Ulthuan

Ulthuan, Home of the Asur
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:59 pm 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

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Part One – Arakis


The desert Arakis. The burning anvil of the eastern Registan. It was a dead place unto itself: a place of shifting dunes of fine red sand that stretched for league upon league. With little else to meet the eye other than the occasional jut of rock, clawing for sky outside of the unknowable depths. Here no map was reliable; the hills and valleys of red dust could be swept up and remade by the roaring winds coming from north or south, the Varelia or the Tamalin, goddesses of sound and fury, they would blow and the dunes would ripple and writhe stretching their forms to new heights and slithering across the land’s face like giant serpents, until finally a new landscape, a new world, of towering red piles and burning crimson stretches would lay before the weary traveler.

And unconscionable woe upon those poor souls caught in the Arakis when the north and south blew together. Then the desert would be devoured by a great storm, full of heat and lightning, with winds so engorged by the red dust as to cut flesh with the severity of a chirurgeon’s blade.

During the day the sun beat upon the anvil with a ferocity as to make the sand scorch the touch as surely as living coals. Water tossed upon the ground would sizzle into vapor in moments. But at night the traveler faced an even deadlier foe: the cold of the vast emptiness was so brutal, so absolute, as to scar the face and burn the extremities. It was as if the Arakis existed within that black space that lay between Isha’s Tears in the night sky. A no-place of the Great Abyss, lost to light and sound. But full of cold. Brittle, unending, life devouring cold…. Not to be shattered until the dawn, and the return of the fiery fury that was the day.

It was commonly said that the Arakis was lifeless. As devoid of breath as the far side of Lileath’s domain. But those few who had traversed its edges said otherwise: there was life in the sands. Hardy, cruel, and brutal life; but life nonetheless. Serpents and scorpions were known to prowl the loose surfaces, praying upon the rare sand skipper lizards and each other. And in the skies overhead, occasionally a blood vulture from the northern mountains would circle, its keen eyes searching for anything with a pulse below. Then it would swoop down raking its prey over and over, until the poor beast collapsed from the loss of its life fluids (that the vulture would greedily lap up). And of course there are the tails of the great wyrms that live within the sands themselves, tunneling through the red deserts as a grey whale dives through the briny seas. But few scholars paid much attention to such legends – despite the occasional curious find of tooth or bone plate brought back to the civilized lands. For frankly the Arakis was nightmare enough without adding a host of subterranean monsters capable of devouring a camp at one swallow. Sometimes it is better not to know!

Besides there is life in the Arakis. The blood vultures could see it clearly. There, far below where they hung in cobalt skies on outstretched wings, the raptors could see a thin line of dots, smudges of life going on four legs and two, making their way deeper into the desert.

The fools….



***


Last edited by Headshot on Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 5:00 am 
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AHHHH welcome back! Great intro... are we in for more avengers style?

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 7:51 am 
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Welcome back. Nice introduction. Curious to see what hardship you're going to put the Nagarathi through again.

It reads a bit like you've been on holiday again. Visited any deserts recently?

Rod

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:25 pm 
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Ultimate End Times Chronicler

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rdghuizing wrote:
It reads a bit like you've been on holiday again.


Nah. The Overlords keep me chained to a desk in the basement. The only holiday-ing is done vicariously through the elves.

Speaking of which....

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 23, 2013 9:38 pm 
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Part 1 – cont.


There were eleven dots, eleven silhouettes far below amidst the dunes. Tiny figures struggling underneath the hammer-blows of heat, their shadows cast out long before them in the waning afternoon.

As the vulture’s eye fixed details emerged: most of the figures went on two legs – upright and plodding through the thick torrents of sand – these figures were wrapped head to toe in voluminous white cloth, to ward some of the sun’s fierce rays. They trudged along in a single file, heads bowed. The last of them, the smallest, led the two four-legged creatures – the broad footed, hump-backed beasts of the desert nomads. These were festooned with bags and metal tools….

…and sacks and gourds filled with sloshing water….

Life….


***

Ailana stopped and gazed northwards. In the near distance stood the mountains – what the native tribesmen called the ‘Roof of the World’ – blue shouldered and white capped, the mountains were etched so clearly in the burning azure skies that it felt as if with her hand she could reach out and touch the contours of the great stone gods….

