by Max Barry

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Providence: The new novel by Max Barry, creator of NationStates

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Founder: The Lore Masters of The Grand Global Archive

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Most Nations: 565th
World Factbook Entry

Hail, traveler, and welcome to the lands of Kirinna!


LinkDiscord|Guidestone|Library|Kirinna Main Thread
Blessed be the Age of Heroes! Blessed be Bronze and Iron!



Embassies: Roma Invicta, The New Mediterranean Order, The Embassy, Commonwealth of Mankind, Ersetum, Eurth, belgium, Democritus, and Sildoria.

Tags: Fantasy Tech, Magical, Map, Medium, Multi-Species, Past Tech, and Role Player.

Kirinna contains 30 nations, the 565th most in the world.

Today's World Census Report

The Most Advanced Public Education in Kirinna

Fresh-faced World Census agents infiltrated schools with varying degrees of success in order to determine which nations had the most widespread, well-funded, and advanced public education programs.

As a region, Kirinna is ranked 5,475th in the world for Most Advanced Public Education.

NationWA CategoryMotto
1.The Lunar Dynasties of NylosInoffensive Centrist Democracy“Our Dynasty everlasting, under the light of four Moons”
2.The Golden Queendom of TheacaLeft-wing Utopia“Peace and Equality”
3.The Roving Clans of SurestanIron Fist Consumerists“Sun-born, Storm-blessed”
4.The Golden Kingdom of IsklanapuraInoffensive Centrist Democracy“For Ketzani, Queen of Heaven”
5.The Divine empire of AzzagratPsychotic Dictatorship“By pain we stand reforged. Through death we rise anew.”
6.The Empire of HanchuCivil Rights Lovefest“Death is just the beginning”
7.The Empire of The Bleeding Sun of QaiaFather Knows Best State“Ihíio, Itlátol”
8.The Dominion of KhurnnPsychotic Dictatorship“We Will Endure”
9.The Principality of SveinaIron Fist Consumerists“Our Oaths Are Iron”
10.The Empire of AoyanNew York Times Democracy“Jewel of the Garden”
123»

Regional Happenings

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Kirinna Regional Message Board

As the elders walked towards the ship they stayed silent, grimly following after the short Khur officers that seemed to be in command of the battle against the Yzvis tribe. The Lilhu elders had learnt from the Khur merchant acting as translator that the forces here were a part of a famous unit within Khurnnas and her subjects. Templar guards, the bodyguard unit of the Overlord of Zorya Azurr the golden. Whatever the Templars were doing in the Lyri strait together with a detachment from the Khur garrison of Jeauna the Elders could only pray that it had nothing to do with the Lilhu tribe or Lilhum.

While the Lilhu elders were approaching the anvil praying that this prince Oleg would not demand too much, sead prince was in the midst of a battle against his cooks, the Prince was devouring the food put before him almost faster then the servants could bring him more and as his temper was famous within the expedition the servants grew more and more desperate to get his food to him in time.

Standing besides the prince, Ross sighed and said “ your majesty the battle is over and Geli seems to be bringing some officials from the city to meet you “

Halting his eating, Oleg looked up, glancing towards the battlefield. Once he spotted the group moving towards the ship he nodded before signaling to a servant to clear the table and bring something for the guests. After a minute or two gone where the remnants of Olegs meal and in its place where painted clay mugs and an urn containing fine Jeaunan beer.

Once the preparations where done and Oleg had sat down, Ross asked “ do i let them board the ship now “

Sighing Oleg nodded “ do that, i'm ready “

Ross approached a guard nearby and signaled for Geli and the elders to be brought up on deck.

While waiting for the go ahead from the Prince, Geli had watched over the expressions of the Natives and it seemed as if they had realized that they were about to meet someone of import.

It did not take long for a guard to approach “ the prince is ready to see you “ he said, leading the elders and Geli to the deck where a table was set up.

The elders joined Oleg at the table where they then started to negotiate with him. Firstly they thanked the expedition for their assistance before then offering a favorable trade deal as compensation for the trouble.

Oleg representing Khurnnas and the zoryan league, asked for more as of they had not intervene the city of Lilhum would no longer have belonged to the Lilhu tribe and the tribesmen within would have been killed.

The elders of the Lilhu tribe realizing that the Khur prince was determined to gain as much as possible from this meeting decided to resort to their backup plan. They asked if they could join the zoryan league as a junior member.

To this request Oleg, being surprised that the Lilhu would do this, accepted as it was too good a deal to give up. Besides he wouldn't be the one to deal with the complications of his decision, that was his fathers job, he had a Kingdom to raid.

Urde-Saya, The Epic of Umikara, Tablet II: the Passage—Gateway between worlds, Passage between Isklanapura and Aoyan

At the crossroads of worlds, Urde-Saya sputtered and coughed—crimson rivers dripping from his downturned scowl. Thrusting down on his spear, he felt bronze dig into bronze, as the metal apparatus beneath him flailed and clawed. With a twist, something inside the bronze man broke; an eerie squeal echoing within that hollow chamber before the intricate monster fell motionless. That was the death of the would-be killer, but it was simply another step on his journey.

Slumping over the dead body, he breathed heavily and coughed ever harder. He felted around his ribs, something moving which very clearly shouldn’t, and let out a cry of pain. Nevertheless, laying victorious against his prey, he knew he’d done the right thing. For days they had been lost in these hills looking for the gateway, and much to his astonishment he had found this bronze man seemingly scouting out his camp in those early hours of the morning. Why or to what end, he couldn’t begin to guess—but what mattered is this little battle had led him right to their goal.

“Urde-Saya! Urde-Saya!” He heard a woman shout. Looking over the horizon, he could see Gishmaka-Yari and a band of soldiers cresting the rocky hill he’d sprung from himself, and rushing toward him. “Urde-Saya, are you alright?”

Shrugging his shoulders, he motioned to the bronze corpse he sat upon. “I’ve seen better days, but I’ve never killed better men. By the gods, I must be getting old.”

Gishmaka-Yari looked over him, before her face turned pale as she applied pressure to his wounded chest. “Great gods, you broke them. You know we can’t keep asking Kitanneh to fix you. You’re going to exhaust our doctor.”

“Oh shut up, just send for her,” he barked at her. “I don’t need you yapping at me like some old woman.”

Huffing, Gishmaka-Yari turned to her men. “Fetch Kitanneh from her tent. Tell her Urde-Saya’s hurt, and he needs her to use her magic to steal death from him.”

The men scampered off, while Gishmaka-Yari merely glared at Urde-Saya. He looked back, a growing irritation, or perhaps anxiety, building under his skin. She was a fine captain, and a finer woman—but even the gods seemed to quake when she was irate about something.

“For someone who’s supposed to be so wise and so cunning, you’re idiotically reckless.”

“Complain all you like now—my theatrics won us against Farah back in the north. You weren’t complaining then.”

“These are not bandits, my lord. These are monsters of bronze who came from the sky. Consider that. They aren’t even flesh. You want to lecture me on complaints? You’re being irrationally aggressive and erratic about fighting these monsters.”

“Are you blind? Can’t you see my spoils right here?”

“Can you see the cost right here?” She reached out and gently pushed on his broken ribs, the man yelping in pain. “Don’t just rely on Kitanneh. Be the Urde-Saya we all know—think before you get reckless.”

“Yes, yes—spare me your wisdom,” he said dismissively, like some stubborn elder. “Look, forget the man I’ve killed here, and look just right there! Don’t you see it?”

Gishmaka-Yari looked up, and Urde-Saya followed her gaze. Some short distance away in the rocky clearing, there was a structure that stood untested by time. It was an archway, ancient in architecture, but splendorous in the awe it held. Within the archway itself, there was some sort of strange sight. Where the land around them was held, blistered and bouldered, there in the gateway’s walkway was something totally different. It was a late-evening sunlight cast over grasses and strange trees—but he could make out nothing else. What mattered more than the wonder, however, was the size of it. Many men could walk in together, and with a height as great as the gate had, it was more than enough for a storm giant. The bronze

“It leads to another world, right?” Gishmaka-Yari asked, distancing herself from her irritation as she looked on. She’d been so fast to attack Urde-Saya that she seemingly neglected this wonder until now.

“It leads to Umikara. It leads to my redemption.”

“Don’t use that word—not here, not like this,” she hissed at him. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“It isn’t. But I was too weak to protect one of our gods. Until I have her back in her temple, and her back with the other gods, I am disgraced.”

From over the ridge, he could hear the clicking of hooves against stone. Turning his head, he saw the welcome monstrosity of the death priestess—his physician. She was a Myronan, and from her predatory jackal head and many eyes to the slender prey legs and hooves, she was a most welcome sight. It was Kitanneh who’d come to his aid after he was beaten by the bronze men atop the ziggurat, and it was she who first offered her services to join his party to hunt down the captors of Umikara.

“Rib and flesh, neither do mesh well with bronze and bane—nay?” She asked in her strangely accented Isklana. “Death do I smell upon your mortal flesh. Delectable death, I’ll take it from you, and life shall flow in its stead.”

“Do your work. I won’t complain,” he grunted as Kitanneh knelt down.

“Hush, oh darling warrior. Hush, and let my touch steal your agony.”

He looked at her four eyes, the way they eyed perfectly his broken ribs—all the while clawed hands reached down and brushed against his bruised flesh. Reaching into a bronze jar she had tied to her waist, Kitanneh rubbed into his flesh an ashen dust which dyed the skin white. Drawing ancient symbols and unknown meanings, she decorated his wound delicately. When her work was settled, she pulled from another bronze jar a lump of ember which never faded, and gave off a lapis light. Rubbing the embers into the ashen drawing, Urde-Saya felt his body burn and reel—but clenched his teeth with furious resolve. The lapis light burned through the ashes along the drawing, and where they traveled he felt his bones move and snap and refigure with a sickly slowness. Delicate in her craft, she watched, and as the lash of the ashen marks burned away, she swept the dust from his wound and pressed down upon it. There was no pain.

“Death do I steal from you; my goddess gives regards. She’s as much with you now as queen Ketzani—nay?”

Grunting, Urde-Saya nodded and struggled to his feet with the help of Gishmaka-Yari. “Thank you.”

