna! We welcome you with open arms to Tusena!" They repeated their welcome until it soon was drowned out with distance.

Most of his soldiers had to be camped outside the city, where a shabby camp of small canvas tents was erected. He was permitted up to fifty men to accompany him and his family towards the palatial villa. Ascending a cobbled road up the ridge, Teucer and his family were let through the palace's gates. Orderly rows of servants lined the walkway, heads subserviently lowered out of respect for Teucer and his family. Awaiting at the end of the walkway stood Marus. Three older women, and presumably his daughter, stood to his left.

Teucer stopped within arm's distance of Marus. None said a word. Their families' generation feud could not be swept away so easily. Marus fabricated a smile as he broke the silence. “Welcome to Tusena, Lauchum Teucer.” Marus held out his arms, and the two men hugged. "This must be your beautiful wife? She must have come directly from the fountain of Lurushil; she is a beauty." Marus approached Thocero, placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I presume this must be your son, Thocero? It is an honor to finally meet your acquaintance."
"And yours," Teucer replied. "It is about time we met face to face after knowing you for so long by just your name and writing." Teucer looked upwards, admiring the architecture. "I have always wanted to see Tusena. She is quite remarkable. Though admittedly, I always envision my trip here differently."
Marus momentarily dropped his smile, understanding the message. "It is about time we met." As if displaying an art piece, Marus introduced his family, each bowing their heads. "This is my wife, Aula, my two sisters Metli and Tetia," Teucer and his family smiled and nodded their heads after each introduction. "...and this is my daughter Vivinna. I hope she is pleasing to you." Everyone's eyes turned to Vivinna, who kept her head bowed. Her pale face began to glow rosy.
"She is lovely; I thank you for blessing us with such a beauty," replied Teucer. "I am sure my son is pleased."
After the introduction, Marus motioned everyone towards the doors to the inside. "Come, let us celebrate our union with food and wine."

__________________________________________________________________________

PART THREE

Entering the villa, the aroma of fish, wax, pork, and wine-filled everyone's noses. From the straight door and the crowds, glimpses of the vast blue ocean could be see-through a balcony. Dozens of men and women, garbed in fine, brightly colored togas and glistening jewelry, all laughed and gossiped over food and wine. Contrasting the scene of upper society, clad in dull, rugged clothes, servants stood at attention awaiting commands for food or drink. Men playing variations of wind and string instruments played softly in the corner. The tune was easing as the musicians dared not to overpower the conversations between the societal elites.
Teucer and Marus soon broke away from their families and walked together. "Though it may be foolish of me, I look forward to our union and alliance. I believe together, you and I can accomplish a great deal. For too long have our families been pitted against each other. The misdeeds of our forefathers have long been forgotten, and in turn, our feud was nothing but tradition."
Teucer silently agreed. "Then I hope that our children will see it the same and breed a healthy relationship. If your daughter is healthy, our alliance can last generations."
Marus took offense at the doubt placed in his daughter, though he held his tongue. "I pray to Arria it is so. May they have many children." The two toasted their goblets and drank.

Before the two could continue their discussion, Teucer stopped before the entertainment. Professional dancers who bore more skin than clothes swayed, ranging from inviting slow motions to violent alluring shows. Though it was all for show and pay, the girls already had dozens of men wrapped around their fingers, including Teucer. However attractive they were, none drew as much attention as the creature which swam around within a water tank. She wore nothing but a top and a golden circlet. Her hair floated angelically in the water as she gracefully swam through the water. Her movements were without thought or effort, yet entrapping to the mind. She was a master of coquetry. Teucer and the creature locked eyes. The woman's eyes were fierce, savage almost. Her bottom half was not human; it was slender and scaled. Where ought to be feet was a great fin. As she moved, her scales reflected light like pearls, further putting on a show of seduction.
"What is that creature?" inquired Teucer.
Marus grinned upon seeing Teucer so easily seduced by the creature. "She is a pesclasa, or as her people would say, Peleseira."
Teucer's eyes were still glued upon the pesclasa. "I've never seen such a creature."
"I would not think so. Her people reign from the isles east of here, in a land we call Pascaker. They do not venture on the west coasts, as far as we know. We only meet small bands of these creatures every now and then." Marus, who had nearly fallen into the entrancement, turned his head away. "Fishermen tell tales of whole boats being destroyed, crews slaughtered after getting too close to their roving schools. Despite the tales, I have not seen any such violence out of her. though if she would want, I'm sure she could allure even you inter her trap."
"She is your slave?"
"No, no. We hired her for this occasion. She demanded a steep price, but she is as charismatic as her looks are pleasing." Marus threw his arm around Teucer's neck and pulled him away from the creature. "A word of advice, do not quarrel with those creatures. They would effortlessly dodge your weapons in the water and just as easily kill you should you try." As the men rejoined the party, Teucer looked back to see the eyes of the creature still boldly tracking him, but eventually, she was encircled by awed onlookers, breaking their line of sight.

As the sun began to descend, now sitting on the edge of the world, the guests began to file outside the villa to a flat plateau that oversaw both the city and the ocean. Calm winds flew in from the east as the salty ocean grew ever more restless as the moon began to rise. All the guests adorned flowerless laurels and took to outside seats eating deserts and socializing as the priest and bride finished their preparations. As the sun finally died, giving life to the moons, the priest stood at one end of the aisle as the bride was brought forward to the opposite.

Vivinna was carried in a litter by four servants. Upon the top of a litter was a sculpted figurine of the Goddess Lurushil, mother of the gods and the goddess of love. As the litter was softly put on the ground, Vivinna stepped out in a green dress. Upon her head sat a laurel with yellow roses. Four of her friends, all dressed in their own gowns, carried torches as they escorted her down the aisle. The crowd was silent as Vivinna slowly approached the priest and Thocero. As the couple took each other by one hand, the priest ordered them to kneel. Wheeled out on a cart, a sculpted head of Lurushil was brought forth.
"Kiss Lurushil's forehead, young lovers, for her blessing."
The two closed their eyes as they pressed their lips against the cold figure. As the head was dragged off, the priest began. "Under the customs and laws of Tusena, we will now offer this pig to you, Lurushil." Turning his back, the priest motioned with his hands. The squealing of a pig approached as a mean leading a hog appeared out of the darkness. Three others joined in and detained the hog with ropes. Leading it atop a platform that settled over a great fire, they secured the squealing pig to the posts. "Lurushil, with this sacrifice, we ask your blessing of Thocero of clan Tethatharvu, son of Teucer, and Vivinna of clan Velpu, daughter of Marus in their marriage. May they many pluck fruit, planting the seeds of their posterity, and begin a new generation. With this sacrifice, we ask for your guidance!" After finishing the sentence, a man sliced the hog's throat; the squeals soon stopped as blood drained through the laceration and poured onto the fire. The fire seemed to die down, but as the blood boiled, exploding into bubbles, the fire regained its life, and the crowd cheered. They had Lurushil's blessing.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Thu Jan 06, 2022 9:46 pm

Image
Tablet III: New Beginnings




Thunderous horns and golden pipes filled the air with a hum of fervor. Into the night sky, pillars of smoke bellowed from great flames, set within bronze tripods the size of several horses which lined the circular stone abode of the mighty settlement. Great banners hung from wooden poles, maned wolves danced in the firelight with their Durkaratum masters, and around the gates were constant movement and cheers—always under the watchful eyes of Asharkar. From her palanquin, the anxieties of the state withered away, and Maikana-Ketzani beheld a monolith in the cleared jungles. This was the heart of the Durkaratum, the setting sun shining the faint last cries of cursed daylight upon the land. This was Dur-Asharki, the breeding grounds of the Asharkar.

Processions of Isklana and Asharkar guided the Kisharratum forward, the palanquin carriers marching with measured smoothness toward the great gates of Dur-Asharki. Fire danced off of intricate wall reliefs on the gates, inlaid with gold, depicting fearsome monsters in battle with Asharkar, their wolves fighting alongside. The procession was seen. From the walls and great towers, wolf-eared watchers blew on goat horns, and soon great bronze bellows belched blissful praise into the sunset. Maikana-Ketzani was far from the dangers of home, far from the dangers she would soon return to. In this moment, in this strange world within her own—filled with the divinities of a foreign land and the hunt goddess, Ashareh—she was safe.

Passing through the gates, Asharkar with copper spears clattered them against their copper shields, citizens and soldiers lining and howling with lupine lust, the passages of an interior city bursting with excitement. All around her, she could see the typical Asharaean settlement: a great ring of continuous structures, built into one another, with another ring of street which separated it from the heart of the settlement—a massive cylindrical structure which towered above even the reach of the walls. There was housed the highest power of the Durkaratum, and there was housed their finest warriors and wealth. Maikana-Ketzani, for her part, waved to the citizens, a suspicious mind stilled. The Durkaratum had been crucial to winning her the kingdom she now ruled, and she was forever thankful.

“Esharr erng hak! Esharr erng hak,” queen, glorious hunt! She heard some shouting.

“Esharr bur! Alkur! Alkur,” wolf queen! Golden! Golden! Others yet did shout.

“Esharr Erk-ikh Iskpar! Iskpar alkur,” queen of Isklanapura! Golden Isklanapura! Came more joyous shouts.

Her breasts filled with fire, a passion building in the gift of a heart which Ketzani had granted all her kind. Fires of pride swelled in her mind, eyes wide and grin ever golden. Her carapaced tail swept side to side, the golden chains and jewels of her crown jingling as she looked about her, horns tingling with excitement. Yes, yes… I am mighty… I won this all, I won this for you! Look upon your queen, shower her in your love… I am Ketzani’s messenger. I am the victor… There can’t be a mortal, pure and finite, in all the garden as mighty as myself!

As cheering continued evermore, the doors of the central abode swung open, and from it came Asharkar followed by the master of the Durkaratum: the sole High Chieftain—the Tejkarr—Sartaygyur. She had seen him before many times, but since her victory was officialized, this was their first reunion. Like the rest of the Asharaean pack, he was Zagatti, one of the first children. Aged features and peppered hair, his face was as broad and strong as the arms which had wielded the battleax Ashareh-kashkayadum. An old fighter, and one which had sworn to her the Asharkar and the whole of the Durkaratum, and who had kept the skittish savanna-dwelling kith of the Durkaratum controlled and loyal during the war. A man she could depend on, and more importantly the one she’d chosen for the divine marriage ritual of Ashareh. Yes… We’ll be seeing a lot of each other in a few days, won’t be, Sartaygyur?

“Hail great queen!” The warlord howled, the people quieting so that the two may speak before all. “Dur-Asharki welcomes you, our master. We are humbled that you accept our invitation, and partake in our feasts this evening. You have brought us victory, and the seers mutter of praise and blessings from Ashareh.

Indeed, looking into the small crowd of attendants which had spilled out with Sartaygyur, she could see the robed snouts of Myronans. Death smellers, they called them in gossip, but the Durkaratum kept them close, and they were honored servants of the realm all the same. Yet she knew behind those robes, hidden under translucent silks, were the predatory masks of many-eyed terrors, designed by old Death herself.

“Victory belongs as much to you as it does to me. Ketzani gives me strength, and she has secured my throne. But it is by her command that Ashareh strengthens your hearts, and gives to you the strength to hunt in my name. I am nothing without my Durkaratum. Without you, my victory would be hollow. I would be a hummingmoth without wings, trying to take flight! Ketzani bless you! And may the Durkaratum always know the favor of my throne!”

Howls of joy and an applause of music, Sartaygyur striding ahead to help Maikana-Ketzani descend from her palanquin. With careful steps, holding to the strong hand of the chieftain, her chitinous claws dug into the comfort of earthen ground. The dirt is packed, they smoothed and hardened it before I arrived. This is mountain soil… from Isklakata? How did he keep it from tearing up with all the people? When did they move it? It feels like home…

Hand in hand, Maikana-Ketzani, her Isklana guards as close to her as the Asharkar, was walked into the main compound, the people of hierarchic standing filtering in after them; while the citizenry celebrated outside to the smells of great pots of meat being carried out for all to eat. She was welcomed to a space, no doubt the main hall, which had been converted into a massive space for dining. Tables and chairs, tripods with flames, musicians, priests and entertainers, servants at the ready, and soldiers lining the area. On stone columns which reached the ceiling, and hanging from carved windows, banners of emerald and gold hung. Statues of the gods were present at the far side of the room, watching over all. Yet the heart of her attention was on a throne, carved of exotic woods, ruby-brown in color, and inlaid with golden insects with emerald eyes. Her heart was raised ever higher, a passion which couldn’t be quenched.

Sartaygyur seated her upon the great throne, himself seated to a smaller throne covered in wolf and ram pelts, with charms of gold, tooth, bone and horn hanging from it. Before the two thrones was a long table, small seats for lesser chiefs and captains, and other persons of importance. With seating and laughter and feasting to begin, musicians played on lyre and lute, on golden reed-pipes and soft songs dedicated to the gods. Servants began to readily plant tall vases of beer across the room, and golden trays of ceaseless meats and vegetables found their way across the room. Boiled lamb, roasted scarab, bite-sized meaty grubs caked in spice, river shrimps, tropical crab, decadent roasts of lamb and cattle—but the most massive of all—a giant emerald-lime colored bel-tistki. It was extravagant, and it was topped with the fruits and vegetables and spices of the land, and hot trays of breads of cornmeal.

“To Ketzani! To Ashareh! To the queen!” Sartaygyur shouted, first in Isklana. “Jir Ketzar! Jir Ashareh! Jir Esharr!”

“Jir tenkar! Jir Esharr!” To the gods! To the queen, he was answered.

Laughter and music became the background. Women lay eagerly on men as entertainers of the body, entertainers of the arts doing tricks across the room at leisure, from illusion to feat. Unwanted food was thrown between men like children, beer down gullets of pleasure, maned wolves snapping at bones and scraps as they scavenged eagerly from the grounds. They were a people of beasts, yet for Maikana-Ketzani, the table of her honor was much more tame and filled with chatter and only minimal boyish glee. She spied Sartaygyur eyeing two of the chieftains at the end of the table, each fighting over a cut of roasted lamb with copper daggers. Settled and integrated as they were, the Durkaratum hadn’t lost their animal roots—they merely knew when to fall into them, and when to fall into the Isklana ways of kingdom builders.

“I was told you’ve recently come here straight from Waruk. You beat the trials with ease, yes? Your majesty?” Sartaygyur said as he snapped the bone of a lamb roast, drinking from it the meaty chunks of marrow. “The honored Sawari didn’t do harm to you, yes?”

“They didn’t even put me through a trial,” she replied peacefully, a mind of shadows thinking of Enarshadak. “Waruk, and the gods, viewed the war as trial enough.”

“That’s almost the same generosity given to Kisharr-koiai-Ketzani! You are mighty!”

Maikana-Ketzani smiled, but shook her head, “I am what Ketzani would demand, and what my dreams require. But somehow I think the Sawari know that there is more coming. More trials than anything they would ask for justification. They told me to reach for my dreams. I have the approval of my plans, now.”

“To reach beyond what the Sawari and Kisharr-koiai-Ketzani claimed?”

She nodded.

Sartaygyur hummed and leaned back in thought, spitting from his mouth some bones. He acted with barbarity, but she knew that was the culture and nature of this place. In Isklakata, she’d seen him eat with manners and refinement on par with a Kisharrum. The spittle of bones landed on the floor, and snapping jaws soon found them.

“Does your majesty intend to have no rest for the land? Villages are still being rebuilt, and some cities which were struck by siege are still working on funerary rituals, I was told. The Asharaean tribes are calm for the moment, but I still need to inspect them regularly. The scent of blood is still in their noses, I think. They don’t have the discipline of the Asharkar.”

She bit her lip, another fear, the old enemy now subject. “I have faith you can control them, Sartaygyur. I am counting on it. So long as Ashareh is with us, they have to be with us. They have no legitimacy. Their homes are their punishment, but they’re also their ascendence.”

The chieftain grunted and nodded, “be sure not to break them in too greatly, queen. My Asharkar are the finest men of spears in all the land—at a price. We couldn’t wander again, even if we wished to. We herd, but we don’t ride any longer. Your Isklana can, but our kinsmen still triumph. If we break that, we lose something great. You see?”

“I know, and I understand. It’s in your hands, and I will follow your advice on it. As to the land… We don’t have time. The soldiers are experienced, the land is weak, and we can patch the wounds but we can’t improve with what we have. Urcha-kaya always told me that momentum needs to be carried, and rest will find a way. So I think that is what we need to do.”

“Extract and expand? At what scale?”

“I’ve already seized new lands to the north, and I have more Isklana headed beyond as well. The tin-merchants who trade with us for state goods will be no more. Those will be our mines now.”

“The tin mines? Ours? I’m sure your court will be most pleased. Bronze will flow,” he chuckled, before the realization set in. “Bronze will flow. We can make proper formations with bronze equipment. Copper has always been our standard…”

“No doubt it still will be,” Maikana-Ketzani added, though the pride of her achievement left a grin on her lips as she gulped down a wash of beer. “But this will turn things around. It won’t be a handful of palatial Asharkar with bronze now. We can start preparing tin for bronze casting, and we can equip a bulk force with it. An army unlike any other.”

“An army to conquer a dream,” Sartaygyur pleasantly growled out. “I see why his majesty chose you. I saw it well before, but the cunning and achievement before the consolidation… Mmm… You are the dream maker. What else did the Sawari say?”

Maikana-Ketzani paused, looking into her meal and setting down the copper spike she had been using to spear and eat her food. “Enarshadak said… Ninkailis-ilum must be returned to Isklakata. They’re removing her from Wari. She might be home even now.”

“The daughter the gods gave you? Why would they do this? She should stay in Wari, where…” he juggled words in a silent mouth, “it is safer.”

“I can’t control the Sawari. Not like that. Trying is what killed Shayakapak-Ketzani.”

“Yes but they accepted her in the first place, they understood the nature of her… affliction.”

“Do you think that your heroes could come to Isklakata? Do you think they could help her? They’re divine, they’re like her.”

“They are not like her, your majesty. They have control, they have a hold on themselves, and Ashareh’s gifts do not plague them. Who is to say as well how her affliction would influence them. It is a strong magic, I have heard the tales. I know well why she was sent to Wari.” He drank down a mouthful of pomegranate seeds and sighed, “and as you know, they’re away as well. They can’t speak for themselves, for they’re on their lovers hunt in the jungle. A shame we couldn’t tell them to speak to some nymphs for us.”

Maikana-Ketzani groaned softly and stared into her beer. She loved her daughter, as seldom a time she’d spent around her. But Wari was safe. War had been her home since before the war began. It had been a solution since she became a teenager, before the affliction was too great. Now she was going to be home, in the palace, a proper princess and the Sharrwassatum. She was only sixteen, how was she supposed to adapt to this world as a demi-god? How could the Sawari return her, even worse, to a world of daggers and plots? Ketzani, help me…

“Kisharratum, my divine,” Sartaygyur placed a heavy hand on her arm. “By your horns, my Asharkar will take care of any that must be done. If Isklakata can’t be her abode, we will find her one fitting of her. We will ask the Myronans, we will ask the oracular orders of every god in the land, and we will return to the Sawari and find answers. I pledge it, by my father and my grandfather's burials. By Ashareh.”

She sighed, shaking her head. I can’t do anything about it here. Dilemmas to come, no doubt, but I can’t help anything for now. But eyes on her would help, and if the Asharkar can be maintained, just maybe…

The clattering of copper swords followed by cheering caught her attention, two women having gotten into a scuffle as a petrified man looked between them; laughter surrounded them as howls and cheers persisted. This was the wrong evening to consider these things, the wrong night to think of her daughter or the troubles at the capital—let alone the business of the future. Sensations of distant voices whispering in her mind were creeping up on her, but as she clenched her fists and closed her eyes for that briefest of moment, they abated. Not tonight. Tonight was celebration. Tonight was control.

“We won, Sartaygyur,” she spoke softly, the grizzled man looking over to her with perked ears. “I’m glad someone I can trust can share that hardship with me. Thank you.”
Last edited by Isklanapura on Thu Jan 06, 2022 9:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Amemnhat
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 5
Founded: Nov 18, 2021
Ex-Nation

Postby Amemnhat » Fri Jan 07, 2022 7:09 pm

Pharaoh's Sanctum, Saa

This was a different world.

The Palaces of Truth at large were far removed from the realities beyond, but, this. This was different. The moment the Vizier had been allowed through the internal gates into the sanctum, it was like his connection to the corporeal world outside was severed. The air in here was still, heavier, and scented by small cones of myrrh hung from the walls - a cool, wooden, almost medicinal aroma. There were no windows, dim illumination of the long and wide halls provided by candle-light magnified in glass lenses, which exacerbated the flickering effects all the way up the walls. Whereas the courtyards outside the sanctum were filled by Sma bureaucrats rushing to-and-fro, loudly debating the merits of this filing system or that, the Sanctum was incredibly quiet.

Quiet, but it was not empty, not by a wide margin. But the servants that passed by were none he recognized from the rest of the palaces, presumably an entirely separate and more prestigious group, as denoted by the small golden eye necklaces each wore. They were silent or spoke to each other in hushed tones, only indecipherable whispers echoing around into the Vizier's ears. Darkly coloured blurs of clothing glided through the corridors without even the sound of footsteps; Khabesh had been made to surrender his hard sandals as he had entered this space, replaced by soft silks.