She squinted against the heat. Having been warned at the start of their journey that the desert could play tricks with one’s vision. Even for one of the elder race, the Asur. First born and beloved of the Creator, Asuryan, as one, Ailana was gifted with sight and hearing far beyond the lesser races of the world. It was said among the mortal tribesmen of the continent that the Asur, the Elders or ‘High Elves’, could hear the wings of a sparrow in flight, and their eyes could count the leaves of a great oak in full bloom from a half league distant. And - it was true, though Ailana could scarce imagine another way of being. In her two centuries of life – a brief time for the Asur; scarce reckoning her out of childhood – her sight, her hearing, her touch and taste, was as it should be, and she had little pondered elsewise. Never had much call to do it from her distant home across land and sea.

Yet here she was, now, doubting her gaze. Staring at the mountains, and the glistening white peaks, heavy with snow and ice…. So close. And yet, under the blistering desert sky, a world away!

“What was it the Ellyrion poet said?” a muffled voice called from behind her. She glanced through the veils of her hood. She saw another figure, garbed as she was in white silk and cloth. The figure reached up and pulled down his mouth kerchief, exposing the long face, hawk-like nose and bright blue eyes, of the Eatanian lord she traveled with. Even his Asur ivory skin seemed mottled after ten days in the desert; his lips cracked and split. Still he contorted them into what must have been a pained smile as he came to stop at her side.

“Water, water everywhere…. And not a drop to drink!” he finished, and gestured towards the snow capped peaks.

Ailana nodded, but kept her gaze on the mountains. The maps she had read said they were distant: still many leagues from the heart of the Arakis. But the sight…so close! It was a torment.

“You know, my lady. We really should make time to converse,” the Eatanian lord continued in an agreeable tone.

Ailana’s eyes narrowed. The Eatanians as a people were known for an appreciation of the ‘worldly’ pleasures. And this one’s liege in particular was famous for his…appetites. Still, she was here as a representative, so she replied neutrally:

“About what?”

The Eatanian cracked another pained smile. “Well surely you have noticed the rather curious company we keep.”

Beneath Ailana’s cowl and mask, her lips pursed. She glimpsed back at the line of travelers. Everyone was garbed in the same form-and-feature disguising robes, and yet despite that it was easy to note the individual differences. Standing just a few paces away, straight and sturdy as an oak, was her advisor and bodyguard, Bladelord Tytus of the White Tower. He was trying to be nondescript and respectful – a hard task for a Sapheri Swordmaster, built tall and broad like a Chracian – and yet still managed to exude an aura of protectiveness. She hated it, but it was his custom. And she had to admit there was something of a quiet menace as he stood there, his carefully placid gaze casually taking in the Eatanian noble. She knew that if the southern lord so much as took a wrong step, the greatsword upon Tytus’ back would leap from its sheath in less time it took her to blink.

Her eyes went to the rest of the party. Most were already halfway up a nearby dune.

Closest, however, was the Lothern captain - the Eatanian lord’s guard, just as Tytus was hers - keeping a respectful watch. He stood only a pace or two to Tytus’ left, his hand relaxed upon the sword pommel belted to his waist.

That was the way of things. The way of the Asur. The sword and the fig leaf. Embassies had been formed of two since the time before Aenarion, before the forging of the Ever Empire. When the Asur still lived as clans-folk in the secret isle of Ulthuan. Then emissaries between the clans would always be of two: the Sword to represent the strength of the people, and the willingness to fight for their rights; the Fig Leaf, to show Isha’s gentle side of words and wisdom, to negotiate and compromise. The symbolic meaning had been mostly lost in these later generations of contracts, levies, treaties, and trade that were the bureaucracy of running an Empire. Now most Asur thought of it simply as an Ambassador and their Bodyguard. But Ailana was of the Tower, and she had studied the histories; she knew of its ancient significance.

And part of her was pleased to see the fealty with which it was kept. In the line trudging up the dune, she could see the envoys from Yvresse, also a pair: a young woman (the only other in their party) guarded by a stern looking elder knight. They were withdrawn and taciturn as was the reputation of their lonely country, and kept to themselves during the night camps. But still, Ailana was pleased to see that despite their kingdom’s differences, they kept the Old Ways.