Kitanneh nodded, but reached up to her head and stumbled in her step a bit. The soldiers by her reached out to help her, ultimately assisting her as she sat against the ground. Whenever she did this magic, it took a toll of fatigue on his doctor. When he’d been so badly hurt before, apparently she’d slept just as long as he did, recovering from quite literally stealing his injuries away. It seemed capturing the specters of death which lurked over all mortal injury was taxing.

“You’ve found our way! Are you an oarsman or a hero?”

“I’d like to be both right now,” he remarked as he looked back to the gateway. “We’ll have to go through soon and make camp all over again. Look at us now in dawn, but in there the day is already well moved. Where do you think that world is? Does your goddess tell you?”

Kitanneh shook her head, “I am but a humble priestess, and your doctor. Such secrets aren’t for I. Where I tread is where my goddess sends me. My goddess is in league with queen Ketzani. If Ketzani hasn’t spoken such secrets to you, then the cloak hangs over our eyes.”

“I’ll get the men packing,” Gishmaka-Yari said, sharing a brief look with Urde-Saya. “Wait for us. We have no idea what could be over there—it could even be a trap.”

“Whatever waits, we’ll plunder it and return home with dignity. Go, now. I want the men down here and ready as fast as they’re able. I’ll sit with Kitanneh for now.”

Gishmaka-Yari stepped away, and within moments, he could hear her shouts of command over the crest. It wouldn’t take long to get the men moving—they’d gotten rather used to setting up fast camps so they could keep on their feet as much as possible. The fastest they’d moved in these lands was a camp set in no more than twenty minutes, and packed in the same time. Nevertheless, they’d have to make sure the pack beetles were fed, and that the provisions were well stocked. This venture to save Umikara was a mystery to all as to how long it would take. Days more if they were fortunate—but if the northern venture taught him anything, it was that time was unforgiving. What could days, weeks or months could venture beyond a year. Nevertheless, the notion he’d be hunting down his goddess for a year was beyond him.

“You smell of worry, oh warrior. Worry isn’t a worthy cloak for you—nay?”

“You told me about this gateway—do you really have no idea what’s on the other side?”

Kitanneh shook her head, “nay, my lord. Oh nay. I hear whispers, and my whispers are but fragments of curiosity and wonder. My goddess has set it to be as such, and our queen Ketzani as well. When we pass, we will learn, and return for all to bask in.”

“I just wish we knew something—anything. Look from here, and just look at how strange it is. They have trees but not a single one is like ours. I’ve never seen trees like that. And look at their grass—the very color isn’t like ours. It’s a different green altogether. What do you suppose it feels like? Where do you suppose that world is?”

“Hmm… in our garden of many worlds, or where even beyond it could lead? Who can say. One of my sisters spoke to me once of lands where trees were needled, and where snow blanketed woods instead of mountain peaks. Strange to think about. You are well traveled, hero of Parya, but our most blessed domain is but a carving on wet clay.”

“Do you think that what’s there is here then? Here in the garden? I was wondering if we’d end up on one of the moons!”

Kitanneh looked up, two of the moons visible in the morning sky from where they sat. “What we see in the mirror is familiar in a way—nay? I believe that places as immortal as the moons would be beyond such comprehension. But the gods do not tell me. I wonder if they can even reach the old domains of ancient Moonlight.”

“Do you know what sort of people might be on the other side?”

“Such I should ask you, as you are much more well traveled. I wander only our domain, and leave here and now with you. But you have seen far lands. From barbarians to kingdoms.”

“Bah! All barbarians compared to home. When I was sent north to find the mythical lands of Amemnhat, I only found barbarians with wheels. When I wandered and met many faces of ailur and man and zagatti—not like our Asharaeans—all I could do was dream of home. Even now, I just want to go back home. But duty takes me to barbarian lands.”

“So, who do you think is on the other side?”

“One of the other old races—maybe ones which are noble and worthy. Maybe there will be Lyrani! I’ve always wanted to meet one. Or maybe they will be some sort of midget tribes! Ah—comedy would be a nice way to make light of this. Someone who can’t get in the way of our work. If the goddess is good to me, there won’t be any damned ailur with their arrogance and falsehoods.”

“Careful what you say, great hero. Sometimes when one wishes too hard and too offensively, the gods turn against him—nay?”

“Well… I promise you that whatever is on the other side, I won’t let it get in our way. I’m sure the gods can show me some favor for bringing home their kin.”

“One can hope. The queen writes many mysterious fates upon Nanki’s tablets.”

The shifting of rocks and rising voices over the crest gave Urde-Saya reason to stand, turning his gaze back over the hilltop. He could see the Asharkar were the first to have packed up and started moving down—carrying some of their packs with them, while others were carried on the backs of pack goats, of all things. He found the notion of choosing such a soft-bodied beast so comically strange, as opposed to a beetle or some other beast Ketzani had composed. Nevertheless, the Asharkar preferred their Asharaean goat breeds all the same, and so he watched casually as they and their beasts descended into the rocky clearing.

It didn’t take long for the rest of the camp to join them. Asharkar made military ranks and lined up as though battle was coming, while the rest of the camp casually formed loose groups and chatted; all the while many eyes were fixed first on the bronze man, and then on the gate. Gishmaka-Yari was the last to come over the hill, only doing so after one final glance over their old campground. They hadn’t had any issue with deserters or cowards yet, but this was a whole new world they would be stepping into. It was understandable for demons to shake the spirit into a panic, and turn brave men into scattered insects.

“The camp is packed, and all the men are accounted for,” Gishmaka-Yari shouted as she slid down the rocks. “Is the priestess alright?”

“I’m quite fine. Upon me you see the greatest health—nay?”

“And you, lordship?”

Urde-Saya looked at Gishmaka-Yari, and then back at the gateway. “I’m alright now—the picture of health! You’ll be the last one to step through the gate, so that you can herd the men through. I’ll go first with the Asharkar.”

“You don’t want a scout?”

“I won’t send any man into an alien land before I myself have done so. I am the scout. You’ll know immediately if there is danger thanks to the fact you should be able to see me.”

Gishmaka-Yari nodded, “just step through with the Asharkar. Don’t wander off. The gods chose you for this mission, and you’re the only one who knows these bronze men right now. Don’t die, or we fall apart.”

Urde-Saya reached out his hand and squeezed first Gishmaka-Yari’s shoulder, and then Kitanneh. Nodding, he stepped away from them, and approached the Asharkar formation; the crowd of soldiers parting to make way for him. When he came upon them, the Asharkar raised their spears in salute, and their captair bowed his head.

“Alright you wolf-pelted sons and daughters of Ashareh, skip your formalities. Form a column, and follow me.”

He didn’t wait to see the Asharkar take shape, the ten warriors shuffling about with the heavy steps of bronze. Stepping toward the ancient gate, he placed his hand upon the stone, and felt chills down his back. Out of curiosity, he walked to the other side of the gate, only to find that the image between the pillars was of the same area, but a different angle. It was a second doorway to the same space—a curious thing. Walking back around, he saw the full scope of his men looking expectantly at him. It reminded Urde-Saya for a moment of those distant days during the war. Even now the fresh faces of frightened soldiers were carved into his mind like a wall relief, and always did he linger on them. These men weren’t scared in the same way—instead they were concerned about the unknown. It couldn’t be helped.

“Listen to me, all of you. I have won battles far and wide, from the days of silver suffering to the present of our growing kingdom. I’ve faced rank and legion of our brothers clad in traitor cloaks, but with the ferocity of reapers and hate of ancient menace. I’ve faced barbarians on wheeled platforms—war wagons which tore apart earth and carried death in their cradle. I’ve faced monsters of unspeakable might, and added bronze men to my count of the fallen. Look at me—I am no godborn man. I am untouched by magics or nymph blood; I am you! All I have done, I shall lead you through with wit and war. I am no wolf born of Ashareh or god-queen-to-be of Ketzani, I am but a warrior of Isklanapura.”

“I am leading you now into the heart of the unknown. I can’t tell you what waits for us on the other side. It could be a trap, and bronze men will fall upon us in an instant. It would be a continued hunt, where Umikara is waiting for us to save her. The lands are not like ours—you can see that with your own two eyes! Look out through the gate, and see a land totally alien to us! I can’t tell you what waits for us. I can’t tell you what monsters are there. But what I can tell you, and give you great promise of, is we will crush whatever menace comes our way. I am one man, I am you, and look at the spoils that I can bring in. Look at the bronze corpse at your feet. Any one of you could do this—and no matter their abominations, we can crush them. Limb from limb, we will tear the flesh and bone from whatever stands in our way. We will trap our enemies, and hunt them down to bring home our goddess. Should foreign persons, barbarians as we can’t imagine, try to stop us—we will cut them down. I pledge to you, that so long as you follow me into the unknown, you will return home in all as heroes of our heartland.”

“Strengthen your hearts, look forward with pride! I lead you into the jaws of the unknown—but we will not be shaken! We will bring back our goddess, and we will please Ketzani with our return. We will find out who these bronze men are, and we will add their bodies to the corpses we’ve left behind. We are born of war and love, and of beasts of might—we are unconquerable. Now form your ranks, and drag that husk of a body with us. When we see the bronze men, we’ll show them what waits for taking our goddess! Follow me, we march to glory.”

With cheering from the Isklana, the Asharkar formed up into two columns of five behind Urde-Saya. With a deep breath, the hero walked forward in confident steps, though in truth his heart pounded like a wardrum. With one step in front of the other, he felt the passage touch his flesh—except there was no sensation beyond the sudden change of temperature, and the air burning with a summer dryness. As his claws passed the threshold of stone and into the grasses and trees of another world, he found himself looking around with awe. It was like a mirror of home, but far from it. The trees, the smells, the sounds of animals—all were different. Behind him, the Asharkar followed, and after them did the rest of the camp slowly tread into this foreign world. There was no trap, but upon the earthen ground he could see torn earth from some great monster having wandered away into the depths of these lands.

“We… actually made it,” Gishmaka-Yari gasped as she stepped through. “We’re in another world.”

Urde-Saya smiled, clutching his spear and digging his insect talons into the soft dirt and grass beneath them. “Send scouts out and try to follow that trail. We also need to find a new place to set up camp—somewhere with water, for the love of the gods. If you see anything we can eat, you take it. We’ll try to follow as far as we can the bronze men, but when the sun begins to set, we camp again.”