As he navigated the sanctum, at the peripheries of his vision he was presented with a number of sights that he could have spent days reflecting on. He found himself surprised on some level with how active this place was. Then again, what had he expected? Did he think the Pharaoh alone occupied this massive section of the palaces? But he barely ever saw a soul come or go through the thresholds. Were they all kept here permanently? Down a corridor to his left, a group was quietly circled around a man with a black rock in hand, seemingly using it to pull spoons up from the ground. A passing servant he questioned whispered to him that it was called a "lodestone", but struggled to explain its magic to him. Pushing on, he soon passed a group reclined on luxurious couches, smoking pipes and muttering to each other regarding the large papyrus sheets between them which depicted complex shapes and angles labeled sometimes with numbers, other times with letters and symbols that had little meaning to Khabesh.

It came naturally to him as an Ailur to be curious about the works being done in this place, but the greater intricacies were lost on him, as he had little time to spend pondering their mysteries and soon had to move on so he could find the Pharaoh herself, for an audience awaited. He would eventually find the Pharaoh in something approximating a throne room, or perhaps a dining hall. A stately chair was at the head of a long stone table, down the length of which were seated a number of quiet men and women scrawling away at their papyrus. Seated there at the head, overseeing it all, there she was. She was otherworldly, a literal glow emanating from a perfect form clad in what amounted to simple robes, long and thick dark hair let down and covering her face, though it seemed to float and wave in a non-existent wind, as she herself was intently focused on the work being done by the servant beside her.

It was strange to him, the sight of Pharaoh seeming almost... casual. Like such a thing could be possible. Her power, her responsibility, her blood itself made it a contradiction. He watched her flourish a wrist and seemingly produce a reed pen from thin air, using it to point to a line of ink and whisper something to the man next to her. Approaching cautiously, Khabesh put his arms behind his back, wringing his hands. He'd heard rumors before of what she could do with the flick of a wrist, and obtaining a writing implement from nothing - an impressive trick for a sorcerer - was but a trifle. She could probably kill him just as easily, if she so decided. It was only now, as he was approaching up close, that he started questioning his capacity to advise her.

The Vizier cleared his throat. "Pharaoh, be Alive, Prosperous, and Well." He bowed, holding his bent form as he waited for her judgement. "Come Vizier, sit." The Pharaoh's words echoed from her mouth several times over as she spoke, as though she spoke for many. The effect was unsettling, but Khabesh did as he was instructed, sitting opposite the man that the Pharaoh was seemingly collaborating with at the head of the table. Glancing over, he saw that the papyrus was completely filled in a grid of numbers. Many had crosses through them, with arrows referring back to earlier numbers. A few were circled. Some numbers on the lower half were seemingly still untouched. Khabesh cleared his throat. "U-uh, Pharaoh - be alive, prosper-"

"Dispense with the Blessing, please, Vizier. It is unnecessary in this place. Converse." The Pharaoh only briefly moved her gaze to be upon him, and the stare of her golden eyes perhaps terrified Khabesh even more than the voice. As the spoke, it was with a quiet, steady tone, as if the words were calculated to land with specifically targeted impact. Khabesh coughed and nodded. "Ap-pologies, Pharaoh. Uh, what is, what is this...?" He waved his hand towards the grid of numbers, inquiring into the Pharaoh's works.

"Hetephernebti's Sieve." The Pharaoh answered, matter-of-factly. If it was on the civil service exams, Khabesh wouldn't know it with the expedited process he went through to get here. Thankfully, she continued. "It is a method of deriving prime numbers up to a given value, discovered by my mother a century ago. This is my algorist, Nebankh," She indicated to the man who made no indication he could hear them at all, face down in his work, "We have never pushed so high before." An algorist? Sure enough, not an abacus in sight, few notes, the arithmetic resolved entirely within Nebankh's head. It should be little surprise that the Pharaoh had access to one despite their rarity, but to be using him on mathematical fancies where others would kill for an algorist to manage accounts or oversee a trade hall, a luxury indeed.

"Ah... what a fascinating endeavor, Pharaoh..." The Vizier offered, as he watched the algorist's eyes twitch in his head, occasionally scratching out a number on the grid. The Pharaoh leaned back a little and tilted her head, hints of a... smirk? Was she amused by his lack of understanding or interest? Time slowed to a halt as she looked him up and down, seeming to take in the measure of him with a single once-over glance, before she suddenly sighed. "Oh, out with it Vizier. About Nesut Horemheb. That is why you're here."

"Ah!" Khabesh went wide-eyed for a moment, sitting forwards in his chair and clearing his throat. "Of course! As you, ah, know, the presence of the kings and lords at the Magnification is not required by law, but convention, so the Nesut is within his legal rights to you..."

"But?" Pharaoh hurried him with the question.

"But, it is a strong convention. Heqas and Urs are absent regularly - in increasing numbers recently," he mumbled the last few words, "But the last Nesut to not come to give his blessings was three centuries ago, and was the initiator of a civil war. Whether or not Horemheb seeks to incite revolt, it will certainly be taken as a message of serious criticism towards your reign by the Heqas..."

"So, what might be done about it?" The Pharaoh asked pointedly.

"Well, some of the... traditionalist mindset in the court are of a mind to preempt Horemheb by storming Is and replacing him with his son, who they believe will be more pliant, but such a thing will almost certainly result in revolt and conflict. By contrast, some think it preferable to simply take the insult and carry on as if nothing had changed, which is less immediately inflammatory, but does very little to support the integrity of the realm and your position."

"And what do you suggest, Vizier?" Her face gave no emotion away as she continued to drill down to the point.

Khabesh sighed, having considered his options for a week now. "We can not start a war with our own people over this. Even after you assuredly win, you will be remembered as a tyrant for having slain Ailur over an insult. But, equally, we can not afford to recognize Horemheb's act for any less than it is, an indication of dangerous opinions. So, we must punish him in such a way that it can not be portrayed as unjust." The Pharaoh gave a single nod, indicating for him to continue. "He has sent a message, so we shall send one right back - that the Lazurite Throne is good to its friends. The other Nesuts are still in Saa, allow them to have a short audience with you, let them return home weighed down by new prizes and titles to wave about in thanks for their company and well-wishes."

"Buy the loyalty of the other three with gifts?" The Pharaoh queried, curiously.

"More importantly, allow Horemheb to be excluded from the gesture by his lack of presence. Let him be the odd one out, isolated, while the rest of Ab dines together. Make it clear that your favour is winnable, that it has weight - much more than that of the Nesut of Is. Next year, he will travel through sand and storm to ensure he does not miss out on what his colleagues gain. It does not gain us Horemheb's loyalty, but it will gain us the appearance of it, which is the essential part for the low nobles. Speaking of which, the Chariotry can visit the worst of their offenders much less riskily, steering the rest to return to the fold." Khabesh spoke with confidence now, explaining the meaning behind the move he recommended. Perhaps the Oracle knew his theology, and the High Mason could scold him on the price of bread, but this was politics. He was in his element at last, and it seemed to have an impact on the Pharaoh, who was quiet for a few moments, in consideration.

"I see the start of what was promised..." Khabesh furrowed his brow at the Pharaoh's words, but did not get to inquire before she continued. "Very well then, I accept your counsel, Vizier. I will dine with the Nesuts tomorrow night, and the light of my gratitude will shine on them alone. See to it that rumors are spread regarding the great value of the boons they receive. Now, I tire of the affairs of court."

Khabesh stepped out of his seat and bowed deeply as the Pharaoh turned back to the papyrus. "O-of course, I will make arrangements at once." She did not respond, and the Vizier turned and practically charged away, eager both to put his plan in action, and to get out of this sanctum.

User avatar
Aoyan
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 16
Founded: Nov 08, 2021
New York Times Democracy

Postby Aoyan » Sun Jan 09, 2022 11:23 pm

Chapter 2
Part I



“Please sire, let me decapitate the peacock for his insults.”
Pigeon stood, arms crossed, peering out the opened shutter into the abyss of morning. Lord Ishii watched him from the corner of an eye, half-focusing on his brushwork, half-focusing on what his chief retainer would do next.

“No.”

Pigeon did not move.
“Then at least allow me to avoid his men in the street.”

“I said—” Ishii paused. He looked up from the bamboo strips that when sewn together formed his lists. A smile inched across his face. “Very well. But why?”

“If Lord Wisteria wishes to querel, his men will be eager to fight.”

“Very well.” Ishii repeated. “But his poor manners are only temporary. He will mellow in the coming days. I doubt he has targeted only me.”

Pigeon reached and closed the shutter, blocking the dark and trapping candlelight. It was early morning, and Ishii had the final steps of preparation for the day's grand summit to complete. At his small foot table, he compiled the names and rank of all his retainers. Pigeon came and sat down to his front, careful to be as quiet as possible. Ishii glanced up at him.

The man had been nearly two decades Ishii’s younger, though still old for a fighting warrior. He was gaunt, clean faced—stern, with drooping eyes. Kaze was his real name. His father had been retainer for Ishii’s own father, but had drunk himself to death when the man was but a boy. Pigeon had been the most loyal retainer Lord Stone ever had.

“You want to know what the emperor said to me?” Ishii asked. His companion did not speak. “We spoke of old times, mostly. Nothing interesting to anyone but two old men. But, he did mention one thing of note—his Radiance has been having terrible nightmares as of late.”

The two sat in silence for a moment. Only the sound of waking birds and sliding brush kept them company. Finally, Pigeon broke the calm.
“This troubles you as well?”

Ishii nodded. The last time an emperor had nightmares plague him, the capital had been moved. That was six generations ago, under Emperor Hirokawa and the move was to placate the spirits of the dead, who haunted the tainted grounds of the old palace. So the court moved to Kawanakami in the highlands, under the watch of Mount Tola. There they built the Hollyhock Court, the Heartvine Court—a palace larger and more beautiful than any to ever grace Aoyan. A palace of life, forever cleansed and sacred. Ei! What a disastrous omen that would be for us all Ishii thought. To have the coming return of campaigning marred by misfortune—no, it would be larger than that. Such would spell doom for the entire realm. He shivered though the room was warm.

Ishii set his brush down to let the ink dry. Motioning with his hands, he drew the attention of his retainer. “Well?” he asked. “Have I missed anyone?”

Pigeon glanced over it, then shook his head.
“No sire. That is every retainer on pay in your household.”

“Good. I will submit this to the court at the summit today.”

A giggle pierced the paper walls of the room from outside followed by soft talking. Through the shutters, Ishii could see candles glow in the windows across the garden. The soft blues of dawn had begun and the court was rousing for the long day.
“And what do you think of them? The men?”

“Honestly, sire? They are good men. Each strong and honorable. Not the glory hounds of Katsuya or the brutes of Zoku. But they need experience.”

“Hmm, and any of note that stick out to you, old friend?”

“Young Natsu, sire. He burns with a fire they say comes from his god. He needs tempering, certainly, but with it, he may rise beyond his station.”

Ishii nodded. “Good. I leave, as always, the money details to you and your quartermaster. If the men are to your liking, increase their salaries this year.”

“Of course, sire.”

“It’s best we get started.” Ishii stood and stretched, his aged bones creaking. He couldn’t help but release a satisfied breath. I’m getting too old for all this. Not many campaigns left in me.

Pigeon stood, bowing. “Then please excuse me, Ishii-go.”

He was dismissed.




The sun blazed—the sacred hour had come at last. The Hollyhock Court hummed with life as throngs of people gathered in the silver yards. It was nothing like the quiet solemn Ishii had witnessed the days prior. Zithers plucked, drums rolled, and shell horns echoed in harmonious disarray over the chattering of people. The imperial summit was to begin.

Ishii worked his way through the crowd, keen eyes glancing about. There were a hundred colors before him in the spring sun as the heads of a hundred clans gathered with their holds. Fans fluttered relentlessly, poems were read, whispers blown on the breeze. Each and every person was dressed and perfumed and constructed as elegantly as they could afford, yet it was easy to tell the warriors from the magistrates. Men and women both wore under-robes and over-robes, usually in a personal or clan color and pattern, tied together by wide belts and holding up silken trousers or flowing dresses. Warriors on retainment kept their hair exposed, either tied into a neat knot or combed loose. The lords wore tall hats, slouching to their fronts, marking their roles as officers of the realm. The rank of a man could be discerned by the size of his sleeves, and the woman by the length of her dress trail.

Lord Stone's sleeves were very long indeed. The lesser peers were by custom required to acknowledge his passing. Each he met with a cordial, if brief nod of his head. Pigeon followed beside him closely, hands tucked into his silver silk. He bore no weapons—no one did—the very thought of an attack in the court of the emperor was an impossibility. But Pigeon had always considered the impossible. He let none get too close to his master.

Ishii moved swiftly—his athletic legs pulling him forward despite the strain of his wooden sandals. He was on the hunt. Scans in every direction brought him glimpses of his prey—men clad in violet or blue. Katsuya and Zoku’s men. he thought. How many do you weasels have this year?
His purpose was simple. To see, while he could, how many people bore the marks of his rivals. The numbers were staggering. Just earlier he had witnessed groups of violets and blues congregating in the cloisters. The officer on the Tosado had been right—Katsuya had among his party a great deal of warrior talent, including women. Zoku seemed to be following just behind. That was to say nothing of the poets and musicians and artists they had gathered into their ranks. Ishii lacked scores of either—but the fighters he desired the most. If he was to compete in the war, he would have to prevail with what he had.

Moments later he passed a gazebo covered in a throng of people watching him. They were recognized instantly by their bright, flashy patterned robes, which stood mismatched in pattern and by the blue eyes some of them bore beneath raven hair. A few covered their faces in cloth sheets.
Haka Clan Ishii grimaced. Their dozen-score glares unsettled him—though he fought against the feeling. The Haka clan was widely distrusted and sometimes hated. Disliked because they were foreigners, because they were alleged magicians, and because they oversaw the religious needs of the emperor. Mystique, strangeness, and power did not mix to their advantage.
Natives of Inari, the Haka were technically Yan, but not a clan under the Hollyhock Court until a mere century ago. They had brought with them new gods and alien customs and try as he may—Ishii found them as strange as everyone else did. Somehow they had worked their way into the graces of the late emperor and found themselves at the top of the spiritual hierarchy of the realm. They had always kept to themselves.

Why are they staring at me? Ishii pondered. Pigeon had moved closer to him, noticing the tension. Lord Stone considered approaching them, but decided against it, instead nodding in recognition. He received no response. Picking up his pace, he deigned to move past as quickly as possible when a shadow moved in the corner of his vision.

Before he could react, Pigeon was standing between him and a man clad in near black. Haka-ka-Kiyomori
“Ishii-go.”

“Excuse me, lord.” Pigeon kept his arms by his side. “I cannot allow you so close to my master unannounced, so sorry.”

Ishii tapped Pigeon on the shoulder with the end of his closed fan, signalling for him to step aside. He bowed. “Haka-go.”

Lord Haka was a middle-aged man closer to youth than he was gray hairs. He had always been considered handsome by many with an angular and broad face, and had shared such a sentiment with the rest of his family. Constantly wearing a smile, his sharp dark-blue eyes were always watching, always questioning. Few felt they could trust what he said, though none had ever known him to lie.

“Ishii-go” he repeated with greater enthusiasm. “Apologies for disturbing your retainer. I did not intend to surprise you, only that I wanted a word with you before the ceremony.”

Lord Stone raised an eyebrow. The scent of cedar needles and forest streams rushed his nostrils.

“In private, lord.” Haka whispered.

Though reluctant, Ishii relented, placing Pigeon on watch as he followed Lord Haka to the most private spot they could find in reasonable time. To Ishii’s relief, that was not amidst the man’s clansmen, but beneath the shade of a paulownia tree at the far corner of a court.

“You spoke with the emperor recently? “Lord Haka jumped directly to the point. Their time was limited with so many eyes around.

“What of it?”

Haka inhaled deeply. “I will be brief. What I tell you, I do so only because you are an honorable man, Lord Stone. An honorable man who oft misses the pond while he moves towards the field.”

Ei! The nerve. Ishii could feel his body begin to heat. But he calmed himself just as quickly. Think! He sounds as if he is only trying to help you. He fanned himself. “Go on.”

“Many have taken note of your audience with the emperor, and a few know of Katsuya’s transgressions too. The upcoming campaigns, this year and the next, will be taken as a proving ground for the ambitious lords. Think on that, please. But more importantly, I ask you to keep your eyes and mind open towards what you least suspect. There, daggers are waiting.”

Ishii snapped his fan shut. “If you know something, Haka-ka-Kiyomori, then please, come out and say it directly.” The anger was returning. How he hated games! He played them enough with the others. The last thing he wanted was to tolerate games from this foreigner! “So sorry, but I ask you to be to the point.”

Haka smiled. “I have no point but that lord. I have no names, no further warnings. Only what the gods and spirits whisper to me.”

“Did your fox god tell you this?”

“No, Ishii-go. No. Our master of the dawn revealed this to me.”

It was then, before any more could be said, that the great reverberating cry of a shell horn resounded. The signal that all was to start. As if by some trickster magic, Haka had mentioned the patron goddess of Aoyan, and in that moment her ceremony had started. Ishii pulled away from his thoughts, but Haka was already gone. He had slipped away unnoticed. When he passed by it again, the gazebo had been emptied of his people.

Lord Ishii joined his spot behind a line of other people—all people whose rank outdid his own. Behind him stood the people whom he outranked. That portion of the line was much longer. Each individual held a slate of bamboo in their hands on which they had written a prayer. One by one they carried their prayers with them further into the palace.




The sacred hour was not dawn, though it was dedicated to the goddess of it. Instead, it sat splitting the hours of the snake—when the sun was still young in the sky but had risen enough to bask the earth in dayhood. Each and every morning the hour was observed—a moment of respite for everyone when no work was to be done. Particularly, anything to do with money was strictly forbidden, and on special days, marked days, ceremonies were held in honor of the gods. This was one such day.

The Hollyhock Court had gathered in its entirety before the Hall of Eternal Harmony, where the emperor housed his seat. The paved yard was wide and rectangular, always pristine, and now filled by the peers of the land. Ishii sat like all the others kneeled on the ground, his prayer card held firmly in his hands. The sun disk was blazing in the spring sky and he gladly basked in the light. He was not the most pious man in the nobility, but he was thankful for all the gods and the blessings they had given him—because they were his gods, and his people’s gods, and his ancestor’s gods. Yet his tranquility was broken by thoughts of Lord Haka’s warning only minutes prior. Calm yourself[i/] he took deep breaths. [i]That trickster knows nothing. Surely he is mistaken somewhere.

It irritated him that he was struggling to focus, a fact made all the worse by the appearance of that same confounding fool atop the steps of the hall, where he stood ready to begin the honoring. Streams of incense wafted through the air.
On time, a figure stepped forward from the shadows under the hall’s roof. Ishii instantly recognized the face of his friend and ruler—Emperor Yanagi. The Willow Emperor.

His Radiance’s face bore none of the troubles found when the two had last spoken. Instead, he stared calmly into the blue sky. Inhaling the spring air, he spoke softly.
Before the multitude of flowers again,
Under your light,
Rebirth.


Yanagi closed his eyes and raised his hands upward. The others followed suit, lowering their heads and raising their prayer cards on high. In the stillness, Ishii heard Lord Haka speak.
“Great Master, your sacred hour has come and your children gather. We raise our thoughts to you, Tadan, Lady of the Dawn as your people. Calling to you and all the gods in reverence, so that you may hear our pleas. So that you may bless us with the rising of each day. So that you may bless this meeting of your nobles. So that you may bless this court, that you have chosen. These things we ask of you, Great Lady, and above this, we ask you to cleanse the dishonor of our bloodline. From the first gods, to the last. Please hear our cries.”

With that, sacred water was splashed as a thousand brilliant droplets onto the crowd and the emperor. As they dried in the breeze, the ceremony had ended as quickly as it began. No doubt many would continue their worship in private later, be it to the patron of all Aoyan, or to their personal protectors.

As for the lords in the crowd, the imperial summit had only just started.



ADDEDUM

The Hall of Eternal Harmony housed the seat of the emperor—a simple bench situated on the top dias of a three-tiered platform against the back wall. Woven mats covered the floor of the large throne room, where candlelight paired with that from the sun outside, which cut through open shutters and translucent walls. Here, a much smaller crowd gathered beneath the horizontal rafter beams. Only the lords were present in this gathering.

The emperor sat on his throne, hands tucked into his wide robes of golden silk. Ishii found himself among those sitting on the floor before his Radiance. Each man was an individual splash of color among a beige canvas. Only two figures were not in the audience, and they sat on the tier below the throne. One to the emperor’s left and one to his right. The man on the left wore purple silks—Lord Wisteria, whom Ishii had avoided until now. He sat dignified, but without expression. Hopefully his hubris has been tucked away again.

The man on the right interested Ishii just as much as Katsuya did. His other rival. Lord Zoku, Lord Cat as he was sometimes known. Zoku was the youngest of the three men, though only by a few summers. A broad man who had been strong in youth, he now possessed a rotund stomach and baggy eyes. He wore the same ochre complexion his daughter Ai did, and it paired poorly with his shabby brown robes. Age spots were forming on his face. Occasionally, he would reach up and brush the curt mustache underneath his flat nose—the only facial hair present. Thick, knotted eyebrows arched alongside a frowning expression.

Ishii turned his attention back to the emperor, who had been speaking at length.

“We will begin the campaign on the second day after the rainy season,” he said. “ As the fortunes have read. Since our last campaign was four years prior, our enemy shall not expect our arrival. Pewa have not attacked a Yan settlement in nearly that entire span, suggesting their numbers continue to diminish.”
The Pewa—one of the native races of Inari, and certainly the most numerous before the arrival of humanity. The Yan had a thousand names for them—few of them good. “Barley Eaters”, “Hairy Ones”, “Eastern Barbarians” joined the likes of simply animals and beasts. They had been the enemy since the Yan first stepped foot on Inari two centuries ago—the two parties waging total war against each other. The Court had gotten the better of the fighting. Ishii frowned. He had no particular love for the bat-like creatures, who were descended from the Moonlight god, but he did not hate them. Not like so many others in the room. To him, they were an unfortunate block to the Hollyhock Court’s rightful dominion of the islands.