Even their guides, the hardy Asur colonials that led them across this barren land, were a pair: a shaven headed scholar, and a tight-lipped swordsmen. Thousands of leagues from the sacred forests that birthed their race, and yet even in this exotic land the Children of Asuryan carefully maintained and cultivated the manners of their forefathers….

Well mostly….

She turned to the last of the line. There, stumbling ahead of the pack-beasts, was the representative of Caledor. Alone. They did not honor the custom of the Sword and Leaf. In Caledor it was said ‘every Elf a warrior; to every hand a sword’, and so they claimed there was no sense in dividing the emissary duties. Caledor always sent one ambassador to every gathering: one figure emboldened with both the duties of peace and war, beholden to no counsel but their own.

Ailana shook her head. It was true what was said in Saphery: the Caledorians were an arrogant people. And they obviously failed to see the wisdom of the Old Ways. But this Caledorian in particular was a mystery. He was small, and misshapen – hunch-backed under the desert dwellers robes. Nothing like the tall and clean limbed Caledorian fire mages she had met in the White Tower. And certainly not like the regal and powerful knights she had seen visiting her cousin’s court. Why a Caledorian lord would send one such…? Well she had spent some time trying to fathom it and still could not understand the message or its intent.

Not that there was anything particularly offensive, or arrogant, in this particular Caledorian. He was shy and stuttered much in his speech – when he spoke at all; again, strange qualities for an emissary. He kept to himself at nights and seemed to dread the sparse minutes they spent together at meals in the dim light just before and after the Arakis sun showed its face. Yet the few times they had attempted to converse he had been painfully polite, if seemingly overjoyed when she turned her gaze elsewhere.

Watching the little Caledorian stumble through a thick plume of red sand forced a thought to her head.

“It is said that the Wardens of Avelorn are so light-footed and graceful, that they can walk across a fresh snowfall without leaving a mark. Just as our ancestors did,” she mused aloud.

The Eatanian beside her grimaced. “At the moment I would settle for boots that kept the sand out,” he said and glared at his feet.

Then a pause and a shake of his head. He gestured towards the retreating line, and the two again began a slow pace in the same direction. Ailana could see the Eatanian captain and Lord Tytus shadowing them.

“Four countries,” the Eatanian lord said as they walked. “Saphery. Yvresse. Caledor. And my own Eatain. She of the dew-kissed vineyards and bronze-skinned maidens. All called at the same time by our host. All arriving together.” He paused a shot her a sidelong glance. “Quite convenient wouldn’t you agree?”

Ailana frowned. “It is a trade mission,” she said. “Are these things not the normal way of it?”

“Perhaps that is the way of things in the courts of Tor Irian, under the watchful gaze of your most beautiful and puissant cousin,” the lord agreed in an amiable tone. “And yet….”

The silence stretched on. Finally Ailana prompted:

“And yet…?”

“Why so many representatives? All at once?”

Ailana’s frown deepened as she thought. “You suspect that our host intends to play us off against each other?”

“Just so!” the Eatanian agreed with a smile. “I see the wisdom of Saphery is not held in too high a regard!” he flattered with a wink. Ailana kept her expression blank and waited for him to continue. He did after a moment.

“Among the colonials our host has a reputation for fearsome cunning. My lord warned me to be prepared. And I suspect having all of the most wealthy countries of Ulthuan in attendance…at the same time!...is not a coincidence.”

Ailana considered further. At the front of the line leading the way, staff in hand as he navigated the slope of the rippling dune, was the shaven headed scholar: the so-called Minister of the Interior. So far he had been impeccably polite, if a bit removed. But yes, she had heard a similar warning in Saphery: the servants of Spires were not to be trusted.

“What do you propose?” she asked.

“That we come to an agreement. The two of us,” the Eatanian lord said quickly. “The combined wealth of Eatain and Saphery would easily dwarf what the others could offer. But only if we work together. Otherwise we will play into these colonials’ hands in a foolish bidding war. Something that wouldn’t benefit either of our Houses.” There was a pause. “And perhaps this agreement would be most effective if it was kept hidden from the others…for the time being.”

Of course, Ailana thought, giving the Eatanians plenty of time to maneuver with the other representatives and perhaps betray her in turn. All at the benefit of their own treasuries. Such was the way of Lothern.

And yet pouring more of Tor Irian’s silver into the coffers of a distant colonial city created questionable benefit for Saphery.