Gishmaka-Yari nodded, and wandered off, shouting orders and organizing the men. While she set off, Urde-Saya merely sat upon the earth and felt the grass between his fingers.

Another world, my Ketzani. You’ve taken me to another world. I don’t know if you can hear me now, goddess, but I promise you I won’t fail. This world, or a hundred others—I will find Umikara. I will bring her home.

The Tale of the Three
Sand brushed over the jagged reddish-grey stones of the waste making a quiet hissing sound as the grains worked away at the stone and carved tiny furrows over the years of constant abuse. In the half-light of a sandstorm’s final moments, it was a beautiful and alien sight. A trio of robed men pulled their protective cloth together around their faces, waiting for the stinging sound to finally subside. There was a small note of unspoken tension between them as each struggled to press as much of themselves as they could into the protective stone that had served as shelter for the group. After many long moments the sand finally subsided and the trio brushed themselves off, rising silently into the sun. The three began to walk in silence for their journey was long and talking would not get them there any faster.

The tree trudged, each one carving their own path through the dunes. The first carried sacks of golden coins that rattled and jingled with each step. They were a one of wealth and power. Their desert garments were crafted from the finest silk of the finest artisans and had been proofed against the sun in a dozen ways, each more exotic and expensive than the last. The great wealth they carried caused each step to sink softly into the sand and progress was slow but sure. After all, the first had hired many expensive cartographers to math their path well and in these treacherous wastes one could lose their way easily and become another pair of bleached bones for only the desert scavengers to feast on.

In the distance a great structure loomed ahead, casting a shadow and cooling the air. Here the ground was much sturdier and with their goal in sight the three sped up, no longer fearing the treacherous sand and its uncertainty. The second one pressed ahead more than the others. They were a faithful priest of the Wyrm. Their entire life had been devoted to teaching others of the Wyrm Goddess and upon their back they blessed wines and exotic fruits from far and wide. They were the Shepard of Theaca’s faithful and reaped what they had sown. Vestments of green and blue were soiled with dust and the priest was far from their home and yest still they pushed on, devotion and purpose guiding every step with a certain that only the most faithful could hold.

The hard and rocky ground gave way to the moist and fertile earth, Theaca’s life coating the ground in an ever-present churn. The third and final traveler knew their journey would soon be at an end. They were garbed in the simple clothing of the desert. Roughly made brown and red robes that had a stitched grey pattern along the sides, representing the scaled of the Great Wyrm. This traveler carried a simple carcass and the spear of a hunter slung over their back. It had been a hard journey, and most had been eaten but it was all the hunter could spare.

Days passed on their journey and each time the sun rose the colossal pyramid was closer and closer than ever before. Soon consumed the entire sky until the three could see nothing but its great sides and the yawning opening that they had long since sought. All three struck torches and headed into the pyramid without hesitation, after all they had all traveled so far and with their goal so close any thoughts of fear had flown from their breasts. The trio picked their way through, each one taking care not to make too much noise or disturb the bones that littered the floor from those who had failed their final test.

They soon found themselves on a dais and rang the great gong to call the Wyrm Goddess to them, and soon they could feel eyes upon them, observing what the travelers had brought to appease her. The first traveler laid out their coins, stacking them into glittering towers before the mighty Wyrm and explaining their great value and how many men and women it took to create such wealth, all for it to be given to her. The Wyrm Goddess accepted the gift and the first was bade to wait. The second traveler approached and offer their fine wares of food and drink. Such precious and exotic tastes from all the strange and enviable corners of the world had been laid out for the dragon to sample at her leisure. The Wyrm goddess accepted the second traveler’s gift as well and bade them to wait with the first.

The two travelers stepped aside and allowed the final traveler to present their offering but were shocked to find the traveler had abandoned the carcass some time ago. To come without a gift was to invite death, and such is the most common of knowledge. Instead, the third insisted that they too had brought a great gift for the Wyrm Goddess, and they drew their spear to show the Wyrm. With a swift motion the third traveler cut down the first and second and offered their bodies to the Wyrm as their treasure. The Wyrm Goddess was pleased by this final offering and in return gave the third a single drop of her divine blood. While the Wyrm withdrew, taking the offerings off the travelers with her the third drank the blood without a word.

The third traveler left the pyramid without their spear or their spun clothing for they had no need of either anymore. They walked through the soft soil of Theaca, neither stopping to drink nor slowing to enjoy the shade of the trees. They crossed the rough stones without exhaustion, each day and night passing as if they were all but one and the same stretch. The traveler continued further still, passing through the sands. They continued despite the treacherous footing of the sand nor the biting storms that bit through skin and stone with equal fury for they had no fear of the path ahead of them. And so they continued, beyond Theaca’s borders and into the wastes.

Expansion
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For Father

“For my father…” she muttered to herself as she knelt before the shrine. She rubbed her fingers across the etched lettering - V I N I A. The statue was the size of three men, depicting Vinia as a muscled man sitting upon a throne, hardly wearing anything but a loincloth. His face was clean and atop his head, he had short, wavy hair. Several wooden figures and candles were laid upon beds of flowers and silks that were given as tithes to the gods. Velthuria looked at him from the floor before closing her eyes to pray.
“Vinia, father to man and gods, sculptor of land and sea, I pray to you for me and my father. My father, now drifting on our world as a man between life and death, under the shade of an aisarvu, has left me ill-prepared. It is to you, your wife, and your children, that I pray to and sacrifice all I can muster to you, for guidance. I also come humbly, to ask that I may speak to my father once more, for it is for him I go along for. It is he whose strength I borrow to this day so that I might lead my people; your people. Without him…I will fail.”
Velthuria slumped down, yet she had grown past tears, yet not for sorrow. With a heavy sigh, she finished her prayer kissing the feet of the statue. The room was silent, save for the outside wind that blew through the window. She once again peered upwards at the face of the statue. It was stoic, yet lifeless. Just a stone vessel carved by man. Yet, the more she looked into the eyes of the statue, the more she became unnerved. She felt her skin crawl and the air ceased to howl.
Velthuria, went to stand, but she had no strength. Glued to the floor, she soon looked in horror as the statue seemingly moved its head to look down upon her. As its head drifted, she could hear the sound of stone chipping in cracking, yet there was more. Not a different sound, but from within the stone’s crumbling, the chorus of dozens, possibly hundreds speaking in chorus could be heard. She could hear the oceans and the bird within the stone. The crunched sounded as if they were a world of their own that she could but almost touch.
Now, the head stared at Velthuria, whose jaw slacked and eyes ballooned. “HURACE,” an echoing voice called out. It came from nowhere, yet everywhere. She heard its call, yet heard it saying a thousand prose simultaneously. It was neither man or woman who spoke, but just simply a voice. “ACILCLITHI” it rang again. Velthuria’s lips dibbled and she began to cry. Velthuria felt lost; as if the world around her collapsed.
“Acilclithi?” she pleaded, unaware of its meaning.
“SILAR” it replied - Silence.
Velthuria went limp as the voice continued to sing single words at her, all seemingly unconnected. Before long, she drifted into sleep, yet she knew she was not awake. She was aware she lay unconscious by the feet of Vinia, yet now she stood in a small, circular room. The walls were made of stone, but within the center, an entity floated. It was bally shaped, yet had no resemblance to any shape. It seemingly flowed outwards, yet sucked itself back in. Its colors were a void of rainbows and its textures looked imperfect, yet undecipherable. The thing was probably the size of her torso, yet as she tried to look into it, the object looked like it was leagues of abyssal landscapes.
Lured by some power, she went to touch it, yet as she moved in moved further away, yet stayed still - her bones chilled as her skin boiled. It once more screamed out with its singular voice of chorus “NAISOPES” and without a transition Velthuria sat upon her knees at the lifeless statue.

From what little the delegates of Tyrrhusca saw, the land of Agar seemed to be beautiful, but undeveloped. The land was fertile beyond what could be expected in the dry climate, and many of its plants were strong in both color and in scent. The people seemed skittish at first, but grew more and more courageous as the delegation ventured inland.

When the delegation stopped at night to sleep, the natives snuck into their camp. None of the guards saw the intruders, but their presence was proved by the gifts they left behind. Mostly food and flowers, but also small trinkets that ranged from small shards of colorful glass to pearls and bronze figurines.

When the delegates approached the first meadow itself, the city seemed disproportionally large in relation to the wilderness in which it stood. It appeared to be a little smaller than a medium-sized Tyrrhuscan city based on the ring of interlocking red acacia trees that enclosed it, but no roads led to it and no slums could be seen outside.

Upon getting closer, the delegates saw that the enclosed area they thought to be the city was mostly a flower field, only interrupted by a few ivy-covered buildings. When they stood a few minutes walk from the place, a sole native approached them.

While he had a mostly humanoid shape, his body was clad in smooth, silvery bark, and his large almond eyes were black from corner to corner. His legs bent backward like those of a cat or a dog, and his seven-fingered hands were long and thin. His most surprising quality however, was the strong fragrance he emitted, which seemed reminiscent of poppy seeds.

The Tyrrhuscans eyed the natives with great distrust. Their form, not entirely alien, but not seen within any species they’d call civilized. They spoke in their native tongue. “Seremo cel picuto?” One scoffed. The others joined with laughter and disgruntled looks. One of the Tyrrhuscans stepped forth. His shiny iron armor reflected light like a mirror. His helmet sported two green and white colored feathers that made the average sized man seem several feet taller “Mes! Pictuo, inik catene te arca!” He ordered, extended his hand out. He held a large scroll. “Catene te arca” the man emphasized. The scroll had wooden handles at either end and was sealed by a thick glob of wax. The seal was olive, with an ineligible symbol crudely shaped in.

Hendursaga did not like these mammal people, humans, he suddenly remembered they were called. Not only did the stench of sweat and zūtu that so often accompanied the beast races hung heavily around them, but they also reeked of both hostility and scorn. This, compared with the fact they smelled as if they never even heard of a bath, meant that their offensive odor assaulted Hendursaga's sensitive nose and soured even further his already less than pleasant mood.

Even so, it was his responsibility to ascertain the intentions of these foreigners, and annoyed or not he would show them the best hospitality they could hope for. "Do you speak the common tongue?" He asked. When he saw them staring at him with a blank look, he tried other languages: "can you understand me?" he asked in the language of the humans of the great river, reasoning that as the same species, they might share a language, "do you know this language?" he tried the tongue of the isklana, "and now?".