“There is more than the coming campaign that I wish to set before my council, of course.” the emperor began again. “Firstly, I hereby order now, in the fourteenth year of my reign, that all coastal ports and all markets of the realm be open to travelers and merchants, even those of foreign origin. The reasons for this are simple—the priests and diviners have foreseen a failed harvest next year. We will need goods flowing in the provinces to counteract this, lest the people starve neh?”

Ishii smiled. Such a measure had been his suggestion when Yanagi had revealed the prediction in their private talks. As always, he had found his friend eager to listen to advice.”Certainly”, he had said, “the others will take issue with merchants, and particularly outsiders infiltrating their provinces. But wherever silver flows, so too does rice. Such measures cannot end the famine, Radiance, but they can soften it.

“We cannot risk needless deaths.” Emperor Yanagi continued. “A failed harvest is a severe omen. Upsetting the gods, or the people, further would warrant further disaster.”
Yanagi brought his hand up to his chest. He was clearly feeling unwell. With a sigh, a look of determination crossed his face.

“I have been experiencing many ill signs as of late. Nightmares have plagued my sleep for the past half year with no release. Spirits and other apparitions have been reported in the city. Beasts stalk the outskirts. My lords, these events mirror many experienced by my illustrious ancestor Hirokawa when the capital was moved.” his eyes shifted to Ishii. “Senseless deaths would stain the realm and solidify these calamities. It is thus with great solemnity that I ask you to consider if we should move the court once again.”

The room grew deathly still. Up until that moment, the lords had listened intently and respectfully, hiding their inner feelings at what was announced. Now though few could hold back the looks of horror that enveloped their tranquility. Of them all, Katsuya was the first to break. He whirled on the emperor—reverently.

“Radiance.” Katsuya touched his head to the ground, his arms splayed before him covering the steps in purple silk. He did not face the emperor directly, but spoke from the side. Yanagi nodded, permitting him the breach of etiquette and allowing him to continue.

“Radiance, it is my humble opinion that to move the court would be—should be—unthinkable. Kawanakami was chosen as a cleansing, this is true, but as a permanent one. This very palace received all the blessings possible from every god known and unknown. I cannot presume to understand what may plague us, Radiance, but it is simply impossible that the court need cleansed again.”

Yanagi pondered carefully for a moment, before continuing. “We have heard sagecity from the Minister of the Right. Do any others hold an opinion on the subject?”
All eyes turned to Lord Zoku.

Zoku sat still as he always had. As Minister of the Left, his opinion was the only one that could truly counter Katsuya’s or lend equal support. His eyes scanned the attention drawn to him and—with a yawn—he opened his fan and waved slowly. No remark.

Instantly a dozen men bowed and began their rapid pleading. More pitched in, and within moments it was clear that everyone had agreed with Katsuya. They spoke respectfully, reverently, none stated they held the authority, the wisdom, or the rank to properly give their opinion. Yet give they did. It was unquestionable to move. That the queer happenings were temporary, or caused by something else, or unconnected. That there must be something else that could be done to solve the malady.

The entire room was silenced with a simple raise of Yanagi’s hand. A tranquility spread across his face, which softened as he looked from his throne upon them. “Very well.” his voice was a whisper made loud by the quiet. “We will exhaust our other options first.

Now, that very idea brings me to my next decision. If we are to seek harmony and dispel whatever evil wind may loom over the realm, we must first appease the spirits of our ancestors and of our dead. It is my view that the best way to do this is to expand the realm into our rightful domains as quickly as possible. I have decided Inari must belong to the court within five years.”

Impossible! Ishii screamed in his mind. We landed on Inari two centuries ago. So sorry, my friend, but your father, your grandfather, even your great-great-grandfather could not move us more than a few Qu a year.

“I believe this is more than possible, my lords. I have already mentioned the growing weakness of our opponent. Furthermore, there are more Yan settlements on the islands now than there has ever been. More warriors in the employ of your camps than there has ever been, and a greater importance. To aid you with my command, I have decided that the lord who shows himself most capable in the next few summers will be awarded not only lands and wealth, but a rank of command over all Yan forces on the islands…”

Ishii held his breath.

“A great general to subdue the barbarians.”

Though no one moved, Ishii was positive many others felt as he did—explosive in realization. Ei! This could be my chance! A chance to overcome both Katsuya and Zoku in one single move. A chance to take his place at the top of the court’s hierarchy, under the seat of his friend, where he had always belonged. He recalled, in that moment, when someone had last asked him why he tried to keep pace with Katsuya and Zoku. Because fate has robbed me of the opportunities it has granted them. Because it has allowed them to swoop in and take a place closer than I to our lord.

Ishii was pulled from his thoughts by the shrill laugh of a woman.
“Ah. How transfixed the cat is by the mouse.”

She appeared on the dias behind Zoku, as if manifested from air. None had seen her enter, certainly not Ishii, and he knew they would likely not see her leave. Unlike the other ladies of the court, this woman did not wear the robes of a woman, but instead the trousered set of a lord. They were beige-white, as they had always been, and atop her head sat the tall black hat of a minister. Very few paid her any mind, acting no differently as if she was a piece of furniture, but she peered at Ishii from behind a fan painted half white and half red. A bead of sweat formed at his brow.
Sorceress. he mumbled.

She laughed again and lowered her fan. Long hair the color of chestnuts cascaded behind her, framing a pink face—powdered and flawless. Ruby lips raised in a smile, and two splotches of ink formed her eyebrows above where her natural ones once streaked. With one hand, she brushed back locks to reveal the sharp peaked point of an ear. Another high-pitched giggle.

“Ah, Aka.” the emperor acknowledged her, unmoved by her lack of etiquette. He motioned her towards him. Ishii watched the woman stand, suddenly towering over the room. She was tall, taller than most Yan, and the wooden pegs on the bottom of her clogs joined her hat in making her outline even greater. Her movement was faultless as she shuffled across the room. The eyes of all but the emperor, Ishii, and Zoku noticeably shifted away—careful not to linger on her for too long. It was a caution formed by fear.

They feared her because she could do the one thing no Yan could do—magic. Unlike the baseless rumors that surrounded Haka, this woman was dangerous. Dangerous because her tricks were real. Dangerous because she held knowledge none of them could. Dangerous because she had been allowed to live among them for as long as any could remember.

Aka knelt beside the emperor, who turned and whispered something into her alien ear. With a bow, she knelt beside him. It was only moments later, at the singular instance Ishii’s mind had trailed from her, that she had disappeared as quickly as she came.

“Now.” The emperor continued, rising from his seat. Everyone stood as he did. “I believe that is enough discourse for a day.”
Last edited by Aoyan on Tue Mar 15, 2022 9:31 am, edited 3 times in total.

User avatar
Amemnhat
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 5
Founded: Nov 18, 2021
Ex-Nation

Postby Amemnhat » Wed Jan 12, 2022 4:20 pm

A Sma Temple, Qeb

Illustrious Qeb, second smallest of the five Great Cities in population, was perhaps one of the most prosperous. Situated at the South-Eastern corner of lake Nemes, the cradle of the Amemnhati civilization, Qeb was far removed from the spats and politicking across the lake, and it also held profitable dominion over the entryway of the Suten, king of rivers. This veritable trade highway saw riverboats traversing all the way across the continental desert, some even carrying goods from beyond the oceanic coasts at the other end of the Suten. Qeb, with control over access between Nemes and the Suten, had become awash with wealth as a hub of trade, and the modest tolls collected by the Nesut for access to the Dockmarkets multiplied to afford the city funds beyond its station for civil expenses.

Qeb was also notable, perhaps, as the Great City most populated by non-Ailur. At the edge of Ab, the heartland of their wisened empire, and as the gateway between lake and river, it was only natural that so many strangers from so many strange lands would take residence here, often finding fortunes servicing the trade ships of their countrymen and acting as a bridge between foreign and Abish merchants. That a dozen or more languages were spoken on these streets was nothing if not a testimony to the aspect of Maat the city was attributed - Harmony. Of course, the Nesut could build as many statues as he liked depicting the "confluence of peoples", even here the instinctive fear and hatred of the other could be found, hinted at insidiously below the surface.

Hadar naq Jafri was a "Riverlord", according to tradition. He found the word distasteful, misrepresentative. The Riverlords were a caste, not a race, and while the assignment of the great river to them was on the surface something like a sign of respect, painting over their uniqueness to slot his people into the geographic terms of Amemnhat - and the convenient erasure of the other races that lived along the Suten - was the truth of the matter. He was Lyrani, a child of Passion, a fact he couldn't hide even if he tried - thanks to the curved horns protruding from his skull. His family had lived in Qeb for three generations, selling their ancestral riverside farmlands after his grandfather had earned the patronage of Asychis, a Heqa, to come and look pretty at his court for pay. Demeaning work, but surprisingly profitable both in deneb and in connections. Hadar's grandfather was long dead. The Heqa, frustratingly long-lived as the Ailur were, still lived and leant his occasional support to the family, useful if humiliating to rely on.

Hadar had no interest in the labours of his grandfather, nor those of his parents, perennially struggling middlemen negotiating contracts with traders on behalf of those who actually had wealth. He was a child of Passion, and like his kin, prone to flights of fancy. Dreams of making a difference, being remembered. Doing something that mattered. And so, here he was. Of all places in Qeb and beyond, the Sma. Somewhere between priests and administrators, the imperial bureaucracy that from the outside more resembled a cabal of decisionmakers who bore little to no personal responsibility, shielded behind the name of Pharaoh. Teachers, seers, tax collectors. A hundred roles more, wrapped up in their immense paperwork. If he desired the ability to influence thousands of lives, to better them, it was with the ink-pushers.

The first difficulty had been getting through the front door, being taken seriously as an applicant functionary. They were always hiring, of course, constantly expanding their presence. As a friend had gotten into some trouble for quipping, "the bureaucracy is growing to meet the needs of the growing bureaucracy". But with little wealth, no name of note, and much more destructively those horns on his head serving as a permanent sign that he was not among the "wisened people", it took time - and the borrowing of Heqa Asychis's name - to be taken seriously at all. Then, of course, the trials.

Serving as an initial barrier to entry for those not cut out for the work, as well as a tool to identify those applicants worth plucking away to more selective programs, the trials to Hadar were simply a hoop to jump through. An expense of a year of his life filing papyrus correctly, fetching tea and incense for priests, playing futile games of chance meant to find the Ailur with a knack for guessing correctly. A year of their trite invested, and he was finally here, at the day that would aim the trajectory of the rest of his life. The Civil Service Exam. In theory, those who failed could remain in trial, and wait another year. In practice, for him, he knew that a failure at any step in the process was tantamount to the total death of his bid for entry.

He walked down the long hall that bisected the temple, a procession of other trialees rushing to-and-fro in the last minutes before their final test of entry. Many were anxious, nervously glancing around and gripping their hands together tightly. Some seemed excited, confident and ready to enter the Sma proper, chatting to each other about their likely placements. Then, there were - ah. He straightened up, as Ata nodded to him and approached. She walked the hall with the self-assuredness of a lion, like this was nothing but a perfunctory tradition before she got straight to running the realm. "Prepared, naq Jafri?"

Ata was an Ailur, but... more so. One of their gifted. Her visions were apparently mostly useless, but it seemed like everything under the sun came to her as easily as walking and talking. She processed numbers instantly, could tell you the past ten generations of owners of every High Place in Ab. She'd even dabbled in the Higher Mysteries, once setting a feather to flight just to show off, before like everything else magic just became a passing interest. Beyond all of that, despite the mannerisms she inherited from her noble family she had been one of the more welcoming fellow trialees, someone he had grown grateful for the presence of.

Realizing he had been staring into her golden eyes for a moment too long, he glanced away and coughed. "Least sleep I've ever had, but I'm ready." True enough, he'd barely rested the past week, devoting his time to cramming, pushing as much knowledge into his mind as it could bare to hold, and then some. His face betrayed determination, at which she smiled.

"And, the least sleep you'll ever need to have again, once you're one of the ink-pushers." She wielded the lower-class term that he had once accidentally used like a teasing weapon, making him scoff and roll his eyes. "Come on, you know I didn't mean it like that..."

"Take heart, naq Jafri. Soon enough, you'll be one of them. Making and breaking lives by pen-stroke." Her hand came down on his shoulder, squeezing it supportively. "Don't lose what you came from." Her face was strangely serious, and he instinctively nodded. Before he could reply, a bell rang out down the hall, inspiring at least a couple of gasps and curses from trialees. Ata smiled and turned, walking away into the crowd. Hadar took a moment, before joining the rushing crowd as they pushed into the examination hall.

A prestigious chamber reserved for just this sort of occasion, there were a hundred or so small desks arranged in a grid. At the front of the hall, a great statue of Sbat, goddess of wisdom, surrounded by smaller icons of her fellows in the heavens. In her hands, an incense burner, which was already alight and filling the hall. Robed priests lined the walls, looking on silently as the trialees maneuvered to seats. Hadar managed to get one in the front half of the room, sitting down to see a stack of papyrus sheets, a reed pen, and an ink bottle, in front of him. Once everyone had settled, a priest walked to the front of the room, a large hourglass in his hands.

He stood in front of the trialees, and spoke with a powerful voice. "You all will have three hours, at the end of which your papers will be collected. This examination covers six core knowledge areas essential to service in the Sma; History and Theology, Literacy, Numeracy, Laws and Customs, Foresight, and High Places. No one will be excused for the duration of the test. Sbat guide you, good luck." With that, the hourglass was turned. Hadar dropped his gaze down to his desk, dipping his reed in the ink and moving aside the covering sheet to reveal the first page of questions.

Question One: The Serekh Name of Pharaoh Ahotep II honoured which god?

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:56 pm

Image
Tablet I: Oathbound




“Over the ridge! Over the ridge, quick!” She heard Ahrnakir howl, his voice almost swallowed by the sound of chitinous hissing and thunderous cracks.

Zarika quickened her pace, hears pressed flat against her head, tail flailing behind her as goddess-guided eyes scoured the scenery for her quarry. Just ahead, a ridge in the jungle gave way to a slope into ancient trees, Ahrnakir already in the thick of it, where plumes of ancient splinters burst from broken limbs. Zarika, guided by Ashareh, ran up upon the ridge, eyes narrowed—her ever-wide gaze honing down on the chaos before her.

There. A faint moment of movement, a mere pin-hole in the foliage which revealed their foe. She pulled her arm back, divine strength building in her aim, the bow string pressed against her fingers with the strength enough to cut the arms off a man. With a whoosh, the air screeched, the foliage burst into emerald clouds of vine, wood and leaves. She heard a chitinous cry, and Ahrnakir, somewhere on the ground, cheering as he continued his chase. She must’ve hit, Ashareh be praised.

Zarika dashed ahead, lupine eyes ever watchful, head feet guiding her down a ridge as she leapt from ancient tree to stone to ground. Vine and branches were torn from her path, the demigoddess rushing ahead with goddess-guided eyes, with no obstacle staying her advance. Not far ahead, she heard the sound of a sword against armor, the grunts and victorious cries of Ahrnakir as he howled like a madman. A few more paces, the shattering of a branch and scattering of some vines, Zarika broke into a space ahead, and there did she find her beloved.

Under a canopy of ancient woods, sunbeams cast faint pillars of luminous ray into a clearing of undergrowth, where Ahrnakir stood. He was magnificent, adorned in copper armor and Asharkar tunic. Godly strength flowed through his muscles, a body not massive in size, but terrible in strength and awesome in tone. The lupine features of the old dead mother resided in him, reddish brown fur along his wolf's tail, and a great set of ears resting upon his head—a man melded with maned wolf, as all Asharaeans were blessed. In his right hand, he clutched a copper blade, valiance in his step, sunbeams shining upon him as a warrior of Ashareh, as he looked up to his quarry.

Before Ahrnakir, a great and massive monstrosity they hunted was reared up, with no intent to run further. It was a chitinous mass of razor-like legs and ever-long segments, centipedal in character, with armor as strong as bronze. Four mandibles slathered and hissed upon its head, and whip-like antennae cut the air with sensory awareness. She could see in its great fanned back, carapace plates like a cobra, the arrows she had planted in it thus far. She could see the streams of blue blood which flowed as little rivers from scratched exoskeleton. This was the end of their hunt, their prey backed into a corner.

Pulling on the bowstring, Zarika gave no time for the beast to ponder the next move—hallumchaki were too dangerous to give that time. Goddess-guided as her aim was, eyes greater than any beast and bowstring ever divine, the monstrosity saw her, and shifted the fan of carapace, the armor striking with the force of a ballista but merely glancing off natural armor. With a hiss, the mandibles opened, and thick streamers of translucent glue spewed forth like a fountain, Zarika leaping just as the grounds she stood on were coated and trapped.

“Off my woman you flesh-glutton,” Ahrnakir hissed, rushing forward with his sword and slashing at the creature, a metal ping soon followed by a blunt slosh. Blue spray and hissing, and the renewed attention on the swordsman, was all that he earned.

“Bring his head low!” Zarika shouted, taking aim and loosing another arrow. “I need a clear shot on his head!”

“Easier said than done!” He called back to her, a gruff voice soon grunting as a centipedal claw glanced his beard. “Ah, but now he’s done it!”

Sword swirling, Ahrnakir howled and took hold of the leg, holding tight with his divine strength as the creature slashed and snapped at him. The two were locked in a whirlwind of chiton and flesh, with blue flurries of beastly blood mixed into the howls of pain as some of the monster's blows crashed into the Asharaean demigod. Reckless as he was, Zarika saw the opportunity she asked for, the monster so focused on Ahrnakir with its mandibles. The head lowered, her eyes narrowed. She took a deep breath. She’d done this a hundred times before. She would do it a hundred times yet.

With a crack, a wet sloshing and stifled hiss filled the space, the monster suddenly going rigid. Then, idle, it twitched and continued to spin, chasing after itself, a nervous system with no master repeating dead commands. Ahrnakir leapt from the mess, tumbled to the ground, and brushed himself off as he stood. In silence, the two walked to be by one another, and watched the pitiful predator twirl and twirl, until balance was lost, and it merely twitched on the ground and foamed blue bubbles from it’s eyes and mandibles. A beast which would take twenty, felled instead by two.

“You’re a mess,” Zarika muttered as she reached out to her beloved, wiping blue gore off golden-brown cheeks. She wasn’t looking forward to the stink in bed, the hallumchaki blood having seeped into Ahrnakir’s beard. “You’re lucky we don’t need to barter our way across Erk-ikh Iskpar to reach Chenguruk. Esharr be praised. You’ll smell horrible the whole way there.”

“Chenguruk? Ah—you always preferred that one. It’s smaller than Riabzu or even Yakzanur, though. You know I prefer Riabzu.”

“You prefer getting drunk on their beer, and eating their frozen treats. More than that, you like the attention,” Zarika rolled her eyes and kissed him on the cheek. I fell in love with an idiot. Divinity comes with a price, clearly.

“Now I know you’re full of it,” Ahrnakir chuckled, responding in kind with a blue-blooded kiss on the lips. “Chenguruk, then? That’ll be quite the journey from here.”

“Yes, but I think our trip is almost over regardless. We can stretch it a little by heading west and then into the Sawari lands,” she replied behind muffled wipes of her lips. Great, now the stink is on me too. “We need to visit Esharr.”

Ahrnakir grunted as he walked over to the slain beast, sword in hand, before beginning to hack away at the creature with divine strength. With two slashes to a soft joint, the head, the size of a man’s chest, came rolling free. Still, it would need to be treated, hollowed and filled with clay. That would be their trophy. She could already see Ahrnakir going for the claws on the beast, and examining the venomettes of the upper body. So he does understand how this’ll work.

“You get it?”

“I do. We missed her trip to Dur-Asharki. If we weren’t born of gods then we wouldn’t have been able to get away with this trip. Not that it matters one way or another to me, I prefer the hunt. Do you think she was irritated?”

“She was warned ahead of time, but she set her dates regardless. And she also is aware that this is our tradition, this is our annual time.”

“Hmm… Ketzani has been kind to us, this year. That makes four hallumchaki this hunt. Don’t we usually get two?”

“That sounds about right. It must be as thanks to Ashareh,” Zarika hummed out, tail in sway as she fastened her bow to her back. There was a sturdy copper latch, always a pain to reach, but easy to unbuckle with the right pressure. “I can make the gifts this time for Esharr if you want to drive the cart.”

“You don’t want to take them to an artisan? They are better than either of us.”

“We fought a war for her, we don’t need to shower her in excess to make her understand our gift and loyalty. Sartaygyur told me something along those lines, at least. And I am better at making things by hand anyways, you’re too rough.”

“I’m rough enough,” Ahrnakir chuckled as he ripped a centipedal claw from the hallumchaki. “We can do that then, I prefer driving the aurkett, as it were. Do you want to go straight to Isklakata?”

“No, we need to head to Dur-Asharki first, spend a night there, learn whatever we missed out on. We can make the dedication on the same night, and get you your first bath. At the very least Ashareh will be pleased.”

“Very funny,” he scowled as he began to fill further and further a great woven sack with carapace claws from the monster. Zarika simply watched him, admiring the work of his hands, the attention to detail and the sharp precision of his bone-crushing snaps. “We’ll get a chance to find out our first assignment as well, in Isklakata. Either on the way to Chenguruk or coming back from it.”

“Through the spine twice?”

“That’s the plan.”

“One you’ve decided on by yourself, no doubt.”