“I must consider,” she said aloud.

“Please do. But time is of the essence. We should arrive soon.”

***

The afternoon sun was turning indigo and orange, when the Scholar-Minister finished climbing a mighty dune. He stood there, staff in hand like a shepherd, and looked back to the line following. And waited. When Ailana, finally made the crest she looked down and her breath caught in her throat: in the distance she could see a solitary tower rising from amidst a desert flatlands. A lonely tower, isolated in a wasteland of sand and rock, it was fashioned of some stone of the Arakis, and gleamed a burnished crimson in the fading afternoon light. A small wall encircled the tower base, while lights burned a welcoming yellow from its upper windows.

The little Caledorian was the last to arrive. He stood there, next to Ailana, and stared. Amidst his panting, the girl could almost hear a gulp of surprise. Or relief.

The Minister pointed with his staff and proclaimed:

“Behold. Tyr Wadi.”


***


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 24, 2013 4:10 am 
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Talossar back in action. The cripple better not let the Dragonborne down!

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 24, 2013 7:08 am 
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Sorry I'm late to the party, but I'm just happy to be here now. ;) Looking forward to another great story. Your imagery always astounds me. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 24, 2013 8:10 am 
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Auctor Aeternitatum
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High Elves. Always scheming and plotting. :) Great read.

Let's see what spires is up to this time...

And of course if the holiday-ing elves are the result of your Overlords chains, then I applaud them and think they should keep you chained a bit longer ;)

Rod

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Please try to remember that, no matter how 'official' the source seems, rumours are basically just a dictionary combined with a random number generator

For Nagarythe: Come to the dark side.
PS: Bring cookies!

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Painting progress, done/in progress/in box: 167/33/91


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2013 8:45 pm 
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Part Two – Tyr Wadi


Again the Arakis had played tricks with her eyes. What had seemed a short stroll from the top of the dune had proven to be of much greater distance. So great, that when the cold set in soon after sunset, the group of Asur found themselves camping once more in the open desert; the tower’s lights tantalizing in their proximity, and yet still too far to press on in the freezing weather of the Arakis night. So one, hopefully final time, Ailana and the others built a small fire pit and filled it with the animal fodder they had brought for just this purpose.

“What is this?” the shy Caledorian mused aloud as he and Ailana dipped their hands into the satchel and drew forth the chips to toss them into the freshly dug hole. Ailana blinked with surprise and looked over at the thin face peeking out from the hood, a tangle of platinum blonde hairs also hung loosely. The Caledorian seemed to not be jesting; he was studying a chip in his hand with a scholar’s interest.

“It is fibrous,” he muttered, “but bears no resemblance to any plant I know of Ulthuan. Hmmmm perhaps of some native species…. Perhaps the curious oblong shape is because it is some seed pod. Though I see no seed…..”

There was a chuckle. Nearby the Eatainian sword-elf was unpacking the bedrolls from the back of one of the supine beasts. “Oh it was plant matter at one point in time,” he said drolly, though not unkindly. “But it has passed through the bowels of the beast. Quite literally. They are droppings of the desert packbeasts, Caledorian.”

Ailana had known and yet still she grimaced. Ten nights of setting camps, and half that time she had drawn the duty of the firepit. And in all that time water was so scarce that she could not afford a washing. She shuddered to think how many dozens of droppings had crossed her palms.

“Ah the glamor of being an ambassador of Ulthuan,” she muttered. The Eatainian laughed warmly. The little Caledorain however continued to stare interestedly at the dropping in his hand. He muttered, “Fascinating.”

She laughed then, and continued to fill the pit. The Eatainian came closer and sat down, flint and tender in hand. “If you craved glamour my lady, I would suggest you restrict yourself to the Tors of our homeland. There is little place for it in these distant corners of the Empire. Certainly not in the Arakis….”

Ailana’s interest perked at that comment. “I am Ailana,” she greeted formally. “I don’t remember if we have been introduced.”

“Sadly no, and forgive my reticence in this matter,” he answered with a wan smile. “My duties in this are carefully circumscribed, a matter for which I am very grateful. I am Lothello.”

Ailana smiled back. “What do you mean ‘carefully circumscribed’?”