Hendursaga tried every language he knew of, from the pidgin of the northern nomads to the old tongue of the gods which caused the earth to rumble as he spoke, but none worked. The foreigner's apparent confusion only grew the more he tried. At the end, he gave up on trying to speak to them himself and signaled one of the watchers to call for a Lyrani to translate, hoping the invading species would know the language of these foreigners. In the meantime, he offered them puffed oats with nectar, hoping the snack will occupy them until the translator comes.

The Tyrrhuscans refuted every gift, offering only repugnant looks and turned away any gift. The Tyrrhuscans continued to speak their native language until the translator, a female named Athtart, arrived. Athtart was a tall female, standing just over five feet and eleven inches in height. She had the tanned skin common to most humanoids around the Asterion sea, though her's was perhaps a bit more dark than the bronze shaded skin the Tyrrhuscans were familiar with. She had long red hair that reached her waist and was so dark it almost seemed as if it was a river of blood flowing from the back of her head. Her eyes were dark green in color, somewhat reminiscent of the moss that grew in ancient forests, and watched the Tyrrhuscans with thinly veiled suspicion. Her horns were small and lyre-shaped, framing her face like a crown of smooth black stone, and her tail, as thin as a whip but ending in a vicious tip, flicked back and forth with poorly veiled annoyance. She wore a dress made of a single strip of sheer fabric that veiled her form only due to the amount of layers it formed due to the many coils, and which exposed and hid different parts of her body as she moved.

The Tyrrhuscans seemed to be more respectful toward Athtart. “Aci, tvran Tyrrhenian?” asked the officer. “Si,” Athtart responded.
The Tyrrhuscans seemed relieved.“Beno,” the officer added. He smugly told her “Naratv pictuo ran Tyrrhenian,” This seemed to get a rise out of the other soldiers. “Ak inik catene te arca.” the Tyrrhuscan ordered as he handed the Lyrani a scroll. Athtart translated.
“The human says ask you to speak his tongue” she paused. “...and he want us to take this object to the Queen.” Athtart handed the scroll to Hendursaga. It was weighty from the wooden handles. The officer once again spoke up, catching everyone's attention. “Klo Caputis Pupli, veno Lauchume Velthuria Hurace pro, Era est Caletra.
Athtart translated. “He says he is an officer called ‘Pupli’ and that he is here on the behalf of his queen, Velthuria Hurace.”

Hendursaga felt conflicted. On the one hand, he did not wish to allow the clearly hostile foreigners into the first meadow, but on the other hand, they represented a dangerous force that could not be denied so carelessly. Then again, would succumbing to their demands appease them or merely leave them wanting more? He was not used to dealing with this type of dilemma. His training as a scout prepared him to spot danger, but not to determine when the danger should be welcomed. He turned to Athtart to ask her for her opinion, only to find out that she was busy talking with the foreigners. Desperate, he went to the gates and informed one of the watchmen about the situation, sending him to seek counsel from the elders. Shortly thereafter, an answer arrived: the queen and the Kattilu demigod will arrive themselves to speak with the foreigners. Hendursaga returned to where the Tyrrhuscans stood in order to inform Athtart and ask her to tell the humans that the queen will arrive soon in order to speak with them herself about the requests their monarch has of the queendom of Agar, and hopefully avert a war with their belligerent neighbors in the north.

As always, the arrival of the queen was heralded by the footsteps of her companion. The sound, uncannily similar to that of a large tree or boulder falling, approached. The land shook, vibrating under the steps of a creature that should not have existed. That was filled by divine power as much as flesh and bones. It was not long before the creature himself appeared, towering even in his hunched form, a being that was just as much as a monster as it was a person. Panipa's steed, Inzak, stood seventeen feet tall despite his short limbs and hunched back. He was wide shouldered, measuring six feet from one end of his chest to the other, and his joints and limbs were adorned by sharp and long bone spurs. His thick fur was deep blue in color, reminiscent of the midnight skies, and his black mane, akin to that of a lion, was so large it could have hidden one of these fierce predators within her. His head, despite being small compared to his enormous body, was still around a foot and a half tall and a little longer than two feet. His muzzle was elongated and his snout slightly arched. His small beady eyes that shone like flames glared at the humans from above a mouth filled with sharp teeth and protruding tusks. He had two pairs of deeply ridged horns. The upper horns were nine feet long, while the lower horns were five feet long. Both seemed sharp and sturdy enough to impale the impudent humans for disturbing him from... Whatever it was that he did before. His legs had cloven hooves and a two feet long dewclaw, as if he was a monstrous goat, and his three-fingered hands sported three feet long daggerlike talons, making them look more like blades than the hands of a sapient creature.

In comparison to the giant on which she sat, Panipa's own three feet and ten inches (and a quarter, as she would insist), seemed miniscule. The queen was half buried in her mount's mane despite sitting on his head where it melded into his fur, and her shoulders - a little more than ten inches wide - were thin even for the normally petite Gurun, which could make those not familiar with the species believe the nearly two centuries old demigoddess was a child. Her smooth skin had the green color of leaves, and reflected the sun as if it was covered in oil, and her too-large almond shaped eyes were a striking blue color, somehow evoking the feel of a lightning strike while still being gentle and comforting. She had a small pert nose and full cheeks, set above a pouty mouth that was deep green in color. Panipa's heart-shaped face was framed by deep red setae that reached beyond her feet. Though it was hard to see them, Panipa's digitigrade feet had cushions to them like those of a cat, and her seven-fingered hands were long and graceful. From her brows and several other places of her body, roselike flowers grew and surrounded her with a sweet smell that was reminiscent of honey but had to them the intoxicating quality of alcohol. The clothes that Panipa wore were strikingly different from the crude ones her people wore and her mount's total lack of clothings. The garment was made from tufts of a strange fabric, one that resembled silk, but had a shine that clearly exposed it as a metal. The tufts were arranged in neat rows, creating a strange dress. Above the breasts and around the midriff, the dress lacked the rows of tuft. Instead, it was made from a different sort of fabric. It was translucent, as if it was made of glass, and had the smooth appearance to match. That fabric was adorned with gems and decorated with filigree of a metal that resembled silver, but reflected the world around it as clearly as if it was a pool of still waters. On her head she wore a small tiara, made out of silver and adorned with clear gems that contained blue flames within them.

When he saw the foreigners, Inzak emitted a low growl that deepened and strengthened, making the very ground rumble, but Panipa calmed him with a whisper before it could turn into a roar. He bared his teeth and threatened the humans in a voice that sounded like a landslide "You are lucky that my little one dislikes bloodshed, or you would already be a paste on the ground.". At Athtart's questioning glance on whether to translate his words, Panipa frantically shaked her head to signal not to do so. Inzak sank on his haunches and lowered his head to let Panipa speak to the invaders on a more equal level (and to impale them more easily, if he was lucky). Panipa looked at the foreigners, cocked her head to her side in question, and gently asked the humans in a voice that sounded like wind chimes "what do you seek from us? Why bother my people when we did nothing to deserve your hostility toward us?"

The Tyrrhuscans edged backwards at the sight of the mountainous beast, the officer, restraining his own fright, motioned his men to not draw their weapons. Standing upright, he spoke with as much courage as he could muster. “Teiva ak era tenta sis. Ava-tenar okre - kali tuse proita arcius.
Athtart translated. “It is the will of the gods and their Queen. A message fell from the sky…” She paused, attempting to discern the Caletran dialect. “They tell your majesty you are to bow to her command.” she said in an uncertain voice. The message he spoke of was a bronze totem, a relic simply known as the Harbinger. It crashed in a fiery blaze in Tyrrhusca and now resides in Caletra.
Armai ret-ta calli akarai, Era e Orcakciu, feres apne.” The Caletran officer added. “They say war shall come to our beautiful lands, Mistress of Azzagrat, should you refuse.”

Inzak has had it with those impudent humans - one does not get away with threatening his little one in this manner. Power began to gather around him, as his emotions called to the residual energy around. The wind began to blow more strongly, forcing the arrogant humans to grab onto nearby objects lest they fly. "Kurgulgul u dea a baesi!" he threatened, in a voice that held the power of thunder and the wrath of a cyclone. "Kiaga den Hlla kalammaa imbminicdal!" with a sound of rolling thunder, clouds began to gather. The clear day turned into one where the sun could not be seen, and the skies turned from blue to white as the clouds covered them, then to gray that turned to black as the whirlpool gathered more and more clouds. Rain began to fall, not the gentle rain that brought life to fields, but sharp, fast rain that hit the mortals who stood exposed as if it was stones and not water. Thunder cracked, and lightning struck the ground near Inzak. Then, it struck again - and again - hitting the area with frequency that was clearly unnatural. Most struck near the demigod, curving around him in a protective field, but more than one struck less than a yard from the human delegation.

When a tree was flung from the forceful winds, Panipa's patience snapped. She allowed the demigod's tantrum to go this far because his emotions tended to run wild and because she hoped the nonmagical humans would mistake the uncontrollable power he summoned while in a storm in emotions for the one he could control, which was fighting its hardest just to keep her safe right now, but it was a whole other matter now that he started to destroy the land itself - humans come and humans go, but our need for the land remains she thought to herself. She brushed her hand through his mane to comfort him and commanded him with a sharp voice: "Stop this. Now!". The wind immediately ceased, the objects it carried falling to the ground with a thud. The clouds dispersed, but no creature made a sound, as if all of creation was waiting to see that the man - no, the monster -truly calmed down before continuing on its way. After a bit, a brave bird chirped. As if letting out a breath of relief, the world resumed its noise once again.

Panipa slowly turned her head to the delegates, and for a creature that fed on flowers, managed to look eerily like a predator enjoying its time with a crippled prey. Stretching luxuriously, she said: "is that so? Far be it from me to doubt the words of the emissaries of Velthuria herself, but none of the gods that frequent this land had announced such a thing." She smiled, and a hungry glim shone in her eyes "Nor had either my mother or my dear Inzak's" she gestured at the beast who carried her, and he emitted a purr that sounded like rocks falling down a mountain "father, both gods themselves, told me of such a plan. Surely you would not refuse me the chance to see the message for myself, would you?" While Athtart translated her message, Panipa herself took the time to take care of a few birds that came to seek her comfort after the storm - after all, she was the mother of this land, and had reared many of the beasts and plants that lived within it herself. Armies or not, I would not give up on my children without a fight, she thought.