“It’s only the best plan we can follow, so of course. Takes care of almost everything at once, and extends our leave.” She walked over to be by Ahrnakir, taking hold of the bag as he threw in a last few good looking claws. “I wonder what she’ll have us do.”

“Hard to say. Chia-tupar-aplum didn’t ask us to do much more than patrols and training. Now with Esharr-maikana-Ketzani? I heard some of the soldiers mention she was tallying supplies for expeditions. She’s acting on her wishes already. We might get swept into that soon.”

“To fight, you think?”

“I certainly hope so!” Ahrnakir triumphantly laughed. “The glory I claimed in the war? My legend spreads, and so does yours! That is the work for demigods like us, for divine blood. If she wants my sword, I’ll give it to her in an instant. After all, she can call on all the heroes in the land, but none of them—not even Entuka—are divine.”

“You better be more sensitive with your words when we’re in her presence, dear.” Zarika growled, “Esharr has a daughter, you know. She’s like us. She’s better than us.”

“Ketzani’s spawn? Ah—you are right.” Ahrnakir stood up, done with his work, handing off the back to Zarika and holding the titanic head in one hand. He moved as if it were air, though Zarika herself knew she couldn’t possess that strength. “But she’s locked away for her safety, isn’t she? By the gods, for our safety too. Hardly blessed if you want my opinion.”

Zarika hissed at him, eyes narrowed. “Idiot, keep those words to yourself. Do you want to anger a god?”

“Sorry, sorry. Ease up, dear.”

“You should know better,” she groaned, thumbling with the woven bundle of carapace trophies. “There are Ketzani’s lands. She grants us the power to live here, for Ashareh to live here. Don’t you ever forget that—or you’ll end up like our kith to the north.”

She was met with a scowl, but an expression of irritation and hidden guilt told her she’d scolded him well enough. A man so used to praise, Ahrnakir was easy enough for her to dig her claws into when he stepped out of line. But it was for his own good, she knew. If the gods heard him and grew angry, there would be hardly a thing I could do…

“Come, it’s going to be at least two days travel back to Dur-Asharki,” she said as she motioned for the foliage they’d burst from during their hunt. “Or is my proud warrior too wounded to walk now?”

“I’d race you there, but we know who is faster with their legs.”

It wasn’t her.

“That’s more the spirit I want to hear. Don’t let a scolding spoil your mood.”

He grunted. “You want to give thanks to Ashareh at camp?”

“Yes. Let Ketzani’s wilds have their fill, and our hunters in four days can collect the shell left or any of the rotless meat which doesn’t get eaten. Call it making amends. To Ashareh, we will dedicate some gifts to her temple—and we can give some chocolate to her tonight. We have a burial-cup, don’t we?”

“The small one wrapped in gold wire, yes. The one from Isklakata.”

“I know it. Then that’ll be that. We can get you new chocolate when we visit Isklakata.”

“I sure to cursed-daylight hope we could. Hungry pups at home keep eating what we have stored in Dur-Asharki.”

“Only because you feed them, dear.”

“They’re kids, they should get the treats,” he shrugged. “From their hero, no less.”

“Don’t let it get to your head.”

She took her first steps into the foliage, the thoughts of her evening duties on her mind. The bow would need to be examined and mended, the string checked, the gifts could be made on the road, the chocolate offering would need to be done by fire and earth… Ah—but those were just tonight’s duties. And then there would come a trek and return… but return to where? A strange sense of thoughtful consideration possessed her, goddess-guided eyes looking over the wilds around her.

“You really think that she’ll call on us to make war again? She’ll take us away from hunting monsters and defending the wilds?”

“Do you remember the siege of Waruk? We are her demigods, of course she will call upon our oaths to Erk-ikh Iskpar. Of course we’ll go to war for her. Why?”

Zarika pondered for a moment, a fleeting sensation of apprehension sparked in her heart before being snuffed out by callous necessity.

“No reason. I’m sure we’ll learn everything we please from Esharr in Isklakata. The sooner we get there, the better.”
Last edited by Isklanapura on Sat Jan 15, 2022 4:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Tyrrhusca
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 3
Founded: Mar 24, 2021
Corporate Police State

Postby Tyrrhusca » Sun Jan 16, 2022 6:54 pm

Sprouting Rose


The world materialized. At one moment, nothing; however, as Thocero pried his eyes open, he could see his surroundings. Sitting up, he pressed his hand against his head. His brain felt like it would pop through his skull as pains erupted when he gained consciousness. What happened? Where am I? He awoke in a room unfamiliar to him. Sunlight brightly illuminated the room from the various windows and doorways. The sound of seagulls and waves could be heard in the distance. Turning his head, Thocero gasped. A woman lay sleeping in the same bed, her black hair spread over her pillow. Her sleeping face was graceful, undisturbed. Shooting pains filled Thocero's head caused him to lose focus of the world. "Svba Cvmni Venthi!" he cursed out loud.

The girl awoke, confused. As she sat up, she covered herself with the blanket. Thocero could see that her eyes were hardly opened, still sealed from hours of slumber. "Are you ok, Thocero?" she inquired as she cleared her hair away from her face. As she spoke, his memories came back to him like the crashing of a dam. He nodded. As he stood up, he felt his legs tremble. The painful stabbings of numbness pinned him in place. The pain was soon washed away as he waited, allowing him to move about. Sliding on his shirt, he focused on recalling the previous night's adventure.

Visions of the countryside flashed through his mind. Visions of a towering city, a savory feast, an elegant half-fish woman, and the glow of a setting sun all ran through his head. Looking back towards the bed, the woman was back under the covers, closing her eyes. She looked familiar, yet he could conjure no name, nor if they were intimate.

Thocero returned to his side of the bed. Sitting upright, he slid his legs back under the blanket. He closed his eyes, but no more memories were conjured. He still did not know who this woman was, nor what happened between them. "Forgive me, but who-"

Before Thocero finished, the woman opened her eyes. As the two made eye contact, Thocero noticed a small white mark on one of her eyes. Something about her eyes was so fulfilling, a welcoming ocean of joy. At that moment, his mind returned to him. She was his wife.

"Forgive me for waking you, Vivinna. My head felt like it was being trampled by a herd of horses. I did not realize you were beside me."
She smiled slightly as she spoke. "Nothing to apologize about. Does your head still hurt?"

"No, the pain ran away," Thocero said, running his hand through his short hair, massaging the top of his head. Vivinna responded with a brief smile of acknowledgment before attempting to return to sleep. As he lay there, his memories began to rebuild themselves bit by bit until the previous night's event became apparent. He remembered meeting Vivanna for the first time. Though the two were now married, they only met yesterday. Vivanna still was alien to him. He did not know her, despite how much he may have explored. She was still the shy girl staring at the ground, hoping that the floor would swallow her, saving her from the stranger she now shares a bed with. She was his wife only by law.

With his mind sound, the bed could no longer contain Thocero. Bouncing off the bead, he approached one of the windows. It overlooked the urban sprawl. Elevated upon the coastal ridge, he could see every building within and pasture outside the walls. Beyond the wall, white blotches were lined in rows. He could see small smokestacks emanating from what he assumed was his father's host camped outside. Just on the other side of the room, the morning seas raged as birds cried out their annoying beckons. Thocero didn't know how he could have slept without the aid of alcohol. The ambient noise was relentless.

Before leaving the bedroom, Thocero dressed himself. After throwing on his plain toga, he carefully wrapped a golden embroidered, crimson himation around himself. Sliding on his ox hide sandals, he quietly opened the door and slipped out. Two servant guards stood outside the door. He heard them cut their conversation short and bow their heads as he exited. Thocero left them without any acknowledgment, attempting to navigate the foreign halls.

The sound of men conversing bounced off the walls, luring Thocero to an open courtyard. His father, Teucer, and now step-father Marus stood alone around a table. As Thocero entered the square, the two men briefly stopped talking and looked upon him. Thocero stopped in his tracks, worried he stumbled into an unwanted conversation.

Marus broke the momentary silence. "Ah, he finally awakes. Come, join us, Thocero. We discuss the logistics of your father's return to Scansna." Though it nearly slipped by, Thocero caught the implication.
"Am I to return with him?" Thocero approached the table. The two men were silent.
"Yes," his father said. "You are to remain here with your wife. She is not ready to travel to Scansa yet. You will remain here in the care of Marus, but more importantly, with your wife. I am needed back at Scansna quicker than expected. It seems my regent has blundered with local affairs."
"No disrespect to Marus, but ought I to be by your side to learn? I'm sure.." Thocero's mind drew a blank on his wife's name. Teucer recognizing his son's failure, attempted to save him.
"You will remain here and be tutored here. Marus has offered to provide you with a teacher, and you will respectfully accept his generosity. There is no negotiating here. You will remain here, help Marus, learn, and familiarize yourself with Vivinna."

Though he disagreed with him, he could not disobey. He was in no position to. Thocero stepped back and observed as the two went back into their deep logistical discussion. He watched as they refined out the details yet gave no input. Once they were, he slipped out undetected; Marus and his father were too distracted by each other to notice his disappearance.

Thocero wandered aimlessly through the halls, admired the art and history. Armors, swords, helmets, and jewelry passed down from generation after generation culminated into a priceless exhibit in the galleries of the Velpu family. A large wall mural depicted the story of Tarquin was under construction in the throne room. Workers hauled around materials and paints as artisans intricately colored in etches within the wall. Thocero wondered why Marus would choose Tarquin as a mural. It was not a story of a great conqueror, not a glorious battle or joyous ending; it was a tragedy of a lost man who disappeared off the edge of the earth.

As he lost himself in the mural, admiring the various scenes of the warrior and nature, a figure who approached behind him sucked him out of the art. Turning his head, he saw Vivanna come to him. Giving her a shallow smile, he held out his arm for her to take. She accepted the gesture, gently wrapped herself around his arm.

The two stood silently together within the hall. Though he wished to keep looking at the mural, he could tell that she was bored of the mural by her restless moving.
"Care to show me to the gardens, Vivanna? I still haven't managed to navigate these halls yet."
He could tell she was still shy. "Yes, I'd love to." She led him through the halls, arms locked around one another. Entering the garden, white stone gave way to bright hues of yellow, purple, and red. A dirt pathway meandered through the trimmed foliage. Thocero and Vivanna slowly opened up to each other, both more willing to talk.
The young couple sat down on one stone bench in the middle of the garden. Sitting low to the ground, the smell of the yellow roses and the ensemble of critter's chirps and buzzing became more apparent. Inquisitively, Vivanna said, "I heard, from my father, you are staying here while your father returns to Scansna?"
Thocero unleashed a heavy sigh. "Yes, I am. I was informed this morning. Though I wish I could be with him, we-" He stopped himself. "It is best if I remain here with you. We should have time to get one another more."
Vivianna's cheeks turned rosy as she smiled. "I am glad you are staying." Thocero couldn't help but return a smile. The two continued their walk around the grounds, eventually touring throughout the villa. The two scurried around its halls like children. Vivanna showed him every secret room, every room, and artifact within the monumental estate. Though each distinct with their own treasures and art, the maze of corridors was blurred together by the mere quantity. The two were inseparable during the peak hours of the day until the sun sunk beneath the edge of the world.

Though no one interfered or stopped their frolicking, Thocero noticed Marus kept a close eye on them. Thocero never made eye contact but was observing with the corner of his vision. He did not dare to let Marus know he was being observed. As the young couple spent the last few hours of the day watching the waves crash against the rocks below, Thocero saw Marus watching from the corner of his eye. Without thinking, Thocero pulled Vivanna in for a kiss. The two embraced till there was no more air to share. When they parted, Thocero noticed Marus was gone. Looking back at Vivanna, her face was flushed red. Her eyes returned an enamored gaze, the small white mark on her eye glistening. The two nestled together as the sun's orange glow was slowly engulfed by the sea.

Image

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Sat Jan 22, 2022 1:14 pm

Image
Tablet IV: New Beginnings




Isklakata. Home. And yet, for all the familiar sights—the great Eketza-karicha of Kisharrum-Hurra-warcha, the tremendous ziggurat Eketzahirka which touched the clouds, the endless expanse of cloud forest beyond the walls of the tapering spine of Isklakata, or even the elaborate and colorful beasts which chittered and zipped by with insectoid grace—it was all hollow. This was her childhood, her city, her place of birth and eventual place of rest. But it was oh so more. Down every street was a memory with her sister. In every tower was a warm evening with her fallen love. And no measure of light, from the flames or the dazzling gold, could dispel the shadows of her mind.

She felt unwell, Maikana-Ketzani looking down at her hands, eyes wide as she examined them. I had to do it. I had to do it! A wary mind reasoned, the sting of memory cutting into her, as though gored by a carapaced horn. When she closed her eyes, she could hear the people in the streets cheering for her, and the stomping of her Isklana soldiers and Asharkar bronze. She could hear her name being called—yet another procession, one of oh so many she’d slaved through. In the noise, she heard it oh so faintly: a familiar voice, calling her name, with sisterly affection. Shut up… Shut up! You did this. You turned my home into a city of knives. You did this! Maikana-Ketzani silently warred with herself. You’ll see… Oh yes, you will see. From the mirrored waters of the basin, you will watch in awe and shame…

Great stone walls topped in vanners of gold and emerald greeted her home to the royal district. Before her the familiar sights truly began to set in, more so than the greater expanse of the spine. Palatial walls of perfectly carved stone brick gave way to a greeting courtyard and immense gate, and she knew behind it was the endless expanse of a vast structure of throne rooms, treasuries, shrines, gardens and more pleasures of power. As she looked up, she saw the palatial ziggurat—smaller than that of the adjacent Eketzahirka—with a top level capped in pillars and straw covering. Most governing nobles, to save expenses and hold local gods ever closer to rulership, merged their palaces and ziggurats into one superstructure. In a way, her predecessors had done the same, but the palatial superstructure had grown so massive that the ziggurat looked more a feature than a foundation.

Gently, the motion of the palanquin gave way, and fall it did like a wing on a summer breeze. Asharkar were quick to march from the palace gates, lining up with precision into several rows, two sides facing one another, with bronze spears in hand. From the gate’s darkness she saw a party of Isklana courtiers emurge, the head of the group being a lithe, spidery man, with carapace horns which curved inward with little thorns. She looked to his legs, examining the way he moved, noticing the precision in which he timed his steps in naturally unnatural gait. He wore no beard, a typical sign of a palace eunuch. Vancha-arnketzum… More serpents in my garden…

“Hail, great Kisharratum,” the Vancha-arnketzum chirped with a bow, his black locks of hair cascading down as he descended, and falling back into place as he rose. “We’ve so dearly missed you. The priestesses have been predicting your every triumph, and triumph you have.”

Maikana-Ketzani examined him in silence. She could hear the whispers, she could see the predatory sharpness of his jaw, the look in his eyes. A centipede. A lurking creature. He’d escaped her purge, but that made him either loyal, or excessively intelligent. And the way he articulated himself with that palatial dialect…

She pushed past him, the eunuch stepping aside with several hops. Nevertheless, the courtiers turned, Vancha-arnketzum among them, and quickly kept step to follow along their queen. As she passed through tremendous golden gates, inlaid with emerald beasts, the Asharkar, row by row, followed the party in.

“Vancha-arnketzum is right, your highness,” another man spoke. She glanced over, finding an older man, bearded in the traditional curls, with four horns which adorned him as a crown. She could see wrinkles in his skin, and scars over his recessed mandibles. An ally or advantageous?

“We’ve received word that the captains you dispatched north and south have made impressive gains. Tin production and copper production is officially under our control,” he continued.

“And the former holders have been set to work in preparing storehouses. We’ve sent for their nobles to arrive in Isklakata in the next few weeks, so that you might choose governors among them.”

“Who are you?” Maikana-Ketzani said with a stop, turning her head and looking over the older man. “You weren’t in my fathers court, and I don’t remember seeing you last time I was in the spine.”

“Forgive me, your divinity,” the man bowed. He didn’t hold the refinement of Vancha-arnketzum. She liked that. “I am Yanka-damkatum, lower administrative overseer of kipum inventory.”

“Lower?”

“Your chief overseer of the kipum sent me in his stead. He’s indisposed by new kipum which need recording and reading before being presented to you.”

A plot? Why else would the man reading all the incoming reports send a subordinate and not himself? Yes… He must be in this game of daggers. Or… Could it be a mistake? No. Yes! But perhaps…

“Have him report to me as soon as he’s able.”

“Of course,” Yanka-damkatum nodded.

“My liege, if I might have a word,” a woman spoke up in the group.

Ah, I was wondering when she would speak… She isn’t after my crown, yes… Yet…

“Speak freely, Ninishta-kaya.”

“My liege, the Sawari have sent their representative court priest. His name is Enkurdea. He’s from Waruk to be specific. I’m told he is one of their upper storm-priests, and was chosen for the appointment on recommendation from the Sawari council and three different oracular sites.”

High praise, perhaps I made a good impression… Or maybe they’re keeping a close eye on me…

“Where is he now? I don’t see him among you.”

“He’s inspecting the ziggurat at the moment, and discussing with our head priestess.”

“Was he unaware that I was arriving?”

“N-no, my liege. But when I told him, all he said to me was that inheritors need quiet. I didn’t quite understand, but he was given all warning of your arrival.”

Maikana-Ketzani paused in her step again, letting the warmth of the sun embrace her as she stood in the first internal courtyard. Damn them… So cryptic in every action. With an exhale, she resumed her step, mind set on the throne room.

“Ask Enkurdea to meet me in my chambers when he has the opportunity.”

“Of course. Oh, and my liege-”

“I’d like to also congratulate your divinity on the completion of the sacred marriage ritual. When word came back to the palace, the Asharkar were cheering your name,” Vancha-arnketzum remarked.

“Make yourself useful, and see to it that the statue of Ashareh in my personal ziggurat is refurbished. And send for priests dedicated to her, Myronans as well, to come to my court.”

“My liege, if I may have your-”

Your majesty, when you have the time, I’d like to also schedule an audience with you and the other construction overseers. With our new fortunes, we can begin making investments beyond the repairs needed from the war,” a woman spoke up, though Maikana-Ketzani paid no mind.

Request after request, note after note, and between every report were honeyed words with golden-laced lies. They just want more power, they just want my power. They’re just seeking more. What more is there to give? Am I not a queen? Centipedes! All of them… All but…

“My liege, this is terribly urgent!” Ninishta-kaya raised her voice.

“Speak, Ninishta-kaya. By the great gods and the honored fallen, speak,” the queen snapped back at her as the doors of the throne room opened.

Maikana-Ketzani turned her gaze ahead—stone floor covered in elaborate silken rugs. Stone pillars cased in gold and emerald, and likewise great golden walls with reliefs of emerald. Banners hung with patterned colors, and all across the walls and carved into each golden pillar there was imagery of the gods all around. Sunlight cast beams through high-placed cuts in the walls, and tripods filled with oil burned gently, the smoke wafted into the open air from little carved vents, as to keep the throne room warm but smokeless. Yet before all, Maikana-Ketzani locked her eyes only on one thing: her throne. A great seat of gold, cushioned in dyed silken pillows, with golden guardian palmassum holding open cages from their mouths, in which hummingbird moths fed greedily on honeyed water.

Eyes wide, Maikana-Ketzani locked into an oddity of her chamber: a figure. An Isklana woman, adorned in royal robes of gold and emerald silks, with perfectly tanned skin and deep obsidian carapace. Her horns were dual, curved upward with little chains and ornaments attached, just as there were golden adornments of royalty in her long raven hair. Over her face, a silken cloth of gold obscured the eyes, but beneath were two pink gems which nearly pierced the opaque screen. Her tail was carapaced and crescent at the end, and the hummingbird moths glutted themselves on her presence as much as on their honeyed food.

“My liege… Ninkailis-ilum has arrived as of yesterday evening. She is… currently taking residence in her old abode. She arrived with a guard of Asharkar, along with two Sawari stormcallers.”

The queen simply stood, staring, a Kisharratum in a sense of shock. She knew this was coming, but in the flurry of the moment, in the endless procession of voices and shadowed whispers in the depths of her mind, she’d… Neglected. Before her stood a woman of such beauty and figure, half her age with all the more splendor—Ketzani’s mysterious gift. The cursed child she’d sent away to Wari to protect. And she could even see that Ketzani’s gift hadn’t diminished. Those eyes… Divine eyes…

Looking at the obscured gems brought back such pain. She could hear the whispers again, she could see the flickers of memory dash by. She could see the dark of night pierced by that shrill scream, the thumping of the guards, and the thrashing of Faya-kapkani as she lusted after what she couldn’t control. How the four pupils on both her eyes had become pink embers, and any sense was erased by urge. Ketzani gave her a gift in the form of a daughter, but she had given her divine vessel too much to handle. Father executed Faya-kapkani… But she… It had to be done… And then to Wari, she’d sent her to be safe among the Sawari.

“Leave us, all of you,” Maikana-Ketzani hissed. “Asharkar, turn to face away from us, but remain.” The courtiers were silent as they began to leave, though Maikana-Ketzani wasn’t finished. “Ninishta-kaya, go to my quarters, and wait for me there. If I take long, make yourself useful and organize my tablets, and fetch my latest reports of note. By the gods, all of you, out!”

She didn’t remove her eyes from her daughter, but she didn’t utter so much as a word until the doors audibly slammed shut behind her. Even once alone, should the guards be excluded, Maikana-Ketzani could only open her mouth to speak, but not utter a single word. She simply stared, eyes wide, a mixed storm of emotions clouding her every thought. Joy to the return of the daughter, fear of the danger of the demigod, anxiety over the past—it was too much. If only she’d remained at Wari.