The tall Eatainian brushed his loose sandy hair out of his face. “I am just a captain in Prince Elithmar’s fleet, my lady. And I am happy to be so. I know nothing of missions or embassies. But, when my brother…” at this he nodded across the camp to where the Eatainian lord was smiling broadly at the lady from Yvresse while engaging her guard in conversation, “…was asked to come here, I couldn’t allow another to serve as his sword.”

“I see,” Ailana answered.

The Caledorian had dropped the dung into the hole and was now looking at the two elves curiously. “You said ‘especially the Arakis’. Have you been here before?”

“No, I have not.” The Eatainian answered with a shake of his head. “And I suspect no Asur, outside of these colonials of Spires, have penetrated this desolate place.” The elf hunched over the pit, while placing the bits of tinder inside it. He clacked the flint together and gently blew on the fallen embers. A moment or two later and a ruddy glow began to emerge from the pit. Lothello blew again, and a flame sputtered to life. The elf relaxed on his haunches. “But,” he continued, “I have served some two centuries in the Fleet of the Phoenix. Traveled the width of this world many times over. And one hears stories. Sailors like to talk, you see. Especially those out of Lothern,” he finished with a self-deprecating laugh.

“And what have you heard?” Ailana prompted.

“A haunted place. Full of spirits malign,” Lothello answered with a slight smile. He glanced around at the darkness that waited just beyond the little campfire, before saying:

“In the taverns of the Tower of Dusk sailors speak of the Jinn. Spirits of the cruel winds that echo in the valleys of the Roof of the World,” with a nod of his head he indicated the mountains to the north. Even in the fast descending darkness of the desert night, with the light of the near full moon, Ailana could see the glistening peaks, towering among the stars, jagged and fearsome in their shape. “It is said that the Jinn hunger for the flesh and souls of mortals, and that they are like the Sirens of the wild seas: who appear to a sailor as a vision of beauty and longing… before devouring him.”

The Eatainian captain was obviously enjoying the role of storyteller. The Caledorian was listening, rapt; and even Ailanor, who had already heard similar tales in the brief passage through the City of Spires, was entertained by the captain’s turn of voice and playful expressions.

“And then in Calith they whisper of how the wasteland stretches as far north to the Pole, and its Hellgate!” He nodded knowingly, a twinkle in his eye. “See to the north lie the Roof, and to the south, the jungles of Ind. To the west the City of Spires and the Darklands beyond. To the East, the mighty Jade Empire of Cathay…perhaps the only match in ships and soldiers to the Ever Empire… though you did not hear me say it!” he added with a wink. “But to the northeast…that is the Great Steppe, that stretches for thousands upon thousands of leagues, uninterrupted, until the cold wastes of the Cursed Lands of the four powers in the north.”

Involuntarily, Ailana shuddered. Everyone knew the stories. All the children of the Asur grew up learning of the Four Enemies, and their Cursed Realms. Of the invasion in the time of Aenarion, the Founder, and how at great cost the armies of the Chaos were turned back. Yet still the gates stood. Still their power waxed and waned in this world. Still the kingdoms of the Asur stood vigilant, against the day the Four Powers would return to try to claim this world as their own. For such a day would be the End of Times: the last gasp of life of not only elf, but all the mortal races.

“But buried within those wastes, long before you reach the Pole, is the Great Divide,” Lothello continued, his face made strange in the flickering firelight. “A massive cleft in the face of the world, said to be unfathomably deep. It was there that Aenarion slew the Demon Prince Morthol with his mighty blade. And in doing so ever rent the world in his fury. Within those bowels, the sailors of Elithis say, that there lies another world. Not of elves or men, nor even of Chaos spawn. A dark place of unimaginable evil, formless in its cruelty. The primeval ooze from which even Chaos itself sprung!”

The Caledorian was frowning now. “I’ve never heard that. Most scholars say that there was nothing before Chaos. Some few argue that the world came from it. Though those are rejected as heretics by the Cult of Asuryan,” he quickly added.

Lothello laughed. “I speak only of sailors’ tales, my lord,” he added, placatingly. “I know nothing of scholarship or the writings of the wise. I do know sailors; and they love spinning a good yarn. I would not read much truth into it.”

Ailana rested back onto her palms. “Well I thank you for sharing the tales with us, farfetched as they may be,” she said with a smile. A smile Lothello returned.