The Tyrrhuscan soldiers seemed ready to draw their arms or run away after recovering from the storm, but the officer shouted orders at them, which seemed to at least restrain them for the moment. Pupli approached Panipa, extending the scroll to her all the while giving the beast a cautious eye. He once again spoke in his native tongue, which Athtart translated. “His mistress’ words are all contained within the scroll. He says he is unsurprised that the fragments of Vinia, father of the gods, do not visit this land.”

Panipa cocked her head to the side slightly "so this... Thing is how the humans of tyrrhusca convey their messages to each other? The outward shape is somewhat similar to that of the kippums the Isklana taught us how to us, and yet it is so different. Ask the soldier to read it for us, for we do not use this system, and we have yet to learn it's secrets yet."

Inzak laughed darkly, showing a mouth full of sharp teeth in the process "what do you have to learn from that miniature..." He stopped for a moment, seemingly trying to find a word "oh, to the winds with it. Your language does not have a term for that." Upon seeing Panipa's questioning face, he tried to explain: "it is a sort of false reproductive organ made out of wood or stone. It is used for... Fertility rituals. In any case" he coughed "we can already know everything we need from the fact they expected us to know their tongue and give us messages we cannot read. They are self centered little apes who see us as lesser beings and want us to serve them."

Panipa threw him a sharp look "and last I checked, the Kattilu were consummate predators who would eat us without a second thought - and yet, and please correct me if I am mistaken, you are now my chair. There are too many who seek to harm us for us to ignore all those who do not wish us well. We will deal with them, whether we wish to or not." With that, she turned back to Athtart "And now, convey to them what I have told you to say."

The Tyrrhuscan took back the scroll, spreading it apart to reveal the black ink which stained it. He read from the scroll. He spoke of humanities’ creation from the tears of gods to now, emphasizing the phrase “Tuhumech.” He spoke with passion as he listed off the names of several gods, those being the gods of Tuhuthais, and their morals.
Es tenera thu kfas. Seramo.” (You have one choice. Join.) The man spoke with confidence, having the assurance that the foreign queen would restrain her beast from tearing him apart. With the stated threat of sword and embers, the man spoke of destroying the precedence of what he said to be ‘false idols.’ It was clear that the Tyrrhuscans intended to proselytize their religion to this land. Alongside this, a one-in-ten tithe was to be paid in soldiers and wealth to the Tyrrhuscans in return for protection. The officer spoke poetically of their union before honoring his queen, Velthuria, and listing off her titles.
As he finished, he rolled the scroll up and handed it to Athtart with dignity as if he had accomplished a great feat.

When Athtart finished translating the human's message, Panipa threw her head back and laughed. It was not the carefree laugh one would have expected upon seeing her, but rather a dark, joyless laugh coupled with a mirthless smirk that sent the creatures near her, from the sapphire colored birds that flew in the air to the ants that crawled in the ground, fleeing. Even the grass itself seemed to wither a bit, losing some of its color in order to avoid attention.

Seeing it as his moment to have a part in the discussions, Inzak said: "Should you wish to fight the gods of this land, we will have no quarrel with you. I will be the first to congratulate you if you manage to kill one of them. But to call them false idols? That is to ignore reality. The gods of Lelluri walk among us. It was less than a season ago that the divine darkness, Araphel, held an audience with the queen and broke the mind of some of my best men as it left. I myself have been sired by the sky rider, the god Byleist, and my mother was a hunting companion for Herne, the master of the wild hunt. The queen was born to the goddess Siduri, the all-hunger blossom, and was taught by her before returning to lead us. Oppose them all you want, but do not attempt to deny their existence."

The Tyrrhuscans scoffed at their tales. Athtart translated his retort. “Do you wield the Harbinger? Did your gods create this land? No. Your gods, whomever they are, are weak.” The Tyrrhuscan officer spat on the ground as an insult. “Your lands will be blessed by Vinia’s posterity and we will cleanse the false idols from your lands. Here and now I demand you join or die.” The men seemed to have their hands ready to draw their weapons to fight despite the monstrosities ahead of them. Some of them could be heard muttering the phrase: “Ratum cilthais lupu…” (We are to die for the gods).

Panipa sighed So, it came to this. I had hoped we could survive this, but it seems instead I'll have to settle for taking them down with us. She let her magic loose, the power rippling throughout the land. The call of harvest, the nurturer of life and the cultivator of nature. She let the summon to war echo within the heart of every beast that dwelled in the Lelluri peninsula, seep into the roots of every plant. And the land answered her - the ravens circled above, waiting for the feast. The birds of prey dove down to help their master. Wolves and lions gathered, and trees entrapped the invaders in their roots.

With a roar that shook the very ground, Inzak lunged at his prey, the demigod's mighty jaws crushing through the metal armor as if it was butter. He then looked upward to the remaining humans and smiled, his muzzles bloody with their comrade's remains. A day later, Panipa sent what she managed to salvage from the poor messenger's bodies along with a sizeable gift, sending Athtart to explain to the people on the ship that unfortunately one of her scouts had found the strangers' corpses that morning, half eaten by the wild beasts of the peninsula.

Meanwhile
The Speaker continued to speak to the council in their grand stone building, their frail forms protected from the blowing snowfall that had dusted the city. Meanwhile, the rest of the common folk went along with their found respite from the chill in taverns and lounges, where the hot food and drinks warmed the body and soul. Poets recited epics of bygone eons, musicians plucked at harps and sang tunes that provoked cheer, and the barmaids made sure everyone was too drunk to reconsider getting a room (for a very affordable price, they were assured). Those who didn’t have the coin to continue their drunken binge or buy a room were shortly tossed back into the cold, left to find their home or a sheltered alleyway to hide in. Those who still needed to work did so, ironworkers were warmed by the heat of their forges, bakers kept their loaves near open flames so they wouldn’t go cold, and those of cunning enough mind set out pails to collect the falling snow, mixing it with the preserves of fruit to create a seasonal treat to sell, for those who couldn’t get their hands on more expensive desserts. Students and future scholars found respite as they lounged around a burning plinth, reading and copying ancient laws from one scroll to the next.

In the east, where the forests grew thin and gave away to flat expanses of dry grass, where only the horizon would block your view of the world, things weren’t so different. A triumphant denial of migratory lifestyle stood tall and proud among these plains, a city of stone houses and strong walls. Yak and horses feasted outside, under the watch of fur-clad Ailur. Inside, the taverns drank Kumis instead of wine, the singers played string instruments while singing in throaty tones. They pounded away at forges hot enough to melt iron, and its scholars found themselves in open-air places of study, where they scribed ancient folk-tales as old nomads recalled them from their long, expansive memories. This city’s name was Chassaniar, and in its center sat a palatial structure, a spire shooting high into the sky from it. At its peak four windows sat, so it could overlook the entire city.
Chief Kasashazzar, chosen by the will of heavens through the votes of his citizens, looked over his city while sipping his milk tea. It was a beautiful day, even if he had to spend it inside. In his free hand, he held a scroll written in the Scholar’s tongue of the Asaii. In his eyes, it was a messy and pretentious tongue, though a needed pain if he was to bring his people closer to the heavens that the elders of their elders sang praises of. He softly read the text–an old oracular reading of ages long past–aloud, feeling his jaw get more and more sore as he tried to pronounce each flowy, breathy word. He usually read until his mouth hurt too much to keep going, but his duties as a chief meant that he had to retire from his studies early. Satisfied with only a few lines, he set his now-empty cup and worn scroll down on a small table, and began the long walk down to the palace.
The bottom of the spire deposited him directly into the main hall of the palace, where long painted tables sat his advisors. The chief took his seat at his throne, padded with furs and with a footrest in front of it, and raised a hand. “Children of Heaven, under the eternal sky, over the eternal ground. We gather again, as our messenger has delivered our petition, and has brought back an answer. The Asaii have deemed it necessary to travel to our city themselves. Soon, we will be visited by their wise and strong, and they shall tour our city. I ask you, what must be done to ensure they leave with nothing but praises of our people?”
Ulashanash, the hard-jawed mistress of the north steppe, raised a hand. Kasashazzar nodded to her, and she spoke: “The city is fine, I worry more about their visitation. Do they not believe us on our word alone? Even if we’re their fellow Ailur? Why do they not afford us such courtesy as trust? I worry their claimed heirdom to paradise has let them grow arrogant, if not prejudiced.”
The Chief nodded and furrowed his brow, considering her words. “Ulashanash, you are right to worry, but I ask you to wait for their visit before you assume their disposition. They may just wish to see that we are more than a handful of yurts first. Do any of you wish to raise another concern?”
A man of soft skin and silken hair spoke up, his light voice definitively proving that it was Khamasi; the Engineer of the city, and a trusted confidant of Chief Kasashazzar: “Housing will have to be provided for these hallowed guests, and I understand that you have also been pining for an expansion to the palace as well. I have a few plans drafted up for your review, checked by our scholars to be sure the mathematics were correct.” The chief nodded. “Thank you, Khamasi, bring it to my bedroom later, we shall go over these expansions there.” With a rosy flush, Khamasi nodded, and sat back down.
In his place, a scarred man, his mustache drooping past his jaw and his chin hair twisted and bound. His left eye was missing, and he let the scar show proudly. “While unlikely, it may be best to prepare an army: they say that they will come and see the city, but we know not of their true intentions. If Ulashanash is correct in her assumptions, they may only come here to put us to the sword.”
The Chief nodded, and held up his hand. “You have brought great issues to my attention. Bring my honor guard and the finest horses of my herds, they shall stand to greet our western visitors when the time comes. If they come in peace we shall have an expansion to the palace for them to rest in, and we shall have the finest Yaks roasted on a spit for their eating. You are dismissed, and can return to your duties. Khamasi, come with me.” The Chief and Engineer retired deep within the palace, and the Herder, the General, and all the other masses of silent advisors left the palace. Work needed to be done, even if the Asaii rested so far away.

TALES FROM THE PARATHYLGONIAL SEA PART XVII

The Commander (Revelations Chapter IX)

Location: Hesperorneo, Parathylgonia

...