“Ninkailis-ilum,” Maikana-Ketzani started, her words struggling. She’ll undermine my control. She’ll cause issues in the palace. She’ll be the heart of so many disasters like what happened to Faya-kapkani.

Ninkailis-ilum, hier lips unshielded by the same silken gold that covered her eyes, merely smiled, and continued to play with Ketzani’s little messengers that swarmed about her. A sign from Ketzani… She’s untouchable. My goddess wishes her to be here?

“Mother.”

“We’ve much to discuss, but…” Maikana-Ketzani paused, contemplating, conspiring with herself. What would Ketzani want? What does Ketzani want? She let out a sigh, her hands together, and smiled with palatial delicateness. “Ninkailis-ilum. Welcome home.”

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Mon Jan 24, 2022 9:06 pm

Image
Tablet I: Return to the Spine




Divine embers looked back at her, radiating with a pink hue—a marking from Ketzani herself—burned into her flesh, her sight and her spirit for all eons that are and that shall be. Ninkailis-ilum watched herself in the polished bronze mirror, her fingers tracing her afflicted features in the metal. In a distant memory, a night of infamy, she could still remember the heavy breath and ragged female coarseness of Faya-kapkani—though the face had long been banished to oblivion by Ketzani’s will. But the voice, the figure, the sound of the bronze armor clattering to the stone floor…

Those eyes… those eyes… Stay still, and give me your blessing.

A shudder, the pink embers disappearing as she looked away from the bronze mirror. She’d said more, of course, kicking and screaming when the Asharkar and Isklana Gwechum broke down her chambers. But gone to thin air. Poof. Absent. I’m just as ephemeral, aren’t I?

“Your divinity appears troubled,” a chirping voice spoke in the impossible tongue. She could hear the skeletal snapping of limbs, a Sawari circling her before coming to rest by her side—she on a stool before the bronze mirror, the predecessor-breed calmly upon the rugs of the stone ground.

“It’s nothing, Enhurran,” Ninkailis-ilum muttered, looking down at her hands.

There was a chittering groan, “storms which boil and roll, rather than flow, bring great destruction. Speak. If not to I, then speak to Enkoros when he should return. We live to serve.”

Ninkailis-ilum kept her silence, looking nwo to her arms, her legs, her carapaced claws. Her eyes ventured once more to the mirror, pink embers tracing the form of her horns. Three pillars—the center smaller—which sprouted from silken obsidian strands. She didn’t look very much like mother, yet she was born from her. No… She looked as they said. She looked more akin to Ketzani. If only…

Her thoughts plagued her. Years in Wari, years in devotion to the gods and to her own mastery—but also to the understanding that her blessings were beyond her calling. She should be thankful, she knew. She’d spoken to the oracles, she’d seen Ketzani in her dreams, she’d been given a gift greater than any other; but it was at such a price, and such a power. Gently, her gaze turned to the Sawari, her four pupils scanning the cold blackness of endless insectoid oblivion. No reaction. Enhurran looked back, none the wiser, none at all afflicted.

Faya-kapkani couldn’t control herself, but she was still given to Gwananki.[i]

Of course, in a strange twist, the rules of her guard had changed, felt even now, from errors of the past. She had her Sawari: one male, one female, but where her guards would traditionally be reflections of her sex—women Isklana and Asharkar—now they were all men. Even the guard captain of her personal contingent, an Isklana by the name of Belkum-kaya, was a man.

Things had certainly changed in the halls of the palace since she’d last been here, just shy of four years. Her room had been scavenged, cleared, and turned into an altar to Ketzani, she’d been told. It was but a space, all her belongings had long ago been moved to Wari, and in Wari they remained. Now her abode was one nearly as massive as her mothers suite—with room and archways designed not for her concern, but to allow the Sawari the freedom of movement. But location was one thing, the atmosphere was another. Every hall in the palace felt suffocating, the gardens now sick with a stench which was pungent, but fading, and above all the ever shifting eyes. Averted from her own embers, she could still see the courtiers and their eyes looking to one another and every shadow—afraid. But how couldn’t they be? Rumor was that auntie hadn’t been laid to rest in the usual way. Instead, her body had rotted, and mother paid frequent visits.

“We should’ve stayed in Wari…” she muttered out. [i]I know she wanted me to stay there, too. Why did the Sawari send me away?
“Surely I can make an appeal. Surely I can leave here.”

“Your divinity does have fortune and favor, and royal status mixed with the blessings of Ketzani. So seldom do the gods grace us with one of your status—let alone of your racial birth.”

“Then why don’t we leave for Wari first thing tomorrow?”

A chittering, “a journey should would see us return to this very place. We can not return to Wari.”

“But why?” She raised her voice, an adolescent annoyance building, only to be slowed and suppressed. Emotional control, that was one of the things she had been taught to observe and emulate. “Why? Why do they want me here?”

“It is not out of spite, or anger, or distrust. They see greater than any, and they know what must be. Trust in them, and trust in their choice for you to be here.”

She wanted to argue, but she knew it would be futile. Once upon a time, she would’ve been incessantly fighting against this verdict, but those days were behind her. Teenage bursts of pride and rage were common to all, but to her and her conditioning, infrequent. Faya-kapkani may have failed to take her body, but her lusting had raped Ninkailis-ilum of her childhood. Crimes of list, blessings of lust… Ketzani, why?

“Is it because I am Sharrwassatum?”

“Perhaps. But perhaps not. There is wisdom in you being here, even beyond the understandings of the elders and the oracular holdings.”

“Enlighten me,” she grumbled. A growing discord in her was met with the gentle brushings of the Sawari, Enhurran running claws through her obsidian cascades with little cracks and pops of carapace.

“You’ve spoken the wisdom yourself. You are Sharrwassatum. One day you will take the role of your mother, and you will lead with the blessings of Ketzani, Ashareh and fallen Nanki. Yours is a promised throne of passion and storm, and forever a master of beasts who defend it. The craft is best learned by presence.”

“It’s a presence which I hardly need. Mother hardly went on royal errands when grandfather was alive—now she is Kisharratum!”

“Ah—you speak true. But your mother has been hardened, prepared, suffered through war. She has learned the craft, and has learned through her experience how to chase her dreams for our kingdom.”

“And if my mother locks me away in here? If she confines me to the palace? How am I to learn then?”

“Child, my divine, Ketzani’s blessed… Ease. Be at ease. You feel afraid, this is understood, this is known. Yours is a path unlike any other. Ketzani has never given a mortal of her own being—neither blessed or cursed—until you were born.”

Ninkailis-ilum sighed, leaning into the chitinous claws which scratched at her scalp. “I just wish I knew what she wanted me to do. Let’s say this is where I am meant to be, let’s say it is so I can inherit the kingdom—right? Then why… Why this. Why did she do this to me? Why did she make me into a monster?”

The Sawari hissed with displeasure, before falling into a low chitter. “You are no monster, you are divine. We have seen cursed before, we have seen monsters. Kurnecha once cursed a man with eyes which, when gazed upon, afflicted others with disease of the flesh. His eyes were burned with copper pokers, and he was made to wander blind. Such was a curse, one of the eyes. That is not you. Yours is a blessing, strong as it may be, and budding.”

“But how can we know that?”

“Consider how it came. You were born of divinity, and this was known to all—but the day your embers blossomed was oh so recently. One became victim to the awakening. And this delay is not unknown: Zarika took the bow to learn her blessing. The brutality of Ahrnakir was earned in his early youth as well. Ashareh gave them time.”

“That means it could get worse…”

“It means you have to continue to learn to control it, and continue to trust in your royal blood. The Tablet of Destinies guides us all, and you, sweet thing, are born of the Rod of Dreams itself.”

Silence met her companion, Ninkailis-ilum contemplating quietly. Perhaps these anxieties and concerns and thoughts would be more distant if there had just been some time to prepare. Maybe if mother had come to visit her, if the war hadn’t kept her away so long or any myriad of factors. Maybe if she felt safe in her own palace, or if she didn’t see how mother had… changed. Perhaps Enhurran was right in her judgment, but all the same, she could be pitifully wrong, couldn’t she? The weary princess sighed, a frustration failing to escape her.

“No more, Enhurran. It’s late, so let me have my rest.”

The Sawari, with a heavy, shaking step, and the cracking of legs, bowed. She watched the mandibles, how they twitched and moved, and the truly monstrous look of such mighty beings. We inherited a kingdom from giants. Now giants are all that I know. There was no further exchange, a submissive sign, the rhythmic thumps as the great doorway was reached, the threshold crossed. There were muffles from beyond the door, the voices of guards speaking to Enhurran—male voices. At the very least that brought her comfort. A precaution, unnecessary as it was, by mother; nevertheless, psychologically welcome.

Alone, she looked in the mirror, staring at the pink embers again. She didn’t understand this world. She didn’t want to understand this world. A palace of whispers and rumors and schemes. A guard had told her the other day that there was a game afoot—one in which every shadow was watched. Rising from her seat, she walked over to a bed of carved wood, like a basin, inlaid with carvings with emerald eyes and gold detail. With a flop, she collapsed into it, face buried in silken sheets and thick pillows stuffed with moth-feathers.

Ketzani, please, hear me. Ketzani, please, guide me. I am not Kisharr-koiai-Ketzani, I am not that strong. Show me what you would have me do. Tell me what is my destiny. Divine upon me my path. I am lost, so please find me.

She closed her eyes, and in good time, sleep captured her with her four moonlit eyes.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Sun Jan 30, 2022 4:28 pm

Image
Tablet I: The Northern Trek




Urde-Saya watched the skittering of the whip-crawler—slow and methodical as it was. A carapace body of black and earthy highlights—no larger than a cat— segmented like an arachnid, though with six legs and two pairs of whips, and two clusters of six eyes set upon the head. It was flat to the ground, moving like a tablet sliding over the earth, as four whip-like feelers barbed in thorns gently grouped the land. He shifted his eyes a little ahead of it, to a troublesome rodent. No doubt something attracted from the hills or having hitched a ride since their departure to the north.

The feelers came closer and closer, the rat seemingly unaware of the approach of the predatory. Suddenly, the slow motions stopped, and the whip-crawler froze up. Found him. In an instant, like coiled iron, the four whips shot out, and six legs anchored the beast to the earth. Small barbs wrapped around the rat, the beast screaming and crying out, a meal spoiled by restraint and pain; and like a sadistic lord, the capture motionlessly held tight. The struggling lessened and lessened, and as it did, the beast was dragged back, and made acquaintance with the carapace daggers the whip-crawler had for mandibles.

“Good, you’re fed,” spoke Urde-Saya, though the creature paid him no mind. “I was worried the provisioners gave us useless guards. Guess I was wrong.”

With careful precision, the creature began to turn and move away from Urde-Saya, lurking toward a great ceramic canister, the size of a small man. It had reliefs pressed upon the surface, showing the very same beast at work. Though the light was faint, he could see poking out of the top were little feelers ever now and again. At the very least the little devils were easy to transport, and easy to handle—though of all of his goddess’s creations, this was among his least favorite. Unlike the specialized house-guardians across Isklanapura—be that the jumpers of the capital, the cuttlefish of the mouths, the wolves of the Asharaeans or even the house tarantulas of the deep jungle—whip-crawlers were by far the most irritating. Intrusive, careless, and as easy to scare as be scared by. Worse yet was the seeming attitude. They were more cohabited with Isklana than truly domesticated. Blasted things. We could only bring one tarantula too, yet now we have eight of you.

He looked toward the east, holding the wool blanket tightly around his shoulders. These damned mountains. My horns freeze at night, and boil during the dry day. Far into the distance he could see an endless dune sea, the grains stretching like waves unto the horizon. Rising out of that horizon was a great burning ball, casting rosey light upon grains, and at the foot of the mountain, advancing like a swarm of ants toward them. It was beautiful, but it was also sorrowful. Here they were—Urde-Saya and his party of Isklana—far from the haven of civilization and the warmth of Ketzani’s realm. Where were the cities here? Where were the luxuries of a tamed world? Where was the touch of Ketzani; or better yet, of any god? Now and again they’d seen tribals and traders, or bandits to be scared off, but no settlement. What I would give to sleep behind some walls…

Standing, a stretch electrifying his body, Urde-Saya groaned and flexed. His tail, sprouting with insectoid feelers like feathers, swung side to side like a segmented whip, as he dug his claws against hard rock beneath him. Rubbing his hands through a peppered beard and up against barbed scythes that he called horns, he prepared himself. Another day, another service to the state and to the great goddess. The creeping light of rosey dawn would be upon him soon, and they would need to get moving.

“Up! Everyone up!” He shouted, turning his gaze full behind him, where he faced his party: a caravan of four carts pulled by beetles with broad heads like ram horns. Scattered around the resting beetles were men with their blankets, up against rock or beast, totaling at forty. Most were soldiers, but there were also cartographers, scribes, priestesses, and merchants.

“Up, up you lot!” He shouted again, walking again and lightly kicking a man until he groaned and began to rise. “Up, before dawn gets the better of us.”

The sleeping party was filled with groans, but slowly his men did arise. But as all things were, rising wasn’t such a simple affair. He scanned the party until he found two priestesses, clad in their emerald robes. Beautiful women. But untouchable much to his suffering—they belonged to Ketzani and Ketzani alone.

“Divinities, please, wake up,” he gently prodded one. Her eyes fluttered open, revealing eyes of deep emerald, the four pupils staring back up at him. “Dawn comes. Please make offering to Ketzani, and divine from her hummingmoths their secrets.”

One of the priestesses stretched, brushing her raven hair, clipped with golden ornaments, and adorned with three horns. She nudged her compatriot, near-identical in look, who began to stir with gentle movements.

“I had a dream last night,” the first said, brushing away the sleep-god’s boon from her eyes. “A tarantula on an ambush came upon a clearing in the jungles, where it spied the tracks of heavy steps and great dragging timbers cut into the ground. The tarantula followed the trail, and came across a great beast of equal stature. Then I woke.”

“From the gods?”

“No doubt an omen—a good one.”

“Will we find fortune ahead then? That would please her majesty.”

“Perhaps we shall—only the gods do know, and their power wanes in lands far from their control.”

“All the more reason to get moving and get home—it’s been months, and returning will take time too. Just a little further and we will trek back toward Ketzani’s land. I’ll have the men prepare your cart. We’ll travel as soon as you’re ready.”

Urde-Saya stepped away and examined the state of his men. They were roused, putting on their armor, checking their equipment, and preparing for the continued trek. The cards had been as much a blessing as they were a curse, as the terrain was sometimes so rugged as to make it deceptive how to cross. Furthermore, to not stress the beasts, they couldn’t ride them themselves—save for the priestesses and their covered cart. But, as he said to them, they would need only go a few more days before having sufficient understanding of the land to give settlement overseers data for northern advance.

Walking along toward the head of the caravan, he saw the ceramic jug full of whip-crawlers hoisted up off the ground. The one which had been out, eating the snack Urde-Saya had seen, skittered up the leg of the man, up his back, and over his arm until returning to the darkness of the ceramic cave. He couldn’t help but shudder, but was thankful they at least could depend on their food being safe.

Ever forward, he saw another large ceramic object, though this was a dome, at which a hole was cut at the base, while the whole dome was the size of two wolves—and by Ketzani did it take up precious space but for good reason. He walked over to the dome, tapped his hand twice at the entrance, and watched as four great, fuzzy arachnid legs with mango-colored toes and sets of black claws, gently reached out. He reached out and rubbed one of the legs, as thick as a dog's leg, before the legs slowly retracted back into the darkness. I’ll take you out soon enough, friend. Just a little further and you might stretch your legs comfortably for an evening.

“Urde-Saya!” A voice called to him. He looked up and found the grizzled face of a woman, one of his captains, riddled in scars and with half a horn missing from her head. “The copper is clean and ready. We can move as soon as the oracles are done.”

“Are they in the cart?” He turned his head, only to find the two were gone, and guards posted around the cart. “The moths are fine, I take it?”

“The weather is dry, but the sacred waters are helping. The whip-crawlers keep anything dangerous away.”

“So long as they don’t get too close themselves. Precious is Ketzani’s nature, but we need those moths alive and well for our sake.” He sighed and ran his fingers down his beard, “tell me, what’s the situation with our advanced scouts?”

“That was part of why I called you,” she said coarsely, before handing him a kipum, the seal already broken so he might read it. “It came under the seal of Anashum-katti. He’s already started running back.”

Chaskum, always running. Urde-Saya took the kipum and watched the colors, read the knots, and spun the cylinder of yarn in his hand. Clumps here and there, measurement counts of tribals they’d encountered and spoken to—though something curious rather suddenly caught his eye. He ran his fingers over a set of tree knots on a red string, tied in such a precise way, spaced in such a precise way, and followed once again by the same sequence. Three counts… three counts… red… this knot and the thickness… Ka-su-wa. Bandits? But…

“Did he mention anything about banditry to you?”

“Aye, sir. He mentioned that they’d met tribals who were moving west, trying to migrate away from the north. Along with other traders and merchants who mentioned they’d been robbed.”

“Robbed?”

“At least that was how he managed to translate it. They speak tongues beneath ours.”

“That they do. What did he say about them? What did they say about the bandits?”

She shrugged, “he mentioned that they called the bandits ‘wheel people.’ Not much was said, he was quick to get back to running after a drink.”

Damned chaskum, as quiet as they are fast. Wheel people… There’s a country to the far north, isn’t there? Amamnket or Amamna or Amemnhat? Ah, but that is too far… It doesn’t make sense either.

“When we make camp next, we’ll do so before cursed daylight is descended. I want us to set up a fire and signal with smoke—maybe we can summon some of the chaskum back here sooner, and the scout parties with them.”

“Is something the matter?”

“He called them kasuwa, but the context is too fast for me to parse out. But bandits and wheels together means wealth, and wealth means strength. We’ve scattered away some already, but not with wheels made for war.”

“War wagons? The sort of Sawari once used?”

“Perhaps. I won’t speculate much until we know more. But we need to be cautious and aware going forward. The priestesses told me that they had a dream, or at least one of them did—a good omen, I think.”

“Urde-Saya, the rituals are done,” a man shouted from behind him. “Ketzani has had her fill, we travel on your order.”

“Good omen, eh?” The woman followed up. “Lead us toward it, Urde-Saya. If any of us can, it will be you.”

“As I intend. I want to speak with the scouts and speak with some of the people who’ve seen these wheel bandits. The oracles told me good fortune was ahead of us. Perhaps these bandits have something for us to take from them.”

Urde-Kaya reached to his side and pulled a bronze sword from a sheath, raising it into the air. The men stood at attention, and his captain watched on with a smirk. Nevertheless, she stood ready as well, prepared for his command, as any other would be. Not the finest team, but certainly not a bad party to venture into the unknown with. What treasure would they find for Maikana-Ketzani? He could only imagine.

“Protect the caravan, we continue north. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and stay alert as well. If you see anything unusual—shout it! We rest when dusk nears, but before cursed daylight has descended. Move!”

User avatar
Aoyan
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 16
Founded: Nov 08, 2021
New York Times Democracy

Postby Aoyan » Sun Jan 30, 2022 7:26 pm

Image


Chapter 2
Part 2




The palace at night was considered akin to a dream.
In good years, the court could afford to light the expanse and banish the dark. On bad ones, it left much of it in blackness. Yet it was one of the few places in the entirety of the realm that the children of the dawn could roam the night without guards or fear. For while the great cities were safe on the main streets, the villages were much less so, and no one traveled the countryside in the dark without protection. There was far worse than bandits stalking the shadow.

This night in particular saw the dreamlike effect heightened. In the personal gardens of the emperor, a gathering of the lords followed the first day of the summit. They sat in self-selected groups, usually based on rank, but intermingled freely.
Above them, lanterns strung from tree limbs and rooftops, casting the entirety of the garden in a fiery glow. Above that, two of the four moons hung high in the sky, In and Tsa. Crickets chirped their song, outdone only by the playing of a lone zither that plucked between the cords of chatter between people. A faint wind brought promises of the rain—and beyond that glorious summer.

Lords Katsuya, Ishii, and Zoku formed a party under the eave of a pavilion—acutely aware of the tension between them. Nevertheless the spirit of the evening had overcome that. They all relaxed. Having feasted, they now sipped on Ailur wines of orange and plum and ginger, which the old race of Wisdom had once crafted for their cooking. Earlier, the Court had held a poetry competition, which the crown prince won handily—as he always did. Men fought fiercely for second place and all agreed that the emperor himself earned that position. Before that, when the sun still stood, they had played many games of wit and sport. In the court ball game, Ishii had grasped victory for his side through speed, surpassing Katsuya who proved a surprisingly agile opponent.

“Shame for us that you are so strong for your age, Ishii-go.” Katsuya said, meaning it.

“Ah, thank you. It is a necessity of a lifetime in the marshlands, nothing of my doing. Ishii smiled courteously.
Yet, Katsuya knew that smile hid a deep degree of self satisfaction. That always was your weakness, Ishii-go, eh? You fool the others, but you have never fooled me, and I doubt you have fooled old Zoku either. Disguised as a mere rock you believe yourself the tallest mountain.

Katsuya took another careful, small sip of his wine. He pulled his thoughts away from the struggles of the court again. Instead, he turned back to enjoying the evening with these two men, who were his equals of mind if not rank. The three had never been friends. Not in the way the young often were. But they had long since been peers. Men at the top of a ladder others tried so desperately to climb. That alone made them familiar, almost intimate—as if they had grown up together. Katsuya, for his part, found qualities he could respect in each. Things he could admire. But he had put too much work to get where he was—the most powerful man in the realm—to let either of them forget their place. Zoku poses the greatest threat to me he pondered, scanning his eyes across them as they talked. Yet only Lord Stone nips at my heels like the wild dog he is.