Afterall, Ailana thought. Hearing such tales…seeing the world beyond the Tower, beyond Saphery…that was as much a reason for being here as serving her cousin’s interests. It was good to share them.

She reached out and took the blanket Tytus, ever attentive, proffered, and wrapped it around her shoulders. The older Swordmaster was a comforting presence as ever. And even in this night, with the light of stars both familiar and foreign, slowly rising in the heavens above, she took solace in his familiar outline and found it hard to read much into the fearsome sailors stories. A place beyond Chaos indeed…!

The little Caledorian hunchback however, sat on the other side of the campfire, still, head in hands, and stared at the ground. Lost in a world of thought.

One perhaps peopled by sirens of the wind Ainala mused playfully, before stretching the blanket out and retiring to sleep. The ever watchful presence of Tytus nearby….

***

It was nearing the evening of the next day that the small party of Asur finally approached the gates of Tyr Wadi.

Nearly twelve days! Twelve days since they had left the river and begun to cross the Arakis desert. And before that five days by boat upriver from the City of Spires! Ailana marveled, and wondered at the distances involved. A thought struck her: that she was as far from Ulthuan as was possible for any Asur to be! That thought chilled her.

Looking up, she turned her attention to the tower before her. It was surprisingly tall, lithe and elegant. And, except for the curious crimson stone from which it had been built, would not have looked out of place in the mountains and glens of Ulthuan. The tall circular spire was graceful in its construction, and after its half way point, was riddled with glassfilled arches, balconies, and open aired windows of all shapes and sizes. Being a watchtower, the lower half was marked by evenly interspaced arrow slots for archers: each one carefully positioned and uniform in shape and diameter. In that it was typically Asur: perfect geometric composition, all circles and triangles at its beginning, to evolve into something idiosyncratic, almost organic, with gentle obtrusions and twisting balconies at the top. An exercise in right angles and circumferences transformed into the curves and turns of a living creature: not unlike the shells of the great sea leviathan, long dead, that formed the foundations of the City of Spires.

The only truly odd feature of the tower was the low wall at its base. Compared to the tower within, the red-stone wall was squat and ugly. And - if the tower was built as the watchtowers in Ulthuan - an unnecessary addition for defense. In Ulthuan the stone of the base of a tower were thicker than at the elevations – some are practically solid for the first hundred feet or so, except for the iron gates and the passages up. Thus the first floors of a watchtower formed a wall themselves; a solid defense from which the defenders above could rain down death on the attackers below. Yet still these colonials had built an ugly wall about the tower base. Why?

There was a broad gate through the wall, formed of a curious cage-like mixture of what seemed to be wood and…bone! The calcified bones of some giant creature! Yes, she could see a polished femur as one of the crossbars! (How…horrific?! Or brilliant?! She couldn’t decide.) Beyond the gate the party fell into welcome shadow as the thick wall rose around them, and the passage became as a tunnel, with a thin strip of cobalt sky some thirty feet overhead. Then she marveled at the thickness of the wall: nearly twice as wide as it was tall! Did even the walls of Lothern come in such girth?!

It was a puzzle that demanded an answer. She was of the Tower, supposed to be knowledgeable in the ways of both world and aether. And yet she couldn’t divine a reason. She frowned at that. What was it that old Master Tiralya had said, she wondered, thinking back to her early classes. Ah yes: ‘Never be afraid to ask.’

She looked about and saw the Minister’s guard at the rear of the line, leading the pack beasts. She fell back alongside the elf.

Perhaps to an outsider there would be no appearance of difference. However to her, the colonial swords-elf felt positively…foreign. He was dressed in the armor of the levy, laminated in the crimson and white of Spires. And yet…it was the hair: long, dark, and done in exotic braids, strung with tassels of precious stones and polished bone….. And the boots…they were brown leather, and yet were made of no leather she had seen in Ulthuan: it was hard and rigid, almost as if carved from wood. And the ornaments of the armor and swordbelt…. Just so full of strange shapes and figures: hunting cats and twisted fangs!

Yes he looked positively feral!

However, Tiralya’s admonition echoed in her head and she cleared her throat. Unsure of how to address the laconic colonial (had he spoken once in their many days of travel??), she hesitated an awkward second.

The colonial looked at her sidelong. “Yes, lady emissary?”

“I…excuse me… I am afraid I am unsure of how to address you,” she apologized.