The rumble of thunder roared through the jungle valley, the rains unleashing their chilling wetness upon Dehan's bare skin. He had grown accustom to the echoing boom and the pounding rain. Hesperorneo was his new home, for better or worse. Though the infamous island was a land that monsters ruled as their own, she had offered his aching body plentiful sustenance for an indeterminate- but certainly lengthy amount of time. There was an endless supply of fruit and berries ready to be plucked from countless trees with ease. Every taste could be satisfied, from the tart, sour berries, to the bitter, round fruit that fell from the tall trees deep within the jungles. The rainforests hosted everything from the sweet to the savoury, all ready to tasted by the weary traveler.

The arid scrublands of his homeland were not as fortunate, however. The dry, barren plains offered much to their dwellers if they had the knowledge to capitalize on their hidden riches, but they were as unforgiving as they were bountiful. If the rains arrived late, as they often did, the weakest paid the price. There were no trees to be plucked for their bounty in the searing heat of the dry season, only thorny cacti and bare wooden shrubs- and they offered little nutrition in the best of times. Yet, Dehan thought, this was the land he yearned to return to, and the gods would gather all their magic to see it through. Hesperorneo was not the land he had grown to originally loathe, she was the tormentor he had a secret affinity for. It had made him weak and lean, but alive nonetheless. In spite of his desires, a return to home could only be an afterthought given Dehan's current circumstances, he was presently bound in chains, by the neck, with a plethora of his brethren by his side. Qenurthial guards patrolled the edges of the convoy, ready to strike interlopers, or those who fell out of line, quite literally.

Dehan, on the fringes of his sight, could see a Qenurthial beast taller, more muscular than the others. He deciphered he was their commander, but his exact relevancy to the Qenurthial was not obviously apparent. He wore a crown forged from purple leaves and copper rods, armor crafted from the hardiest of woods, and bore fangs longer, sharper than the rest of his fellow beasts. His blue, shaggy hair coated his tall body like a shield of fur. He was intimidating, Dehan had to admit, but he was no match for Myarai and those that he shared the sky realm with. Whether or not this was the ultimate evil he was destined to defeat, was probably not the case. Like Dehan, the Qenurthial were only mere tools of a game that the gods were playing.

Dehan marched further along the jungle path. Whether they were growing closer to the sandy shores of Hesperorneo, or somewhere unknown that lie deep within the forbidden centre of Hesperorneo's wild heart, was not clear. Dehan's ultimate destination was a question without an answer. Though there was certainly no shortage of unanswered questions, they only fueled Dehan's desire to obey the gods' will and claim Hesperorneo as a land ripe for their will. He pondered, if he could possibly acquire that information, what was even their plans with him and the rest of the soldiers? Dehan, and those unfortunate enough to be alongside his aching body, had been travelling for days now, only halting their pace during the day, where they hid under the canopy of the thickest of jungles. Wherever the Qenurthial wanted from them, their intentions were certainly not of benevolent origin. Were they food? held for ransom? Or worse. Whatever the answer, he would find out in time. The gods were on his side, but that would not shield him from all suffering. His will had already been tested to its limits, and there was more on the horizon.

The larger Qenurthial beast Dehan had spotted earlier made his way towards the soldiers. He had previously been in the front, gathering some distance between him and the prisoners. The "Commander", as Dehan had grown to refer to him as, was seemingly arguing with the other Qenurthial guards. Their language was rough and guttural, completely unfamiliar to Dehan and likely any other human being. Though he couldn't understand a word, the tone and body movements gave away a sense of unease and disagreement. Whatever the complication was, the Commander struck a smaller Qenurthial guard down, forcing him on the ground, and grew closer to him and the rest of the prisoners. He inspected the first soldier in the line with an intense glare, grasping his exposed flesh with his sharp claws for hands, before moving on. One by one, he inspected, eventually reaching Dehan. Their eyes met, and the glowing red orbs collided with his own. The Commanders dagger-like claws traced along Dehan's shoulder, leaving a thin tear down his skin, the blood escaping from the wound gently, but persistently. The commander leaned forward, closer to the blood, and used his claws to smear it along his nail, before bringing it to his mouth, and tasting his own blood.

It was one of the strangest sights Dehan had ever experienced. Was this an attempt to intimidate Dehan? It was fruitless, it was them who should fear his presence. But whatever the purpose, the Commander huffed, and moved on to the next soldier in the line. Dehan turned direction to face him. He repeated the process with the following soldier, scratching his flesh, exposing the blood, and tasting the crimson liquid. On this occasion, however, the Commander did not appear displeased. He seemed intrigued. Dehan was caught by surprise when he released the man from his chains, clutched his arms, and rose him in the air. Despite the soldiers weight, he rose him from the ground like he weigh no more than a feather. Then, he bore his fangs into the unfortunate soldier's flesh, and licked the pouring blood with his tongue. The soldier struggled to break free, wriggling and shaking in attempt to escape, but the Commander's strength was too much to overcome.

Dehan nearly fell back in shock. Life as a soldier he had witnessed many gruesome sights. To see monsters drink the blood of a living victim, that was a new experience. When he was finished with his chosen prey, he dropped him from his clutches, leaving him on the ground, bleeding. He was still breathing, but the wound would likely leave him dead in days. The Qenurthial were unfazed however, they commanded them to move on, without the man who lie wounded on the ground. Dehan was caught off guard. Whatever the future may hold, the Gods' protection is not immutable. It was not them who shielded him from different fate; it was sheer luck. What's expected of him will have to come from his own self, and not the aid of the Gods. Nothing can be guaranteed.

Book One: On the Roof of the World
Chapter I

Yushamin looked back at his people, weary and tired from their long journey. Almost half a season passed since the Yan nation attacked their home, forcing his people - the Uthra, to flee to the west in search of sanctuary. Yushamin had many worries, after all, he did not know whether his people would be able to find a new land that they could take for themselves, or whether they would be forced to forever continue to flee, as people in eternal exile. To make matters even worse, it was highly likely that the nations of the west were just as vicious as the Yan, which will lead to them being pursued by both sides, as a nation without a future, as people destined to die.

And they could not fight back. Most of those who followed him had the gray wings that indicated a moderate amount of mystic power or even the black wings of the powerless. Their golden skin had lost its sheen, and the light in their eyes and hair had dimmed. While they were still physically impressive - with men standing at four cubits five fingers and females at three cubits twenty fingers, making even the shortest of them tower over the Yan, malnutrition rendered most of the difference irrelevant. If it came to battle, the Yan, with their superior equipment, would surely defeat his people - so fleeing away was the only option, regardless of how much it hurt his pride to flee while the other nobles fought.

And Yushamin was definitely a noble, despite his unknown parentage. In a species that bred selectively for generations in order to produce the white feathers that indicated great mystic power, Yushamin's wings, which glowed in incandescent light, made him the closest thing the Uthra had to royalty. No one knew where Yushamin came from, as he was found as a baby thirty-three years ago, the snow around him melting from his body heat, heat that only grew the longer he lived, and now ensured he could never sit on wooden furniture lest he charred it. All attempts to ascertain the source of his power failed, though they determined him to be something other than a mortal, and most probably not one of the demigods either.

The nine surviving noble houses of the Uthra fought each other in an attempt to receive custody over him, which eventually resulted in the decision to elevate the house of orphans, Agű, which formerly only consisted of lowborns. Each noble house got to pick who would fill some of the positions concerned with Yushamin's rearing, with the intent of influencing him to pick his eventual bride from their house and breed the power into their bloodline. But the attack of the Yan had ruined those plans, and Yushamin was sent to lead the commoners to safety together with his lover, a noblewoman named Ptahil, and his teacher, the elderly Abatur, while the rest of the nobles delayed the attacking armies with a desperate last stand.

Aside from him, Abatur and Ptahil were the only white-winged Uthra among the refugees. From the noble houses of Išdu and Ţēmu respectively, the two joined him in his journey and helped him lead their people during their flight. Ptahil joined him willingly in order to ensure there would be a new generation of nobles to lead the Uthra, but Abatur was forced to join the flight against his will. Nearing the age of one hundred and seventy, the old male lived more than twice the average lifespan of the uthra, and was incredibly old even for the long lived nobility of the Uthra. And yet, Abatur desired to protect their lands, and had to be bound for much of the journey lest he escape.

———

Before the Yan invaded, the Uthra lived in a small kingdom on the top of a mountain, and minded their own business without a care for the world beneath. Their land was frozen and poor in vegetation, a far cry from the fertile fields beneath, but the magic of the Uthra was uniquely suited for their barren homeland. Their power was able to grace the land with the warmth of the sun, and though it required close care, since a few hours of neglect could ruin a season's worth of crops, it permitted them to farm in a place where no other could, and maintain their haven away from the eyes of the world, unburdened by the troubles of those who walked below the clouds.

But everything changed when the Yan nation attacked. The Uthra survived until now because their kingdom was hidden, and few desired to travel up the steep mountain that seemed as if it could not support life. And yet the Yan did so, and so they became, though not by their own design, the first outsiders to witness the Uthra in more than three decades. And the Yan, ever hungry for conquest, did not intend to leave the Uthra alone. To save their race, the highborn of the nine noble houses decided to face the Yan by themselves in a battle that they knew they'll lose, in order to buy time for Yushamin, Abatur and Ptahil to lead the lowborn into safety, and prepare for revenge.

But getting off the mountain was only the start of their journey, for it was surrounded by Yan forces. Yushamin managed to sear enough of them for the refugees to escape through, but the Yan gave chase, and only the light of the rising sun that blinded their fearsome archers allowed the Uthra to escape safely. But the army gave chase, and the weary Uthra had to continue fleeing both during the day and the night, forgoing sleep, in order to stay ahead of the Yan. By the time that the Uthra finally managed to get far enough that the army could no longer be seen on the horizon, they were thoroughly lost, far beyond any place known to the scholars that were among them.

Most of the early lands they passed through were quite mild, ranging from flat plains to hills and valleys. From time to time a small lake or patch of woods was seen, but for the most part, no special obstacles were in the way. That fact did not please Yushamin at all. In open terrain, the Yan's riders could follow them with ease, and their archers could shoot at them from afar. But the further they went into the southwest, the more they encountered forests and swamps that allowed them to evade their pursuers with greater ease, until they reached a point where Yushamin felt it was safe enough to assume that their pursuers had lost them, though he did not know that for sure.