Katsuya took another small, precise bite of the plain rice and pickled vegetable before him. He had always eaten sparingly. His counterparts devoured great servings of fish and rice, hunted meats and Ailur noodles, vegetables and fruits and ozu sweets. Ishii, because he’s still strong. Zoku, because he loves food.

The three had continued to talk at length, interrupted only by lesser nobles courteously paying their respects. At first the conversation had been on the events of the day, and the campaign, and the troubles of the state. But gradually the tension eased and they entered a state of harmony, where their worries were cast into containers of the mind and boxed away. Then the conversation turned to the past, and old memories, and the good things in life—hunting and poetry, theater and play, fine silks and fragrance, glory and war, rank and title, children and lovers. And as the night deepened, they talked more freely. Changed either by the spirit of the moment, or by the Ailur drink, or by the harmony. Each now more open than ever before. Open—but careful. Careful not to debase themselves, as everyone always was. For the worst thing that could happen to a Yan man or woman would be to debase themselves, and become, in effect, like an animal. There were many ways one could do this. Then, the only recourse from the shame would be death.

Ishii clapped his hands joyfully and motioned with his great sleeve. “You, child of Wisdom, join us.”
He pointed at the zither player, who stopped plucking his solemn tune at the summons. He stood and bowed and made his way over to their seating.

The Ailur was a bald, shriveled old man with a white wispy beard. He flashed a toothy grin revealing many missing teeth. “As you command, sire.” he said, taking a place at the table. The emperor had invited him to the summit, as he sometimes did for special occasions, because they were a useful novelty. Many had come to the court over the years offering their services—for a price. Services that only their race could perform in some way. This one was an accomplished zither player—knowing both Xianese and Yan styles. He had played only Yan tunes for the night. More important than his musical talent was his alleged sageness..
“Do you wish me to play something specific, sire?” The old man asked once firmly in his seat.

“No.” Ishii said. “Only to answer my questions.”

“And what do you wish to ask?”

“How old are you?” Ishii asked bluntly, his manners slipping from joviality. “Our Court Sorceress, Aka, is one of your kind too. She is…oh...twenty winters or so my senior. Yet looks as if she is only now in the middle of her second decade. Yet you are like a Yan elder.” he paused. “Wisened.”

The Ailur laughed. “Astute, sire. Yes. Very astute. I am, respectfully, approaching 178 years old.”

A round of applause erupted from the lords.

“Very impressive, very impressive. Thank you. Nearly as old as this palace.”

“Thank you, sire. I have seen many many days in my time. If I may talk freely, where is this court sorceress? I would very much like to meet her. There are so few of my kind these days.”

“She is not here.” Zoku interrupted in the same deep, commanding voice he always used. It sounded like a reprimand. “It is my understanding she is on leave performing a duty for the court.”

“Ah” the old Ailur said, a glimmer leaving the dark pools of his eyes. “Unfortunate.”

They bombarded him with other questions—all mundane, until finally Katsuya stumbled upon an idea. “Let us ask him to soothe-say, eh?”

“Soothe-say on what?” Zoku asked.

There was a pause, until either the wine or bravado overtook Ishii.

“Foretell how we die.” He glanced at the others sharply, gray beard glistening in candlelight. The mood shifted, suddenly growing dim and serious. “I will ask. What is to be—is to be.”
He turned unafraid when Katsuya stopped him.

“Wait Ishii-go. If one is to ask, then we should all ask. We all ask or none of us do.”

Such a question was a precarious one. To gaze into mortality was a fight many men had lost in the past. There were so many ways to lose face. Yet, curiosity was built higher by the stakes.
In the end they had all agreed to do it.

The Ailur had requested they be confident in wanting to know, then he explained his process.
“I can tell just by examining your faces, my lords.”
He glanced at a few other traits, like their pulse and teeth just to be sure, but the whole trick was ancient magic from Wisdom’s long gone empire, and even simple fortune-telling made Yan nervous.

“Lord Ishii.” the Ailur said, having completed his preparations.”On the day of your passing, you will be the most famous general in the realm, having grown very old, and seen your ambitions laid before you.”

The sternness—the tension—of the air broke, and a flood of emotion washed over Ishii that he was hardly able to contain or hide. Undoubtedly pride and hope Katsuya grimaced in his mind. He pulled his hands into his sleeves so that none could see them shake. When the Ailur turned to him, he nearly jumped.

“Lord Katsuya. On the day of your passing, you will have experienced over a hundred years of life. Witnessed by thousands, your name will spread like fire among the minds of blossoms.”

Katsuya pulled his arms closer into his lap, the shaking increased—no longer from anticipation. So all my visions and work pay off, he felt lightened. But I am to be second to… Ishii? His eyes narrowed and glanced over, catching a similar look from the older man at the same time.
He must have been thinking the same.

When the Ailur shifted his attention to Lord Zoku, a curious and queer look crossed his face. His voice rang with a timber that seemed to ask if they truly wanted to know all over again. “Lord Zoku…” he croaked. “You will die by the sword. In the dusk of your life, before twilight, but after evening.”

The world seemed to freeze. Now, everyone on this side of the garden had stopped feasting and listened. All eyes were on Zoku. Katsuya watched him carefully. The song of the crickets was deafening in the silence, and the lantern light deepened Zoku’s golden hue. He simply stared back at the soothsayer, not a muscle twitching in his face. After a breathless moment, a grin cracked where a frown usually sat.

“Let us hope then, that it is the kind made of metal!” Zoku jumped up dramatically, miming his own bawdy joke before singing in a low, drawn-out fashion. The tension melted instantly, and with a fan, Zoku began the first impromptu steps to a theater play. The court roared with laughter and applause.

Good. Katsuya said to himself, glad his counterpart in the hierarchy could face such dreadful forecasts with disarming humor, wondering if he would be able to do the same. He concerned himself more with the face of the court than he did Zoku specifically. Soon, his attention was drawn from the one-man show that captivated the others as he watched the emperor approach from the shadows at the side of his vision. When he turned his head, he saw that his grandson, the crown prince, was with him.

“Radiance” he said, standing and moving to disclude the others. The emperor acknowledged his bow. Katsuya turned and bowed to his grandson. The Crown Prince returned the courtesy. The youth was, by all standards created by the gods, beautiful. Beautiful, in the manner that women were beautiful. Only just entering the early years of his second decade, there would be many years of grace yet to adorn him. Akira was his birth name, granted in auspicious hope that the boy might glow more brightly than the sun, but now he wore the title of Prince Mei for in his brilliance those hopes had been realized.
Katsuya studied him, looking for signs of the boy’s mother—a pale teardrop face was framed by long, thick cascading hair that like liquid ink ran straight down to the small of his back and the front of his chest. His small mouth was pulled purt, inquisitive always, and when he smiled it revealed blackened teeth. Soft, high-set eyes fluttered upwards at Katsuya, revealing not the lilac color of Shikibu’s, but a warm violet. “Grandfather.” he said, bowing perfectly.
The prince had borne all the softness of Shikibu, all the mystique of Katsuya’s own Haka clan mother, all of Lord Wisteria’s dignity—without the pomp—and all the glory of the imperial line He was the perfection of his ancestry, a melding of the greatest Aoyan could offer. The result of all my hard work…and the source of my power Katsuya thought, infinitely grateful to all gods for such a magnificent grandson. The hopes of the realm rest on you.

They all bowed properly again, and then losing no time, the emperor spoke. “Katsuya, I do not wish to interrupt the merriment of my ministers, but we must talk” he seemed agitated. “Tomorrow morn, in fact, at dawn. Audience with me in my suites.”

Katsuya kept his head low. “Of course, Radiance. Your presence could never diminish, but improve, the serenity of the night. Please, as your humble servant, accept my apologies. May I ask what it is you wish to discuss, so that I may better prepare to serve?”

The emperor’s gaze was cast aside at the smaller of the two moons, Tsa. “Hmm? Oh, yes. Just matters of the state. I must speak with you further, as my foremost minister, before I lose you to the campaigns for a time.”

“I see. I will be at your service Radiance.”

“Good, for now I will leave you.”
Another formal bow, and the emperor wandered off, as quickly as he had come. Katsuya turned to the Crown Prince, who remained.

“His Radiance seems particularly irritated as of late, Prince Mei.”

“He has had a rough night, minister. Nightmares, you see.” The voice was succinct, middle-tone, and though he could so easily be mistaken for a woman from a distance, it was undoubtedly that of a man.

“Ah, so sorry. So he has revealed to us. I will burn an offering to Tadan for his blessing at the sacred hour tomorrow.” Katsuya gave him one more look over before opening his arms. “How about a hug for your grandfather?”

The formality between them melted and the two men embraced tightly before finding a place to sit alone underneath the canopy of a cherry tree. “I’ve been at court for six days, why haven’t I seen you?” Katsuya asked.

Prince Mei did not respond, only pursing his mouth and glancing aside.

“Ah,” Katsuya said knowingly. The lantern light above them glowed. “Who is she?”

“The Lady of the Twilight Skies.”

Katsuya racked his brain. “That is Lord Oboshi’s second daughter, is it not? She is a pretty one. Simple in taste, plain in style, good writing though. Sweet in temperament.” He could remember little more. Ah, Akira. So flighty you are in women. You have abandoned the other one so quickly? So many ways to lose face, if you are not careful. Your father should seek to get you married, he has waited too long. At least then scandal can be avoided.

“It was her writing that caught my attention.”

“How I wish you could come visit me at my court.” Katsuya said, changing the subject not out of discomfort.

“Father will not allow me. Though he is sending Ie on the campaign.”

“Oh?”

“I do not believe he wants to go. But he will do his duty.”

Yanagi should let you leave more, before this palace becomes yours. That way, you can reign over the world from a central seat and not a prison.

“I will be in the capital for at least a week more. I wish to see you again, properly, when you are not so distracted.” Katsuya said, standing. “For now it is getting late, and you should get rest for one night.”

“As you wish grandfather.” Prince Mei bowed.

The two embraced again and Katsuya watched the youth disappear into the dark of the night before turning back to return to his seat. When he arrived, the feasting had died down, the hour having grown long. Ishii and Zoku were preparing to leave, so Katsuya gave the most minimal of formalities before heading in the direction of his quarters. Before he could get far, he heard the two discuss one final notion—Zoku’s invitation to Ishii for hunting on the morn.
Katsuya narrowed his eyes.

The words of the soothsayer echoed in his thoughts.
So I am to be second to Ishii?
Last edited by Aoyan on Thu Feb 10, 2022 7:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Sat Feb 05, 2022 4:43 pm

Image
Tablet II: The Northern Trek




Ailur. Always a species of strangeness to him. Urde-Saya sat and stared down a man, youthful in his features—but revered like an elder—with hairless face and earthy-colored robes. On his face he wore a blank expression, with half closed eyes, and an annoying attitude of thoughtful slowness. This was how it always was with these pointy-eared aliens. It never mattered what land they hailed from, and it never mattered what their story was; now and always, they were so enamored in themselves.

Wise indeed…

The words which flowed from his interpreter were so alien to him, lacking any of the familiarity of Isklana or even the unspeakable Sawari tongue. There were many Ailur languages in the expanse of the world, but at the very least in these lands, so close to Isklanapura, they were unbearably different. Urde-Saya hadn’t the patience either, as while he was a man of vulpine craft and tarantuline coolness, he demanded decisiveness. But what is decisive about a creature so lost in itself?

During their advance north, they’d run into a large party of Ailur, migrating toward the west—toward the passage away from Isklanapura and away from their assumed homeland not far away. They were laden with goods, but lacking in wealth—no gold or emerald in any vastness to their name. Plundering them for goods would be pointless brutality, and in the end, they paid their safety in alien foods which were far less appetizing than what had been preserved from home.

“He tells us that our travels should be tempered with calm and even pace. He also had a story but… it was a lesson,” the interpreter spoke.

“A useful one?”

“Not particularly.”

Urde-Saya sighed, but restrained his physical impatience. “Ask him what drove him west, again. Clearly, bluntly, decisively. I don’t want more stories or sage advice—and by the gods I don’t want anything mystical. Ketzani willing, I want clear answers.”

There was a pause, the interpreter constructing what he hoped was a kinder way to interrogate the man. Naturally, the Ailur responded in calm and methodical slowness.

“He says that a tax was imposed upon them, and so they fled. He says the wheel people imposed the tax. They don’t wish to be bound to any kingdom.”

“Barbarians,” Urde-Saya scratched at his beard. “What can he tell us about the wheel people? You said they imposed a tax, so they must be from a city or a new kingdom. Maybe one of these scattered peoples has finally built a kingdom between us and the sand peoples?”

Interpretation and discussion, a methodical process which was—at several points—interrupted by the interpreter. Conjectures, requests, orders, and an endless demand for decisive answers. Sage wisdom wasn’t wanted, only results.

“He isn’t giving me a clear answer. He keeps telling me the wheel people imposed a tax on the command of a…” the interpreter paused. There was uncertainty on his face, as though he wasn’t sure. “They called them Fara? Or perhaps Faro?”

“Fara? The name of a king perhaps?”

“It’s hard to say. Every time I get him talking, I’m met with a piece of advice for our expedition.”

Urde-Saya scowled and stood, “finish the discussion for me, and tell me what you learn. At least we can say the wheel people are led by a king named Fara. Probably some upstart city between here and the sand peoples. If you think you’ve reached a dead end, give him my regards, and send him on his way.”

The interpreter nodded, Urde-Saya rising from his seat under the cover of the tent, before stepping foot once more into the day. As his eyes adjusted, eight pupils scanning the day-kissed land, he spied the sight he had abandoned for the cover of shade. His caravan, and the larger Ailur caravan—both parties milling about, though his own was on guard. Children played near one of his caravan cars, where they were looking inside of the ceramic jug of whip-crawlers with terror and curiosity. Nevertheless, his mind was plagued. Advance was necessary, for they had much to learn, but the danger was palpable.

How am I supposed to stop wheels with copper? If only her majesty had sent me with Bronze enough for all.

Calm as could be, the tired hero marched himself ahead, away from his caravan and toward a cluster of soldiers gathered around an area of rugged ground. There he could see Gishmaka-Yari, his captain, at work upon the ground with some of her scribes. She’d been the first to tell him about the situation, the runners having come to her and fled once more, and it was in her that he confided his work. It was by Ketzani’s command that women were to be the confidants of men, and just as the divine would have wished, so did he turn to Gishmaka-Yari.

“What’ve you learned?” She called to him, rising to her feet as Urde-Saya approached, her tail swaying and polished chitinous horns shining in the sunlight. “Was the caravan head any use?”

“The wheel people are led by someone named Fara. Or Faro. They imposed a tax, and with the wheels involved, I think they’re a city which is becoming a kingdom somewhere to the north. Between us and Amemnhat.”

“The sand people?”

“Yes. I wonder if they’re dealing with the wheels as well, given this is a lot closer to their lands. Maybe the wheels are even a kingdom which is challenging them.”

“There’s always the possibility that the wheel people are from the sand people. Maybe they’re rebel nobles or in a war like we had been?”

Urde-Saya chuckled, “no, those people can’t possibly be the wheel people. They’re too far north, and if the traders are to be believed—and I do—too stuck thinking about their own wisdom to bother with much else. The wheel people must be new.”

“Do you know what they are? Are they children of a new god or an old one?”

“The man didn’t say, but I’m sure I will get the details soon enough. They can’t be Ailur, that is for sure. So tell me, now, what have you discovered?”

Gishmaka-Yari sighed and knelt down, Urde-Saya following her lead. He couldn’t help but see the warrior musculature of her exposed skin, or the way she had clearly been keeping up with her hygienic routine so far from home. The appeal of civilization, and the appeal of Ketzani’s warrior blessing upon the women of the Isklana—so that they might be his equal.

“Look here—two wheels in each set of tracks, and there are many of them too. The movement of the dust has eroded much of the track, but we can also see what looks to be hoof prints. See?”

“Wheel people is as apt a name then, but it isn’t too helpful to furthering our understanding. Have all the runners been recalled so we can see what they’ve learned?”

“Firstly, hero, we’ve managed to recall most of the groups. No doubt within the next day or two the last will have found us and returned to the caravan. Secondly, we have learned something.”

She stood and motioned for him to follow, eyes facing downward as the tracks led further and further and further onward. The two of them walked, cresting a hill, before she pointed forward at the continued mountainside and rolling landscape. It took him a moment, but keen eyes spied at last the little patches of track which had swept south, and once more back north.

“This was as far as they came?”

“And this is where they turned back. They must’ve harassed the Ailur here and missed them after they began to pack up and move.”

“Or perhaps the Ailur waited for them to leave. Patience, that is what they’d tell us, is a wise trait.”

Gishmaka-Yari chuckled, “quite. But this gives us a trail to follow, that is the value.”

Urde-Saya nodded, “we can track them. They might be on wheels but we should be able to follow them right back to their home. If we’re lucky, they’ll be gone, and we can plunder the home before we return to ours.”

“And if that home is a city?”

“Then we can watch and consider. There is always something to be gained, or some treasure to find. Ketzani bred us to be fighters, so we shouldn’t shy from it—but we should be smart on how we pick our field. Perhaps we can lay a trap.”

“Impossible to say for now, isn’t it?”

“Precisely. For now, we will get the men ready to move, and we’ll follow the tracks heading north.”

“Are you worried about overshooting our original plan?”

Urde-Saya grunted and ran a hand through his hair, brushing fingers against his horns. “Our Kisharratum commanded us to learn all we can, as a prelude for the rest of the outpost builders and settlement founders. If there is a kingdom here, and we don’t have the infrastructure to challenge it, then how are we supposed to claim this pass? No, we need to know more, and return that knowledge to the Kisharratum. I won’t see any settlement caught off guard and turned into a second Parya.”

The captain beside him smiled, an admiration in her demeanor. “As to be expected from the hero of Parya. We will follow you wherever you lead us—the goddess commands it. Who can say what we will discover, either? Perhaps we will all return as heroes.”

“Glory, eh?” Urde-Saya turned and cracked his fingers, looking over the scars and weary flesh. “I’d prefer to just be home, with Gwananki to my horizon, walls in the distance, and my tarantula in the garden foliage.”

As he walked, Gishmaka-Yari followed him, the two in silence, though Urde-Saya deep in thought. Barbarian kingdoms rising in the north, Fara leading the wheel people to extract wealth from the locals… I feel the scribes will tell me it’s like the old days of the Isklana or even the before-times of the Sawari. But we’re copper and few in number… Ketzani, how am I going to accomplish this mission?

If there was a substantial threat to the north, could an answer be given? The war had depleted their resources, and prompted the Kisharratum to begin her expansionist dream right away. It was too early to return to conflict, even as hot blooded as the Isklana were. Let them be sated on gladiators and sex, but no more war. Not yet. He could only hope that these demanding barbarian lords to the north, this Fara, would be little more than a city on the rise. But if they were something more? Hopefully they could work out something for the favor of Isklanapura. With a little luck, the burden wouldn’t fall upon them regardless, but the sand people instead.

Those poor bastards. They won’t be reading poetry all day if the wheels come for them in raids.

User avatar
Aoyan
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 16
Founded: Nov 08, 2021
New York Times Democracy

Postby Aoyan » Sun Feb 06, 2022 9:33 pm





At dawn there was a scream that woke the palace. It occurred in the second yard, just beside the quarters of the emperor, and the shrill panic echoed from the gilded rooftops of the surrounding complex. A second scream followed the first and then a third, trailed by the crashing of pottery against stone.

“Fox!” a maid shrieked. “Fox in the court!”

Palatial women fled, dashing for the doorways, while the courageous hugged the yard walls—watching. A lone guardsman stood with his spear raised, but made no movements from his post.
The creature causing such havoc was small, lithe, with a fresh coat of fiery spring fur. It bounced in the center of the space, shaking its head wildly—yipping and growling, cackling and laughing. The first party of servants had surprised it, passing through on their normal work routine when they spotted it slinking across the cobbles. It stooped low, frightened, but then began its tantrum at the first sign of chaos.
Chaos had woken the whole court.

Within moments, Aka came running barefoot and half composed across the stoneway—broom in hand. “Begone trickster!” the ailur yelled, thrashing at the animal with her weapon. Straws flew in a flurry. Yet the fox was quick—too quick, and it slid past each attack, circling her defiantly. Its laughter increased. Like molten silver the animal escaped each thwack, moving around and out, hopping manically, and joining the dance with its opponent. Every dodge brought hits closer, and the ailur was beginning to hone in on her prey, so the animal squeezed beneath her and darted across the yard. She followed.

The fox dashed towards a wall where women huddled. In terror, they scattered, screaming, but an unfortunate maid was too slow.. The creature, like an arrow, flew towards her and without challenge jumped up and through her robes. The woman flailed wildly, screeching. Aka was just behind, and without hesitation, wholloped the maid with her broom. The girl fell to the ground, assaulted from every direction, and the sound she made was horrendous. But the fox was driven out and realizing its imminent defeat—ran back across the court and towards a wall. Aka followed.

Yipping, it leaped up and onto the roof of a wall a-man-and-a-half in height. Twirling, it stared back at the ailur, calm, knowing—then dropped down the otherside.

“Run back to your master!” Aka shouted. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she composed herself, pushing long strands of chestnut hair back behind her pointed ears. How did it get past my charms? she wondered to herself. Nothing had breached the barrier she placed around the palace in the 50 years it had stood. Not in physical form.
“A good omen!” she said aloud, aware of the courtier crowd gathering around her. Probably a bad one.

“Mistress,” a serving girl had been the one to gather the courage to speak first. “It was a red fox, neh? Not a white one. Surely it was just an animal?”