Not long ago, the Uthra reached a jungle. It was perhaps the place most different from their homeland: it was hot and humid where the mountain was frozen and dry, supported many plants, from shrubs to trees, where the mountain was barren, and the ground was soft where the mountain was covered in hard rock. It served as a fine hiding place from the Yan and could probably support the Uthra well, but it was far from the environment in which they felt comfortable. The land was too full with the scents of growth and rot, the air too full of the noises of predators and prey, the waters too full with the evidence of love and war, for the Uthra to feel at ease.

———

In order to decide on their next move, Yushamin gathered a council to ask the will of the ten houses of the Uthra. House Agű of the orphans was represented by Yushamin himself, and Ţēmu of the artists and Išdu of the scholars were represented by the white-winged Ptahil and Abatur, respectively. From the houses that had no white-winged members remaining, Kitimtu of the diplomats was represented by Ariel, Ţābu of the priests by Selaphiel and Šukuttu of the healers by Raphael. Finally, the houses of Dannu of the warriors, Dūru of the guardians, Rabâtu of the merchants and Namzu of the laborers were represented by Azrael, Zagagel, Muriel and Sarathiel respectively. Together, the ten of them were to decide on the Uthra's next steps.

He gave the council three options: either they will continue on the same way, stay where they were currently, or change the direction in which they went. Though according to tradition he only needed to consult with Abatur and Ptahil, as they were the only white-winged Uthra beside him in their group, he hoped that nominating a representative for each house, as they would have had had they had white-winged members, would help the members of the different houses feel more at ease with the eventual choice. In order to do that, he gathered the palest winged members in each house in order to ask them for their opinions, which in turn led to the current (rather annoying, if one were to ask Yushamin) situation.

The ten representatives could not manage to reach a unified decision on what path to take. Abatur, who was still angry at being unable to join the nobles' last stand, as well as Azrael and Zagagel whose houses were known for their aggressiveness, wanted to stay in the current location. Sarathiel, who represented the largest house, as well as Ariel and Muriel, who came from the houses most prone to wandering, wanted to change direction in favor of a more hospitable route, while Ptahil, who had deep trust in Yushamin, as well as Salaphiel and Raphael who had trust in the heavens, wanted to continue traveling in their current direction out of the belief it was fate that led them to pick their current route.

Thus, once again the decision fell to Yushamin, and to make matters worse, now he will have to take into account how his support for the opinion of one house or another would be perceived. Would he support continuing on the same route as he planned to earlier and risk appearing unwilling to change course even when it was harmful? Would he choose a more hospitable path and risk alienating both of his advisors? Or will he choose to stay where they are and bow to the desires of those who were clearly spoiling for a fight? Yushamin started to regret ever asking the council in the first place - after all, what did it help him if he had to make the final choice anyway?

Eventually, Yushamin settled on continuing in the same path - after all, if they were unable to reach a decision, did it not make the most sense to continue on as they did before? What's more, staying in place would clearly be risky, and they had no assurance that a different path would lead to a better place. Thus, the most logical course of action would be to continue creating as much distance between them and the Yan as they could. Yushamin announced his decision to the gathered council, and commanded them to prepare their people for the continuation of their journey. He could only hope that his choice was the correct one, because at this rate they might fall off the edge of the world.

———

And that worry, originally thought of in jest, grew more and more serious as the days passed by. There was something weird ahead of them - not evil per se, but something that made his magic react in a way it never did before. As the wind above a large fire, so did Yushamin's power shimmer and ripple within him, dancing in the presence of... whatever it was. He assumed a great source of magic, but lacking any prior experience, he could not know for sure. Yushamin decided to consult with Abatur about the feeling, seeing as Ptahil would surely say it was destiny, and that given the sage's old age, he was the one most likely to have encountered such a thing before.

Abatur's advice was to send a scout to go forward and see what it could have been. Yushamin was a bit leery of that idea, seeing as the scout could not pinpoint the thing for sure seeing as Yushamin was the only one who could sense it. He was also quite displeased with the fact that it required them to sit and wait, potentially allowing the Yan to close distance to them. But seeing as he had no better advice, Yushamin decided to do as his teacher asked, and sent a scout - a young black-winged member of house Dannu - to go forward and report back to him on anything suspicious. At the very least, this will allow the people some rest Yushamin thought.

After a few days passed and the scout did not return, Yushamin started to suspect the black-winged man was dead. After a week passed, Yushamin started to consider sending a search party, debating the wisdom of doing so against the possibility that it would only cause more people to die. At the end, he resolved to send a group, reasoning that if something was strong enough to kill several Uthra, it might be able to kill even more, meaning that not sending a search party might result in all of the refugees dying. And it was only then that the scout had returned, short of breath and bearing a tale that Yushamin would not have believed if not for the way that his magic acted.

The scout had told Yushamin that he had traveled inside the jungle for six days before determining that he had either missed the thing that Yushamin wanted him to find, or went entirely in the wrong direction. He resolved to walk for one more day before giving up and returning back to the rest of the refugees and admitting his failure. But it was near the dusk of that day that he had reached a clearing. In the middle, there was a strange object he had never seen before. Carved like a thin but tall arch made from gold, adorned with gilded flowers but overtaken by living vines. Yet the arch led to a dark place, of which the scout could see only the floor.

Excited about the prospect of finally finding their safe haven, Yushamin called on the people to rise and prepare themselves for the journey once again, and promised them that a safe destination was finally found. He knew he would have to deal with the consequence of that promise later, for it was debatable if the houses would agree to his command to enter the strange arch. But he believed it would be best to let them make that choice when they saw the arch itself - to force them to make their choice about their salvation when their promised land laid only, quite literally, a step away from them - after all, it would be much easier to reject the idea when it was intangible to them.

———

The group progressed more slowly than the lone scout, since they had to wait for those who walked slowly, such as the children and the elderly. As a result, it was nearly three weeks before they reached the arch. The reaction of the Uthra themselves toward the arch varied greatly based on their house. The priests of house Ţābu reacted the most positively by a significant margin, most likely viewing it as divine guidance, just as they did with every other thing. Meanwhile, the scholars of house Išdu looked uncharacteristically hesitant, which was at odds with the thirst of knowledge they were known for. (Though Yushamin assumed it might be due to greater awareness of the risks entailed, a possibility that did not forebode well)

The house of Šukuttu seemed hopeful, yet wary - which was to be expected given the house of healers' practice of hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. House Ţēmu reacted timidly at first, but quickly became eager once Ptahil reminded the house of artists about the possibilities hidden in the unknown. The opposite reaction could be seen by the house of Dūru, renowned for the protectors and guardians it raised. Dūru knew no fear, and yet they despised the uncertain, leading them to pose themselves between the others of the portal. The house of Dannu, true to their reputation as Dūru's twins, readied themselves beside their siblings, posed to attack any enemy even as the guardians of house Dūru shielded the civilians.

The houses of Kitimtu, Namzu and Rabâtu (or the three sane houses, as Yushamin liked to call them, though he usually counted house Išdu among their numbers), seemed to be the most undecided. House Namzu's reaction did not surprise him, as the laborers earned their nickname partially due to being the largest and most diverse of houses, but both the diplomats of Kitimtu and the traders of Rabâtu thrived on meeting new people and seeing new lands. The orphans of house Agű looked resolved, fully trusting Yushamin as the one who brought what was once the house of the exiles and the kinless to power. Every member of Agű belonged to their house because no other will take them, and trusted none but each other.

Thus, when Yushamin gathered the council, he chose to focus on Ariel, the representative of house Kitimtu, Sarathiel, the representative of house Namzu and Muriel, the representative of house Rabâtu. He already had four votes in favor, as he voted for Agű, and the houses of Ţēmu, Ţābu and Šukuttu supported stepping through the arch as well, which meant Ptahil, Salaphiel and Raphael would vote in favor as well. But he already knew Abatur, Azrael and Zagagel would vote against, as the houses of Išdu, Dannu and Dūru did not trust the portal. He only needed two of the undecided houses to receive a majority, but he desired to have all three of the houses, so that he would not have to step in himself.

The time to vote came, and Yushamin started to count the votes: "Dūru Zagagel bar Tamiel?" "Against". "Namzu Sarathiel bar Adriel?" "For". "Ţābu Salaphiel beth Sabriel?" "For". "Šukuttu Raphael beth Jegudiel?" "For". "Ţēmu Ptahil beth Leliel?" "For". Thus concluded the votes certain to be in favor. "Rabâtu Muriel bar Sachiel?" This vote will determine whether he will have the full victory he wanted or not . "Against". So it seems I will have to pin my hopes on Ariel. "Dannu Azrael bar Azazel?" "Against". "Kitimtu Ariel beth Sariel?" "Against". So, it seems I have lost after all. "Išdu Abatur bar Radueriel?" "For"

A Window to the Past
First Memory: The House of Orphans

Yushamin still remembered the moment when he became the head of house Agű. Not the decision of the house heads itself - that was less than a year after he was found, when he was barely more than a baby. He meant the official ceremony, which happened nearly nineteen years later, a little after his spermarche, which was considered by the Uthra to be the moment when a boy becomes a man. The moment itself was quite a relief, for everyone believed it would have occured five years earlier at the latest, given that even even the most powerful - and slowest aging - Uthra would have usually had it by the point, which led to him languishing as a child for longer than he ever expected to.

The house he was given control over was the least of the houses - Agű was known as the house of orphans for counting those cast off by society as their members. Actual orphans were rather rare, as only those whose parentage was completely unknown, and thus had no house to take care of them, joined. Even then, most of those that possessed more than the smallest amount of mystic powers were usually adopted, leaving the house filled almost entirely by dark - and even black - winged members. Most of the house consisted of the descendants of those orphans, and its peoples dealt in the lowest of professions, forced to go on without the support of any group with considerable influence inside a society where familial ties were everything. Beggars and criminals, exiles and escaped slaves, those were Yushamin's people, and make sure to take care of them with all he had.

But as he ascended to the stage before them, he felt the difference between him and those he will rule over more keenly than ever before. He - bathed and well-fed, dressed in pure-white wraps specially treated in order to withstand his heat and adorned with golden jewelry. They - dirty and malnourished, dressed in rough breechcloths that were ill equipped to handle the frozen winter on the mountain - and that was when they managed to afford clothes at all. His heat itself, while separating him from all uthra, was put in stark relief when compared to them. While the light in his most powerful subjects was only strong enough to light their wings in a shade of dark gray and their eyes and hair like candles, his shone like molten stars. And where many of his people could barely summon the comforting heat of the sun rays nearly all Uthra were capable of, He constantly radiated the heat of a small sun. They were his people now, and yet there was an irreconcilable gap between them.