“Perhaps…or perhaps not.”

It was then that a man pushed his way to the front. “Well you had better figure it out, sorceress! It shouldn’t have even been here destroying the tranquility of the court!”
He spat.

Aka turned, opening her fan in a motion faster than the wind. The crowd stepped back. “Do we not have, I don’t know, people responsible for watching what comes and goes beyond myself? Guardsmen, constables? It should not have been here, you are right Yatori-ka-Moshishige. Even an idiot bumpkin such as yourself can recognize that!”

The man stepped forward, his chest heaving in anger, but before he could shout she continued. “What you fail to recognize, however, is the danger in crossing a witch! Or do you not remember what I did to your cousin when he angered me?”

Yatori-ka-Moshishige stumbled back as Aka moved closer—a look of hatred on his face. Women giggled, men watched with disgust. They hated her. They had always hated her. Not all, no, certainly not all, but they all feared her. Even the emperor. For the children of the dawn—the Yan—always feared what they could not understand. Aka was someone they could never understand, and in their lusting for power, her innate strength drove them madder still. The ailur moved towards the crowd—half her mind screaming to attack. But she was saved by a figure in scarlet who parted the crowd into bows as she came through—Lady Ai.

“Aka-na” Lady Ai greeted her, eyes shifting critically to Yatori who kept his head low.

“Mistress.”

“My husband wishes to see you urgently.”

“Of course, but..may I have a moment to dress before meeting with his Radiance?”

“He said urgently.” Ai glanced over again to Yatori, then back. A warm smile crossed her face. “But of course you may prepare Aka-na. Please come when you are ready. You know the way.”

The two women bowed formally, liking each other very much.




Aka made her way alone, unguarded, through the emperor’s private quarters as had been her privilege for many years. His residence hall, like so many of the other buildings, was a maze of sheeted walls, woven flooring, and wood. So much wood. Yet everything here was finer, more elegant, and the effect was heightened by the fact that the hall was surrounded on three sides by private gardens, which were visible by the many windows and open walls. Birdsong could be heard easily through everything and sunlight lit the space with ease. Aka could feel the warmth of the floor beneath her as she walked, having left her clogs at the entrance, and even she had to admit the effect was wonderful. This was the only building in the realm, perhaps the world, with heated flooring—formed by hot spring water pumped through bronze tubing. Water drawn from the very mountain spring forming the emperor’s baths at the far end of his residence.

Aka arrived outside the sleeping chambers still entirely unchecked by another. If she had been malevolent, it would have been the easiest attack anyone could ever ask for. But she was not, and so she kneeled down and opened the lattice door.

The emperor was seated in the middle of the room, servants having already cleared the space. A table sat in front of him, and he was working on what she thought might be a poem.

“Aka.” he grumbled, not turning his attention from his task. His voice was gruff and worn—ill.

“Radiance.” she scurried over to him and knelt down to his side. “You are sick. Please, drink this.”

She reached over to pull a small gourd vial from a bag she carried with her in preparation. A vial she had pulled many times. Half of what the Yan had considered her “magic” was simply medicinal knowledge. In this way, she acted as physician to the court as well as magic dealer, even though the court had official physicians. But they had dealt in Yan medicine, and hers had come from a myriad of different places. This coupled with distrust, and so it was that she found herself treating the less scrupulous problems of a court. Most of them were created by the young.


“It will help—”

“That’s not why I summoned you Aka. I didn’t sleep, that’s all.”

“—ease your mind.”
He watched her find the vial, then downed the bitter herbs with water brought by a servant almost as quickly as their talk had begun.

“I thought you said my nightmares would get better?”

“I did.”

“They’ve gotten worse, Aka. Last night—the worst of all.” he was beginning to sweat.

“We will have to try something else.”

“How many more times will we have to try!”

His outburst shocked her, grabbing her by surprise. She jumped where she sat, staring at the spilled ink bottle from where the table had been hit. Whatever was working on was now ruined. Guardsmen rushed in, but he motioned them away.

“So sorry, Aka-na.” his voice softened with a sigh. “I am growing very tired, and perhaps older than my years.”

“I will keep trying, Radiance. As hard as I can.”

“I know. I trust you. I have always trusted you. You were there at my birth, you will be here at my passing. You served my father, who favored you as much as I. I need a sorceress—the realm does. My grandfather hated your kind, you know. Witches, sorceresses, magic wielders. He killed a large number of you.”

“I know, sire. It is why I was sent away, to Inari, as a teenager until the turmoil ended.”

“But my grandfather was wrong, Aka-na. So very wrong. He would be weaker than I now, but I am still so very weak. I do not know what I have done in this life, or a past one, to merit this calamity. I ask if I should move the court, to cleanse us, to appease the dead. I get told—begged—to not. So what do I do?”

“Leave it to me, Radiance. I have many more tricks to play. This is my game, my realm. I am your sorceress, sorceress of the Hollyhock Court. Allow me to serve. Please, sire, get some rest.”

“I can’t. I must meet with Katsuya soon, before he leaves.” Emperor Yanagi stared off, out of his balcony, watching the sun disk rise further in the sky. Lost in thought, before he turned back violently. “I nearly forgot why I summoned you. It is so much worse.”
“I have removed the fox, Radiance. I don’t know how it got in. Please forgive me.”

“ It’s not that. There has been a death.”

A chill ran through Aka. “What do you mean?”

“Lord Oboshi’s second daughter, do you recall her?”

Aka combed through her mind. There were close to a hundred aristocratic ladies at the court, and that spoke nothing of the countless more servants and maids to serve them. “Ah, the one you call ‘Lady of the Twilight Skies’? Yes, I recall her. She came to court in spring of last year.”

“She was found dead in the outer complex, killed by a spirit.”

Impossible! Aka screamed to herself. “Sire, there must be a mistake. Nothing like that can get through my barrier. A spirit of such power in the palace? Certainly not.”

“That is what I thought, Aka-na. Until it was confirmed by trusted men. They say it is still haunting the building, somewhere on the sixth palatial street. No one can enter or risk death themselves.”

“And we are sure she wasn’t killed by something else? An enraged lover? Thieves—Tadan forbid it on the sixth street—or looters?”

“The spirit still haunts the building, Aka, this was no human. One of the outlying ones, along the woodline, if I am to understand correctly. Ei!! If her father resigns his post as a broken man, I will have to find a new governor for his holdings. So much trouble. That’s not even to mention finding a priest or monk to exorcize the spirit. That will cost the Court large amounts of silver, I am sure. Perhaps Lord Haka can attempt it, or knows someone.”
Yanagi stooped low, resting his elbows on the table. He squeezed his temples with one hand, shutting his eyes in frustration.

“Radiance, speak no more. It is my failing that it was allowed in, and it is my responsibility to clean up. I will banish it. What good is a court sorceress if she cannot remove pests of this nature?”

He glanced at her out of a weary eye. “Your Heaven and Earth magic will work?”

A gentle smile crossed her face. She was tempted to once again tell him it wasn’t magic, but decided now was not the time for philosophical teachings from her long dead homeland. To the Yan—none of it made a difference anyway.
“It will.”

“Thank you, Aka.” he said, summoning for more paper and ink.

Aka bowed low, pressing her head against the floor—preparing to depart, when she stopped for one last question. “Sire, do you have any idea who may know something? I need to know what I face…if I can.”

“No. She was found by a maid, who retired from service immediately after to join a cloister. The girl stated her mistress was alone in the night.”

Retired so soon? It made sense. The Yan aristocracy did this sort of thing—retiring on the death of one’s employer—though Aka would never truly understand it. Retiring almost always meant retreat, usually monastic, for a time. If a woman was young enough, she could become a shrine maiden and serve a particular god, but if she was too old, then there was little choice but the life of a nun. But why so quickly? Why not stay and help until her mistresses’ funeral was concluded?

Then a feeling of clarity washed over Aka. She is covering. Full memory returned to her and she was able to recall facts that her mind had deemed irrelevant. Recent facts.

“Radiance, are any of the princes currently in residence?”




Aka crossed field like a divine wind—fast, unstoppable, powerful. Her target had just loosed an arrow, which flew far at the twang of his longbow and lodged itself perfectly where he had demanded. He was a taller man, thin and stringy, but deceptively strong. In his archery clothing she could see his arms and part of his chest, and there a blanket of thick hair covered over swarthy skin. His face likewise hidden by a beard and topped by heavy waves, which blew uncaged without a court hat. She recalled then how in young adolescence he had suffered because he looked so different to his brother.

He raised his bow above his head, ready to draw another arrow when he caught her moving towards him. Like a cornered animal he turned and backed. Fearing he might bolt like a rabbit, Aka called to him. “Ie, we must speak sir.”

“I do not wish to speak with you, Aka-na. You are disturbing my archery.”

“Come now,” she said, having reached him. “Nothing can disturb your archery prince.”

“Not so.” he was sweating under the sun. She would sweat him more. “You are. So sorry.”

Aka narrowed her eyes, then fanned herself. Fine, you brat.
“Prince Foscan,” she began. Foscan, a title granted to him at his coming of age, much like Mei was given to his brother, named after a certain kind of tree which bore leaves of golden color. The emperor had hoped that by granting him such a title, to be passed to descendants, it would boost him to match his extraordinary older sibling. “I was practically your nursing maid. Like the poem on one’s fan, I understand you to the core. I cannot distract your archery.”
She stared him down.

He returned the glare, and without pause, drew an arrow and fired—never looking away. She turned, ever so curious to see if he had missed. He had not.
“What do you want, Aka?”

“Where is Akira?”

“I do not know. Try the inner courts.”

“Do not toy with me Ie. I’m going to exorcize the spirit, and I know your brother was with the girl. I suspect he saw everything, and you’re going to tell me where he is at.”

“So sorry, but I do not know about any of that. If you wish to speak to him, I do not know where he is this morning. Perhaps with his mother, neh?”
twang another shot.

Aka could feel anger rush over her. It was not an emotion she felt often, but the boys—now men—who she had seen raised, whose father she had seen raised, had a magic of their own to work.

“You’re covering for him, dolt. This is more important than gossip and youthful folly, Ie. People are dying, and I need to know exactly what I face. I know he was with Oboshi’s daughter last night. It is not a well-hidden secret, no matter how much your father is willfully blind to your brother’s indiscretions. I only need information.”

“So sorry, Aka-na. But I do not know of what you speak..”

“Moron!
She had half the mind to clobber him there—she had done it before—but now he was older and stronger and though she would win, it would weaken her too much. Instead she turned to leave.

What now? she thought. She could keep looking for the crown prince, but that would be wasting time. He was hiding, and merited enough loyalty from the court to hide well. The dead girl’s former maid would be useless too—if she took the effort to find the right monastery. She’s likely in league with the princes on this. Options were running out.

“I will have to go in blind.” Aka said aloud.




Sixth street wasn’t really a street at all, but a long dirt path skirting the west side of the palace, butted against near wilderness where Kawanakami ended and nature began. Like all of the palatial streets it marked a location in the outer courts, rather than a true feature—for the Hollyhock Court was a massive complex. It sat on the foot of Mount Tola, on the northern edge of Kawanakami town, and nature covered it on three sides, with only the south facing cityscape. At the upper center sat the inner courts, the true palace, with the emperor’s residences.. Radiating from that was a network of intermediary courts, cloisters, halls and buildings. Then beyond those sat the lower courts, designated by streets, ten in total, and varying from urban to rural. There, in the lower court streets, aristocrats owned and constructed personal residences for their times in the capital.

Aka was looking at one such residence—one abandoned many years ago. It was a squat, small building, nestled deep into what was once gardened land. She passed a pond darkened by age, filled dark with slime, and wondered how much time had passed. Weeds grew tall among stands of black bamboo. The morning dew had not left this place, and everything carried the not unpleasant scent of the damp.

The building itself was unremarkable. It sat on short stilts, like all Yan manors did, and beyond neglect it seemed entirely serene nestled under the watch of a bent willow. Perfect for a lover’s tryst. Aka thought, fanning herself. This one got someone killed.
They often did.

She began to slowly circle it, listening—watching. At first there was nothing. The wind blew, birds sang, the world acted as one. Then, when she thought she had heard or felt something, it turned out to be nothing. Do I wish I had found that half-wit prince. she chided herself. Then you’d know more about what waits inside, Su.

Something snapped, then the rustling of gravel. Aka whirled around, fan held to her front, only to find a group of four guardsmen approaching her. They carried long spears, and the lead guardsmen wore a breastplate of iron.

“Ah, Court Sorceress? Yes, we have been sent by the constable to aid you in your task.” the lead bowed. He was a young man, with wisps of hair on his chin, but broad shouldered. His hairstyle was an old one—two loops of black hanging beside the ears, formed by a part in the middle. “Don’t worry, miss, we won’t let any harm come to you. If you will follow our lead, I am sure we can kill whatever it is inside.”

Aka blinked. “The constable sent you?”

“Yes.”

“And your name, sir?”

“Ishii Todamisha.” he bowed again.

“And your relation to—”

“My grandfather’s cousin is Ishii-go, lady. The constable.”

Good to see Ishii isn’t above nepotism. She turned, half facing the building. “That explains it then.”

“Miss?”

“Your entire family is dense as rock.” her attention snapped back towards him. “Leave it to one of your ilk to underestimate a woman—even one who is a witch. Do you truly think those spears will do anything? This isn’t a flesh and blood monster, none of you can help except perhaps distract it. Maybe your deaths will serve a purpose.”

The boy flushed red—first with anger, then embarrassment, and he bowed low. “Please, excuse my bad manners lady. I meant no offense. My orders are to aid you, and I will strive to do that, even if that takes my death.”

“Hmpf.”

Aka moved towards the house abruptly. The men followed. “We are taking the direct route.” she said. “I don’t think this will need more than the simplest of exorcisms.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s hiding from me.”

Entering had been easy. The sliding doorway had been busted open long into the past and the party walked through freely. The interior of the house was plain— lit by sunlight spread through crumbling windows and screens, and only a few places bore a dappling of shadow that clung to the dusted floors. All was quiet. Aka walked slowly and carefully, listening. Her pegged clogs creaked the floor boards as she went, and the wind knocked on a shutter, causing the men behind her to jump.
Please don’t stab me by accident you imbeciles. she grumbled to herself. It would have been better if they had not come at all, but the boy being what he was—a Yan man—meant he was infinitely arrogant, infinitely foolish, and infinitely determined. He would never leave, even if she threatened him with all the sorcery in the world.

After a time, Aka was beginning to dread the idea that she would have to return at night. I wanted to deal with this now she thought. Reveal yourself.
She felt nothing. No presence at all.

Exploring, they made their way to the back chamber, where silken blankets were laid on the floor. Here’s where they slept. And where the girl died. Aka studied the space. The door to the back gardens sat ajar, undamaged, but the rest seemed mundane. Nothing.
She turned in frustration, bemoaning her failure. The men stood behind her, hands on their spears, waiting. One of them was shaking badly. Aka frowned. “I think we will have to retu—”
She felt it.

The room grew dim. She laughed her shrill giggle in satisfaction, the sudden excitement building, and this caused the men to shift away startled. Her eyes darted around, waiting, then when they crossed over the rafters above, she saw it. There, a beautiful robe of violet silk came floating down as if caught by a stream of wind. It danced about the top, twirling around beams gently.. Deceptively.

The guardsmen huddled closer and raised their spears, watching it. Aka paid it little attention, instead centering herself, as she had done a million times. A breath, then another, focusing her energy into melding back with the universe. Melding herself back into everything, from which she came and still was. All her teachings and studies flooded through her mind. She sought to be one with heaven and earth.

The sounds of the outside ceased as the robe continued its graceful dance in the shadow. The room grew cold, very cold, and the guardsmen grew more on edge as the seconds passed. Aka laughed again, watching her breath crystalize in front of her, and this grew the men’s anxiety further. The robe descended—quickly. It flew towards the huddle and the men stuck out their spears to catch it, but it fluttered around the points. Aka ignored it, instead following the presence she felt and turning to a dark corner of the roof.
Peeking from the edge of the shadow, watched a monstrous blue face. Three vertical eyes trained squarely on her, and the creature they belonged to shifted from its dark hiding—claws drawn up and forward.

“Ah.” she said calmly. “It reveals itself.”

This caused some of the guards to shift their focus from the flying robes, which retreated back up and to the rafters. One of them screamed. The blue-faced demon contorted and skittered across a rafter—the body lithe and compact. It ran down, then across the back wall, claws scraping against the wood grain. It stopped half way, and its head turned up and around to face Aka at an impossible angle. It roared—a sickly sound, not loud to the ears but evil.. In that sound, Aka could hear a voice.

Geeettt ooouuuttt!

“Pass.”

It was then that she glanced back to see that only Ishii Todamisha remained—the others having fled in terror. The boy clung to his spear, sweat pouring from his ghostly pale face. He could hardly stand from the shaking. Brave, I will give him that.

The demon continued.

Yoouur next breeaath will be yooouurr lassst

It lunged at her. The boy guardsman ran forward with his spear, a defiant yell resounding harshly from his lungs. The demon’s maw was agap, fangs the size of knives backing claws thrust forward. Aka had a heartbeat to react—and that was all she needed. A smirk crossed her ruby lips and then time paused in an eyeblink.

Her fan flashed out and open, pushing an invisible force that sent the demon backwards to its previous post. The boy too was blown backwards. The demon clung back to the wall, startled, rotating its head in confusion. The look flashing in its eyes was one Aka had seen many times over—fear. It slunk back up the wall, away from her, like a cornered yard cat. Aka stepped forward and the demon hissed. She opened her mouth to speak, but when she did, the voice that answered was not her voice.

It was the voice of a man—impossibly deep. It chanted. Aka’s lips moved and the sounds flowed—a language that no living man knew, for it had died six centuries ago. The sorceress moved forward, an intangible wind blowing her long hair back from her face.
She fought against that wind. The incantation continued, louder, stronger.

The world froze. The demon sat on the wall, transfixed by the intensity in the ailur’s eyes. It did not move—could not move. Everything melted away. The house, the Ishii boy, the palace, the world—time and space. Existence became non-existence, and non-being became being. There was no past, and no future. The demon screamed in terror. Then—it was gone.

The chanting stopped, the darkness faded from the room, and all that was left was the gentle chirping of the garden birds and an empty chamber. Aka sighed and slumped to the floor—drained.

“Mistress.” Todamisha fell down beside her. “Mistress, are you alright?”
He stunk awfully.

“Yes, yes, I am fine. It’s been a while since I’ve dealt with the world of gods and spirits..”

“What was that?”

Her eyes glazed over to him drowsily. “A parlor trick.”

She could feel herself drifting, wanting to sleep, but she was pulled back away by the boy’s yelp and the sound of him sliding away. She watched as the floating robe fluttered down from above.

Yani manja? an ethereal voice called out in her mind. It was female, meek, sad sounding and it took Aka far longer than she would have liked to realize it was speaking Yan. Ga manja?
Is it gone?

Aka stood as quickly as she could muster. There are two of them? Two spirits. But how did you survive? her mind raced, but the energy no longer rested in her. She was far too out of shape.

“It is.” she said. “Who are you?”

Nikiyo-ka-Goroda, of clan Obo

“You are a Yan spirit, a deceased person?” Aka asked, knowing the answer. Why can’t I feel her presence?

This is my house, my residence.

“And you have allowed a demon to reside here?”

No, nothing like that. the voice grew weaker. It is an intruder. I do not know how it appeared. I know of your barrier sorceress. So sorry, but it is an intruder.

“And how have you escaped my barrier then, Obo Nikiyo?”

Excuse me, so sorry, but I walk the land between death and undeath, trapped in this sad manor sorceress. Trapped by my sorrow, for I died young and loveless and abandoned in every which way by this cruel world. Now I am doomed to dwell in this place, till time forgets it entirely.

“And you witnessed the death of the girl here? The man she was with is very important, ghost. Why did you not intervene?”

I did, lady, I did. But the demon, it frightened me. It killed the girl, and when it appeared, it did nothing but mutter about a “master” relentlessly. To me, so sorry, it appeared to have a goal in mind.

Aka thought for a moment, then tucked away all she had learned into a compartment and let it leave her mind. She studied the robes in front of her, gliding gently about the room. “You should move on.” she said flatly. “I will hold a cleansing to help you. Would you prefer a monk or priest?”

Priest.

“Then good rest, Nikiyo-ka. You cannot stay in the world of the living any longer. I wish you the greatest of serenity.” Aka bowed. She turned on the boy guard, who held his spear raised, having heard only her half of the conversation.

“Let’s go.” she ordered.

“But what about that?”

“By the gods, you Ishii whelp, if you hold me any longer I will use my next parlor trick on you and you will have wished you had skewered me in incompetence before it had lead to your fate.”

He gulped, turned paler than she thought was possible, and then bowed.
“Please accept my—”

“Let’s go!”

Aka stepped back out into the gardens, the air feeling as it had when she arrived. A million questions bounced through her mind, and she knew this would not be the end. No. Too many riddles to be solved. But that would have to wait. For now she needed sleep, then a bath, then to report. But sleep? Sleep would be first.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Thu Feb 10, 2022 5:27 pm

Image
Tablet II: Oathbound




How the masters do love their stone, she thought to herself. It was hardly a criticism—or at least it wasn’t a criticism in full. Her own people, those who Ashareh settled peacefully when she came into submission to Ketzani, were emulators of their masters now. But her people made settlements of mudbrick and wood, while the Isklana, from their lofty metropoli to their most humble villages, used field stone and carved stone. Was that the mark of a great civilization? Perhaps. But hadn’t the Isklana themselves built a kingdom atop the Sawari?