And he saw it in their eyes, he saw that they knew it - that they were as different as day and night. And he also saw their distrust, the fact that they did not believe he had their best interests at heart - not that he could blame them, given all that the white-winged, the so called 'high-born'', did to them - eclipse - that the pale gray-winged did to them! And here he was, with luminous wings, far beyond even the pure-white archangels - how could they trust him? For them, it was all a play orchestrated by the house heads in order to earn his approval, with them as the unwilling props. If Yushamin was being honest with himself, they were probably correct - but he would lead them to greatness - even if it was the last thing he did! Not because he cared about them - at least not yet, though he hoped that would change in the future - he could not care about people he did not know - but because they were his and for the better or the worse, that meant that any who dared to harm them opposed him.

And so, after he was presented to the crowds and anointed in the seven sacred oils, Yushamin made his first move. He did not return to the crystal palace as he was supposed to. The house of the lost kings which now served as the seat of the high council. Inside of which sat the house heads who expected him to marry one of their house's daughters, thus returning the investment they made in him the last nineteen years. But marrying one of them would mean he would have to leave his house in favor of theirs, and Yushamin had no intent to give up on anything that was his, even if it was for the sake of something better. He did not need the handouts of the house heads - he would lead his house to greatness, and there would be no one able to say they built the groundworks for him. But of course, that would mean he would have to marry a female from house Agű - which led him back to his first, his current, move. Rather than move to the palace, to the gilded world where his equals lived, and abandon his people to their fates, Yushamin decided to join his house. He stepped off the stage, the heat from his bare feet melting the snow, and joined the house of Agű.

Of course, when he looked back on his actions fourteen decades later, it was a very naďve move. You can not get accepted based on a brief show of symbolic support. It took him a year to get them to even trust him, and a whole Karapḫu to get them to treat him as one of their own, or at least as close to that as the highly stratified society of the Uthra allowed. It started when they got relaxed enough with him that they felt comfortable complaining about the injustices they suffered from outsiders in his presence. The trust was broken when he decided to contact the house heads in order to put pressure on their people to stop abusing the house of Agű, but he managed to restore it when he showed that he was willing to deal with the fallout and even personally punish the people who lashed at those who complained to him about abuses they suffered. It took a step further when they started proactively making requests of him, at first to stop a threat or to aid in a place where connections were important, but eventually the people even asked him directly for things they wanted. From there, becoming a person they considered admirable and not only useful took three more years, but the change he cared about the most had already happened. House Agű enjoyed the most involved head, and as a result, huge advantage where they competed with other commoners.

Maikana-Ketzani, the Epic of Whispers, Tablet II: Maikana-Ketzani's Victory—Royal Palace of Isklakata, Heart of the Golden Kingdom, Isklanapura

Never since those distant days of her father’s household had the palace known such peace. Not a hallway was without Asharkar on guard, and for every column within the palatial gardens, there was a wolf clad in bronze ready to charge. Indeed, a great peace had washed over all of her subjects within these halls as well. So many had been silver-hearted, and so she stuffed them with daggerflies and sent them into the abyss—a fitting solution to stow away any doubts.

Sitting upon her golden throne, Maikana-Ketzani took a moment to listen to the stillness of the stones. From the windows came the distant sounds of nature, and from the halls came the light burning of oil lamps and tripods. Months prior this sort of ease would’ve been impossible to imagine—but a good ruler always knew a good answer. Out with the treacherous old, and in with the excellent new.

The door to the throne room opened, and peeking out from it was Ninishta-kaya. Maikana-Ketzani smiled, and beckoned the woman to enter. Slowly, and carefully with each step of her claws against the stone, the courtier approached the Kisharratum.

Ah, you lovely little insect. Of everyone near me who might’ve schemed and plotted and tried to drag me down, you never did. What a precious woman you are. What a lovely creature. Maybe I should reward her for her dedication? Perhaps another evening with me? Or maybe I could have her attend the next executions by my side. Then again, she needs to be kept busy—or she might just have time to think about treachery. A shame our goddess made us so prone to ferality.

“Your majesty, I have a couple of reports for you which I believe should request your immediate attention.”

Maikana-Ketzani whisked her wrist, “speak, Ninishta-kaya. Speak.”

“Since, in your eternal wisdom, we had around fifty interior subjects… put to rest beneath the palace, the replacements you requested from Dur-Asharki have arrived. Overseers and all manner of learned workers to fill the empty positions. We do have other roles in the palace available still. I took the liberty and composed a list of suggestions for you, if you are so interested.”

Maikana-Ketzani reached out her hand, and Ninishta-kaya handed off to her a clay tablet printed with Sawari wedges—as was administrative tradition. Reading over the names, she could feel the Isklana drip from every word. She could see they were persons from all across the kingdom—which simply meant more voices she didn’t fully understand flooding her palace with hidden intent. Ninishta-kaya was well meaning, but she was prone to the bias of their shared breed. Ketzani had made them in her own image, but Ketzani had also clouded their hearts with madness. Throwing the clay tablet to the ground, it shattered into pieces, causing Ninishta-kaya to jump.

“If there are roles to be filled, then you will fill them from Dur-Asharki.”

“Your majesty, it’s just that… I have always known this palace to be the bastion of our rule. I’ve been told that some wonder why we don’t bring in our own kind anymore.”

“Ninishta-kaya, if you weren’t such a lovely creature, and so loyal too, I would’ve had you skewered here and now. You want to understand why? Let me tell you why. My Asharkar stood by me when my kingdom was in flames. My Asharkar stood by me when my life was in danger. My Ashark stand by me with unwavering loyalty and with no conspiracy in their hearts. What favor has my own breed done for me? I am Ketzani’s chosen, but they scheme against my life, they seek out any little way to bring me down, and they still carry silver in their hearts like little rebels. My people are sick, they need to be ruled firmly and remember what golden reign is as opposed to the silver chains these would-be conspirators keep trying to shackle themselves with. When my Isklana can be as loyal and true as an Asharkar, I will let one walk through the gates of my palace and into their place as part of my court. But all I have now are predators waiting to ambush—and as all people know, the best solution for hunting monsters is to seek out the Durkaratum. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

Ninishta-kaya nodded anxiously, “as clear as Gwananki, your majesty. I’ve let the overseers know.”

“Now then, what is the second piece which demands my attention?”

“Oh! Your majesty, the wolfborn have returned. Zarika and Ahrnakir are currently waiting for your summons right now.”

Maikana-Ketzani paused. If the demigods had returned to her, the pleasant wolves that they were, then it meant something major had happened. They wouldn’t return to her empty handed, would they? No. They wouldn’t return as failures. If they had returned, it was to sound the trumpets and bring home all the glories found in this world and in the heavens. The gods were singing in her ears already, and she could feel the shadows of her mind cry out in anguish. If Zarika and Ahrnakir were here, it was because victory had been had. She need only reap what she sowed.

“Send them in, and then go about your business. But come to my chambers this evening, and bring a scribe. I want to have some letters sent post-haste.”

Ninishta-kaya nodded and fled from the throne room, passing through the doors. A few moments later, as quickly as the space had emptied, Zarika and Ahrnakir emerged—and behind them was their pack of hunters who’d been hired for this mission. Maikana-Ketzani eagerly looked about them for any sign of a bag or a body, but the only thing any of them held was a small cloth with something wrapped within it.

Zarika was the first to approach the throne, extending out the wrapped cloth and revealing a charred and cindered bracelet made of silver. Upon it was the silver relief of her sister and her many children, and the hated markings of that rebel dynasty. The craftsmanship was far too excellent to be procured by any petty noble—and it was far too old for any craftsman to dare making it now. Taking the bracelet and rolling it around in her hands, she could feel the places where metal had been deformed by fire, and scorched silver had formed sickly lumps.

“What happened?” She asked, looking up to Zarika. “Did you find out who was behind it all? Were we right?”

“He was Lura-sha-Kichka. We found his hideout in the Asharaean grasslands, and after sneaking into his keep and slaughtering his guards…” she paused. It made sense, it had to be a tough fight, and most certainly an emotional one to serve her master in this way. “I tried so hard to retrieve his body when I cut him down, but I had to face him alone. There was a fire which broke out, burning the whole of his home and separated me from his body. He burned alive, and I watched him die out of reach. But before I had to escape him, I cut off his ashen hand, and I managed to fish out this part of his uniform. It’s one of his royal adornments—it was his mother’s before it was his. I didn’t have time to discuss anything with him, I only had time to act. Lura-sha-Kichka is dead, as are all of his conspirators. If I had it in my power to bring you his body, I would’ve—but instead this is all I could do. Forgive me, your highness.”

Maikana-Ketzani set the bracelet down, and beamed at Zarika with a smile which stretched from ear to ear. Her heart fluttered, and in every shadow she could see her sister screaming with agony—a dying phantom lamenting over her son’s demise. There were only three silver children left, and all of them her tools for state diplomacy. This was greater than any victory she’d won at the palace, this was her final and decisive strike in a war which only now truly ended. Lura-sha-Kichka was dead. The line of silver brats who had any chance to elude and attack her was erased. There would never again be a threat from silver cloaked usurpers. Now and forever, the future belonged to her.

“Lura-sha-Kichka is dead, Zarika. That is what matters most. I will take this offering, this proof you’ve given me, and I will build a monument to my victory around it. You’ve done me a great service today. You’ve won my way.”

Zarika said nothing, simply giving a weak smile and nodding. Naturally, the wolf had to be tired, that was the root of the faded enthusiasm. They’d been far in barbarian country too long, and hadn’t had the luxuries of Isklakata and even longer. She’d thought to send the wolves after Urde-Saya ever since word came of an attack from the heavens—but that could wait. She needed to divine with Ketzani anyways, though first perhaps with Ashareh.

“The rooms you used last are still prepared for you, as they always shall be, and as for your warriors we can put them in diplomatic quarters and treat them like kings. Make merry and stay as long as you wish in my palace! Every night I will give you a feast for your victory! This day is ours.”

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