Zarika rubbed her hand against the stone of the gateway, eyes scanning the golden wall reliefs packed into the stone walls itself, with figures pointing toward the palace which lay beyond the palatial guards. Ahrnakir stood ahead of her, but she was more observant, more keen to use her eyes. The palmassum, carved as great golden beetles, stood guard with cages in their mandibles. Ketzani’s messengers fed from the sweet nectar—a good omen that this place was safe and under her watch.

“Enjoying the sights?” Ahrnakir called after her, a voice which called like a triumphant horn, carried on the wind with godly force. “If you wanted to stare at their walls then you should’ve let me hire some carriers for us.”

“You’re a strong man,” Zarika rolled her eyes. “You really can’t carry the gifts for our mistress?”

“Of course I can,” he scoffed. “But what is better, hmm? Me lugging around presents while you walk with arms free, taking your time, or letting me walk with you while carriers do the work. They are on the pay of the state, not our treasures or rations.”

“Hush, you’ll be fine. But since you’re so full of complaints, I’ll speed things up.”

The process of entering the palace was, by her measure, typical and irritating. When she was younger, she’d appreciated the horns and the Asharkar standing at attention. Truly, they were impressive in their bronze armor, covered head to toe, with wolf-helms which obscured the face. But now it was a typical process which led into what she really wanted: to deliver her gifts and to sleep in a bed. Their travels were tough on the bodies of mortals, but they were themselves half of such a strain. Nevertheless, as her eyes glanced to Ahrnakir, she could see his awe and amusement in the adoration and worship. The handsome idiot loved his praise.

Of the many splendors of this Isklana world, one which never ceased to impress her was the endless nature of the palatial complex. So many palaces were half-ziggurat half-palace, but here was a place which truly spread beyond the confines of that and grew ever outward from the former ziggurat and into a great mass of structure. She’d heard rumors though that the new Kisharratum was planning to upscale this palace into a structure of truly monumental scale. Nevertheless, she walked down corridors of colored wall hangings, golden reliefs, carved stone, and endless aesthetic luxury. Gold and emerald surrounded her in wealth her people had never known, and likely never would.

“Ah! Divine ones!” A woman called out from up ahead, having been speaking to servants who she now shooed away. “We’re so happy you could make it to the palace! I am Ninishta-kaya.”

Zarika bowed her head, and Ahrnakir followed suit, whilst watching the goods he carried.

“Word reached you well enough, then. Where is the Kisharratum? We have gifts for her.”

“Ah! Yes, yes of course,” Ninishta-kaya remarked. She snapped her fingers, and the servants she had been speaking to took the gifts from Ahrnakir, before scurrying away. “Her majesty is currently making dedications to Ketzani, and seeking divination soon after. This evening she will attend to you, and you to her. A feast will be held in your name.”

Ahrnakir smiled, “a feast, eh?”

“And our gifts to her?” Zarika narrowed her eyes. It wasn’t very nominal for them to not be given directly, but she didn’t protest.

“To her chambers, and with any luck, you can present them to her majesty there. They’re as safe there as in the treasury, I assure you!”

“So to it. Ashareh would be displeased if something happened to them,” Zarika said with a low growl. These palatial Isklana were schemers, she knew that much for certain when the war started. A firm hand was needed, even when born of godhood.

“May… May I escort you to your quarters? You’ve full freedom to wander as you please. Her majesty has recently seen that resources be restored to many palatial affairs which were unavailable during the war.”

Ninishta-kaya motioned for them to follow her, to which Zarika did so with apprehension. Ahrnakir followed her as she moved, the man being none the wiser to any oddities. She wasn’t here to greet us. The Kisharratum is always here to greet us.

“Her majesty has taken on new musicians and is expanding their prominence in the palace. I was told she wants a lute, lyre and pipe for every gathering space! Even to play when there are none to listen—save for the gods and Ketzani’s divine creations, of course.”

They’re playing for the insects? Like how we play for our wolves I guess.

“What should we do until we feast?”

“The palace has a newly renovated bath-house which overlooks the rest of the spine. Given your hunt is done, I think it is a luxury cleansing you could enjoy. We have attendants there, both Isklana and Asharaean. And of course you can request any other luxury you so wish for.”

“Are there any palace gladiatorial matches? Ah, even the availability to participate?” Ahrnakir asked, earning him a glare from Zarika.

“Yes! Non-lethal as per the request of the Sawari delegation. They say the storm gods wish for no more blood to be shed in the palace.”

“From the war?”

Ninishta-kaya stuttered as much in her step as in her voice, before walking quietly with a silent composure. Catching a glimpse of her face, Zarika could see the meek woman hiding her many-pupiled eyes behind locks of black hair. There was a waver in the golden jewelry that adorned those carapace horns, and the lightness of her claws touching the ground—as if she wished to be as silent as possible. A phantom about the corridor. What do you hide, little mistress? The gods let me see your fear.

“Of course,” she said with an upbeat voice. “Of any case, please, enjoy the facilities we offer. We have fresh pomegranates as well, ready and plucked, at your calling. The juices as well are pressed—and cooled in the underground ice chamber.”

Zarika sighed, brushing a hand over her lupine ears, tail swaying subtly. Fruit did sound nice.

“Ahrnakir? What do you think?”

“We won’t be here for just a night, so let’s take this evening to rest. I’ll sink in the baths, and I’ll look into the fights tomorrow.”

“Baths it is then. Consider it a warm up before the springs. Ninishta-kaya, who uses these baths? You better not be throwing Ashareh’s hunters into a pit of common rabble.”

“Perish the thought! I would disgrace Ketzani if I did. No, you two are of high standing. You know the hierarchy demands the customs of the upper elite be placed upon you—but you are greater than even persons like myself or the rest of the Kisharratum’s council. There are two chambers: one for overseers like us who serve the Kisharratum, and there is a much grander one for the Kisharratum and all those of Ketzani’s choosing. That is the place for royalty and divinity, and that is where you shall go.”

“All those of Ketzani’s choosing. That can’t be much more than the Kisharratum herself and the cult.”

Ninishta-kaya paused again, turning to face the two of them with a bashful face. “Ah! I had… Forgotten. There is one important detail of note. The upper baths are for more than just the majesty and Ketzani’s dedicated. Sharrwassatum Ninkailis-ilum also uses the baths.”

“Wait,” Zarika hissed, “the Hummingbird Princess is here? I was told she was in Wari. Sartaygyur mentioned she was going to be moved, not that it was happening now

“I… I understand if that adds complications to your stay.”

“That’s an understatement,” Zarika growled. “We have no idea what she can do to us, and we aren’t fools. Who in the whole kingdom doesn’t know about Faya-kapkani? By the gods and by the hunt, has she learned to harness herself? Are we safe here?”

“She has two Sawari servants, and she wears a veil which hides her gifts.”

“It’s in her eyes?”

“I’m told they shine like pink stars. We have special instructions to keep women away from her unless necessary, with only special exceptions. Her wish, and the Kisharratum’s orders.” Ninishta-kaya bit her lip and nervously rubbed her hands together, “I should mention as well that her majesty has expressed interest in your meeting her. Both of you.”

“What!?”

“Please, your voice, divine one.”

Zarika huffed, her ears flattened, fangs showing and lip upturned with a snarl. “If she afflicts either myself or Ahrnakir, it will be chaos. Ashareh might protect us, or perhaps even Ketzani—but we have no idea. And if that happened, and if either of us was dragged off of her like Faya-kapkani, then what happens? Eh? Gods summon the strength to carry me from here! Would Ketzani see us face the same demise? We are divine! We aren’t some mortal to be fed to the lake!”

Their attendant opened her lips to protect and answer, but as the first word began to form, Zarika saw the pupils dilate and eyes go wide. Ninishta-kaya was frozen, as if caught, locked into a stammer as she struggled to formulate her words. What in the name of dark Urkallum is more pressing than this right now? The wolf-born turned her gaze, Ahrnakir following her like a pup, before she too became wide-eyed. Down the corridor, a branch away from where they tread, there was a haunting sight: two titanic Sawari, and before them, a woman of such innate beauty it nearly stole the air from her chest. Yet the woman who looked back at them wore a golden veil, decorated with golden dials. Two, faint, pink spheres pierced the golden shroud.

It’s her.

User avatar
Isklanapura
Lobbyist
 
Posts: 18
Founded: May 22, 2016
Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Isklanapura » Sat Feb 19, 2022 11:29 am

Image
Tablet II: Return to the Spice




The palatial baths were situated at the edge of the palace, and they were two floors in all—though totally separated and sound proofed by the inner workings that maintained them. Ninkailis-ilum drifted into the hot water, the royal baths being designed to cater to those of her rulership. She wasn’t totally certain on the inner workings—something to do with a heating chamber beneath which kept the baths hot, while water was lifted up the spine to the palace through a mix of an aqueduct and a pulley system. As far as her eyes could tell, hidden behind their golden veil, water was regularly recycled, and the new water was always introduced after being boiled on a brazier.

Architecturally, the space was stone and decorated with the usual royal attention: reliefs of gold and emerald. On all sides but one, the walls were solid; facing the outside world, there were instead a series of columns, river nymphs carved into them, which held up the room. A series of large vertical shutters filled the space between these columns, they too made of heavy stone, functioning as a faux wall of sorts. While the bath was in use, they were opened to the world beyond, producing a steamless bath and a welcomed view of the whole of the spine. Isklakata unfolded before her eyes, from the ziggurats, gladiatorial arenas and pleasure houses, to the endless stretch of kanchum.

Typically her eyes would wander this expanse. Free to look upon Isklakata, too far for any to be touched by Ketzani’s blessings. Pink jewels which scoured the city from this roost, and often was greeted by the insects which would flutter in and out of the room. Ketzani truly had blessed the palace, for such beasts came in peace, and left in peace. However, on this eve, her attention was drawn elsewhere. At the far end of the baths, away from her, rest two servants of her mother’s kingdom: Zarika and Ahrnakir. To ease her heart, Zarika wore a blindfold, though Ahrnakir was allowed to see freely. To the credit of the demigoddess, her lupine ears navigated the room like eyes, and twitched and rotated to every new sound.

She had never met demigods before—none—other than the reflection in the bronze mirror which greeted her. In a way, it put her at ease. Here were two persons, who knew what it was like to carry the gift of the divine. One of them was given godly strength, the other godly marksmanship. Yet Ashareh had been kind to her chosen pair. She gave them powers without fault in curse, and she gave them each other, so they might exponentially grow in power. What has Ketzani given me? Why did you make me alone, goddess? Why did you bless me with passion like a curse?

“I’ve never seen you two before,” Ninkailis-ilum stuttered out, uncertain what to say. Why did I invite them here? This was foolish. What am I supposed to do now? “I remembered hearing about you though. Even in Wari, they’d mention you from time to time.”

“Ah, the great Sawari have me on their mandibles? I suppose they can’t be blamed for that. I’ve killed monsters for them before in the west, and we’ve won battles there too during the war.”

Zarika, her gift shut out by blinds, narrowed down on the sound of her lover, and swiped at him with an elbow. Swift as her arrows, she crashed into his gut, and the herculean man began to sputter and gasp. Attendants in the room, their eyes cast downward, and all men, looked over at them in silence and terror, before returning to their duties.

“Thank you for… having us,” Zarika ventured. “Believe it or not but we saw you when you were a child. Before your gift.”

The Sharrwassatum tilted her head, “before?”

“You were young—we would’ve probably been around your age when we saw you. Maybe ten years ago? We came to the palace on the beckoning of Chia-tupar-aplum. Blessed be his name.”

“You served my grandfather too? So when did you see me exactly?”

“Truthfully… a little like today. But under better circumstances,” she muttered out, ears flattened. It was an Asharaean thing, that sign of submission and guilt.

I can’t hold it against her. She has every right to be apprehensive. She probably is, even now, but just hiding it. What would mother do? What should I do?

“I was just wandering the halls?”

“With some Asharkar, if I remember right. Your mother has always been a busy ruler, even before she inherited the rod of kingship. I was told you sometimes just wandered, and sure enough, we found you. It was brief though. A wave, childlike shyness, and off you went.”

Ninkailis-ilum smiled for a moment, but clenched her firsts under the waves of the clear water. The mention of the Asharkar… Faya-kapkani? Am I reading too deeply into her words, or is she playing at something?

“You two chat, I want meat,” Ahrnakir grunted out, still holding his gut.

As the man stood, the architecture of his body unveiled itself. The scars on his arms, the sculpted musculature which led to cyclopean hands—familiar with the grip of a sword. In flustered flurry, her heart skipped a beat, eyes averted as to deny herself sight of the figure which continued to rise above the waves. She’d entered the baths before them, and she would leave last as well, both times to avert her gaze from their bodies; though to the benefit of her guests, to avert them from her own as well.

Swishing his lupine tail, wet fur smashed into Zarika’s face, the woman lashing out into her darkness after him, but the titan lurked away in quiet steps. An adjoining room held the treats he sought, and nude as he was, he burst upon the servants, seeking to gorge himself. Ninkailis-ilum sighed, though found herself now alone with the more sophisticated of the two.

“He’s not always this savage, I hope you know,” Zarika said as she sank her head further into the hot water. “He just needs the right settings to thrive, and that’s when you get past his arrogance and antics.”

“The right setting?”

“He’s pretty well behaved when we hunt, but unfortunately he does best on the battlefield. When he has something to fight, it takes up all that excess energy of his, and that brain starts to shine.”

“Isn’t that the case with all warriors?”

“You’d be surprised. War makes some men and women into witless creatures. As for Ahrnakir, he becomes thoughtful, intelligent, calculated and brutal. He was at Parya. He wasn’t the shining star of Parya—that goes to Urde-Saya—but he played his part perfectly. Wari was never attacked, though, so you were kept safe from the conflicts even in the west.”

Another hero of the land. Didn’t mother send him north?

“My aunt never tried to take over Wari. The Sawari told me it was because of me. They said she feared upsetting Ketzani.”

Zarika scoffed, “yet she didn’t fear the storm gods. I doubt any god fought on her side in the war. She was truly forsaken.”

“Why?”

“Because your mother was chosen and fated to rule. Ketzani was with her in the war, so why would any god try to oppose Ketzani? Ashareh kneels, too.”

There was quiet between them again, Ahrnakir still absent, and Ninkailis-ilum trapped in contemplation. What was she supposed to do? She wanted to kick herself early, or tear off her horns, but now she was just here… awkwardly sharing a bath with demigods like her. What in the name of the goddess am I doing? What the hell am I trying to achieve? Part of her wanted to take this opportunity to sneak out, but such wouldn’t be stately, and she would be scolded later by her Sawari attendants.

Normally this wasn’t an issue. She’d spent her whole life surrounded by adults, and denied the pleasantries of youth. That door closed long ago, forever so when she was taken in by the Sawari. She spoke to her attendants with ease, her companion Sawari with ease, her mother with—admittedly faltering—ease. They’re no different. Why can’t I get a grip? They’re just adults. But… They were demigods. Oddly, as it struck her, this was a moment of memory. Their realm had three, and only three, mortals given down to Isklanapura by the divine. Now, all three shared this one space.

“Is everything alright, Sharwassatum?” Zarika asked, unexpectedly.

The princess bit her lip, then relaxed her shoulders and sank further into the hot waters. “I’m fine. I just wanted to… meet you. Two.”

She wasn’t sure what to do, not even on a remote level. Every moment that passed, an awkwardness built in her. It wasn’t just because they were demigods, she knew that much now. No, it was deeper than that. She wasn’t sure how to speak to people who weren’t beneath her in totality. These weren’t petty subjects or suck-up overseers—these were real people. Yet all she could do was maintain pathetic smalltalk with no depth. She wanted to claw out her eyes, for perhaps they were to blame. Perhaps she couldn’t even get deeper than this because of this blessing of passion. No one would treat her with ease, and even if she tried to bring peace to them, it would amount to this.

They can lecture me. At least I’ll know how to talk to them.

Abruptly, Ninkailis-ilum stood—Ahrnakir being absent in feast gave her a unique opportunity. As she stood, trained attendants rushed to her, helping her from the water, draping her godly nude form in cloth to dry her. She peered over at Zarika, those lupine ears swiveling to the sound.

“Sharrwassatum?”

Ninkailis-ilum opened her mouth, ready to speak, though no words escaped. Her heart beat, louder and louder. She’d lost control. Her emotions weren’t abiding by the training her Sawari masters had given her. The curse of adolescence, some may have said to her, but as far as she was concerned, it was the terror of the unknown.

“Uhm… please, enjoy the bath.”

“Majesty?” Zarika was half raised out of the water. Even blind, she moved as though she could see. Ninkailis-ilum needed to escape.

Claws against stone flooring, silken robes thrown over her, she fled faster than her attendants could cater to her. Out the archway of the baths, into the call with drying-cloths flinging off her horns as she picked up pace. This wasn’t a steady withdrawal anymore, it was a panicked retreat. There was no other choice. One more moment in there, and her heart would suffocate her in a deluge of fear.

User avatar
Tiburr
Political Columnist
 
Posts: 2
Founded: Feb 13, 2022
Moralistic Democracy

Postby Tiburr » Sun Feb 20, 2022 10:30 am

Battle of Segestica, late 3rd century

A man stood upon a hill top as the sound of hundreds of men marching grew louder as the mass neared him. Two columns of men, marching mostly in step with one another. Adorned in red signifying they came from the capital. The mass of men appeared to move as one, breath as one and would surely fight as one. Behind the man burned a forest, left as a gift by the marauding northern tribes. For weeks the tribes of the north pillaged and enslaved the people of northern Tiburr and for weeks it appeared no help would come. But as the man sat silent, watching Tiburr’s answer march onto the field near the village of Segestica, he knew that Tiburrion had brought vengeance with him.

There sat Segestica, a peaceful village on the cusp of a forest of cypresses and juniper. The village itself was made of straw and simple mortar, unable to stand the test of time or the raids of sadistic barbarians. Where the armies would meet was a clearing used for grazing, grass now trampled underneath the might of the two armies that planned to meet.

The freshly levied army of Tiburr marched north with rage and vigor as news of the northern raids echoed fresh in the ears of every man. As they approached the clearing near Segestica the body of men began to give way into individual units. Each understood the role they had to play before any man had to speak. The man upon the hill watched as the units formed into small squares while continuing their steady advance across the clearing. The man looked across the field and saw what the army was advancing on. Northern barbarians had emerged from a small thicket that was not yet engulfed in flames. The barbarians began to whoop as the Tiburrian army neared, clearly confident in their own numbers and whatever trickery they had devised.

The Tiburrian army now fully divided into its own units of roughly one hundred men in each square continued it’s approach, seemingly undeterred by the barbarian horde. The squares marched seven across and three deep, forming 3 clear battle lines. Skirmishers began to amass in a blob between the squares of the advancing lines.

A sharp horn blast pierced the air like a spear and at once barbarians emerged from Segestica and raced towards the flank of the advancing Tiburrians. Almost as one body, the Tiburrian advance halted and immediately the units on the flank turned as a single body forming a single line and braced with their spears for the charge of the barbarians. The skirmishers in the center suddenly shifted towards the flank and let loose their javelins and stones.

The barbarians fell under a barrage of javelin and stone before finally crashing into the lines of the Tiburrian army. Here the slaughter began, as the barbarian warriors continued to stream into the Tiburrian lines forcing their comrades closest to the butchering into the spears of the braced Tiburrian line.

Another horn blast signaled the remaining barbarians to race towards the Tiburrian army currently engaged on it’s flank. As the barbarians ran towards the seemingly exposed Tiburrian front the Tiburrians formed a loose line at their front, using the units that had been positioned in the front. Again, skirmishers let loose javelins and rocks as the barbarians crashed into the front line of the Tiburrians.

The man on the hill watched in horror as the front line of the Tiburrian army began to buckle inwards as the majority of the barbarians began to concentrate their efforts on the center line. The reserves appeared to be panicking at the weight of the barbarian horde and began to retreat to the open field on the right flank of the battle, seemingly abandoning their comrades on the field. As the men routed, the front line bended further inwards, forming a crescent shaped moon at the center.

Another blast on the horn, this time distinctly Tiburrian. The men who had previously routed appeared to not be routed at all, quickly forming a flanking body to the right of the fighting. These men were adorned not with spears, but swords. Slowly they advanced on the frenzied barbarians who thought they were close to their kill. As the Tiburrian flank approached, the sword wielding men began to toss their spears into the backs of the barbarians, killing or wounding dozens at a time. Then the charge that would echo through the centuries as one of the greatest military achievements in Tiburr. The sword wielding men clashed into the sides of the Barbarians, causing a panicked route. The killing would go on for hours as the panicked barbarians attempted to flee in every direction.

As some ran into the village of Segestica, survivors of the raids emerged from their homes to enact vengeance on the horrid barbarians. The wails of women could be heard throughout the field as those who lost loved ones in the raids unleashed their anguish on the fleeing barbarians.

Of the barbarians who escaped, many attempted to hide in the trees of the forest of which they were burning. This only resulted in the laughs of the Tiburrian men as they began to cut the trees down, sending the barbarians to be crushed or finished off with spears. Others chose death by desperately trying to escape into the burning forest rather than face the wrath of the vengeful army. The killing carried on into the night until the Rex finally regained control of the frenzied army.

Monuments of victory were made with the heads of the vanquished barbarians being pinned to standing trees as a testament to victory. The crusely made barbarian weapons would be smelted down and casted into a statue depicting Tiburion himself triumphantly holding his sword in the air with the severed head of a barbarian in his free hand.

The man who sat upon the hill watching quietly excused himself, a mere witness of the legendary battle that played out in front of him.

Next

Advertisement

Remove ads

Return to NationStates

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Haramun

Advertisement

Remove ads