“I am Atlan, a Sentinel of the Guard of the City of Spires,” he nodded courteously. “We were introduced at my lord’s court…” he finished.

“I apologize,” she flushed. “I remember now. I was exhausted after the long voyage. Please forgive me.”

Another nod came, this one curt, from the grim faced colonial. “You wished something of me?” he then prompted.

“Yes,” she said and gestured at their surrounds. “This wall. It is…well it is like nothing I have seen at home…in Ulthuan I mean.”

He nodded. “I would suspect not. It is a bulwark to protect the tower grounds against the sands of the desert. Even here in these salt flats, the dunes sometimes creep,” he explained, his face still set in a hard expression. “But that is not its only purpose…. The tower has…special needs. It will soon become clear.”

They followed the rest of their party and passed through the wall and into the interior courtyard. Two dozen warriors in red and white waited in honor guard formation, leading from the gate entrance to a massive flanged arch, set in silver and bronze, that was the entrance to the tower itself. At their head stood a warrior in a captain’s plumed helmet. He quickly removed the helmet, revealing a face marred by a triple line of scars across the right side, and stepped towards the visitors. With a bow to the minister he turned to the rest and said,

“Welcome to Tyr Wadi. I am the Captain of the Watch here, Harkonn,” Then turning once more to the shaven headed minister, spoke again in a lower voice, “We have been most eagerly waiting your arrival, my lord. There are…unexpected matters… for you to address.”

A sharp look came from the scribe accompanied by a terse frown. “We will speak of this more in private. First you must escort the envoys to their quarters.”

The minister then turned to address those following, “It is the custom in our arid land to conduct serious business in the cool of late evening, after one has had the time to rest and refresh from the heat of the day.” What might have been a facsimile of a warm smile passed over the stern face. “I will have the garrison see you to your quarters where you will be able to bathe and recover from your journey. Then at the witching hour we can gather to break bread, and...discuss.”

Nods and a few smiles met his words. The Eatainian lord however asked with a curious expression, “Did my ears deceive me? Did you not utter the word ‘bathe’?”

“Of course!” the minister responded. “If you will follow me.”

He led them to the silver arch and into the tower’s interior. A gasp escaped Ailana’s throat. The base of the tower was a single chamber, a hundred feet in diameter. It was crisscrossed by beams of sunlight, cleverly refracted from mirrors and crystals placed high in wall and ceiling. But what drew her attention, and admiration, was the greenery: all about the chamber stood lush foliage and flowers. Amid them rose a few trees: a trio of the stunted natives of the Ind plains with the shriveled sour-fruit, stood alongside a single oak and beech the like to be found in Saphery and Eataine. The boughs of the trees were hung with the circular glow lamps of Ulthuan: glass and paper orbs that shone in red or blue.

It was a garden! A garden of tropical flowers and green grass. And there, at its center, lay a small pool, some ten feet in width, filled with bubbling blue water.

“This is the reason for our garrison and the source of Tyr Wadi,” the minister explained. “A cistern lies deep in the rock below, filled with fresh water. The only known fresh water in the Arakis. The only source in thirty leagues all about. It gives the Tyr life, and we guard it as is our duty. For our lord, the Prince of Spires.”

“This is the only oasis – the only life – in the Arakis….”


***


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:05 pm 
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Ooo good stuff! Glad to have ya back in the story telling section! Great read as always 8)

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:34 pm 
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Good to be back, Master Larose! :D

Hopefully all the guys and gals of Ulthuan.net will be forgiving of my intermittent presence in the days past and to come! (Silly bills and such nonsense demand me give so much of my time in doing repetitive tasks not involving elves... its a crime I tell you! [-( )

In the meantime another snippet for anyone following this latest tale....

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:35 pm 
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Part 3 – The Tower Peak


Ailana stretched and yawned. She was tired, but felt better than she had in a fortnight. The quarters provided her – somewhere in the middle reaches of the tower’s heights – had been spacious; surprisingly so. And had been well appointed, if a bit minimalistic for Sapheri tastes: the divan and broad four poster bed alike had been wrapped in fine white linens, and there had been a glorious rosewood wardrobe, desk and lounging chairs in front of a personal fireplace (which admittedly had been rather small, and sunk into the walls of the chamber: certainly not like the fireplaces in northern Saphery and Avelorn! They were built for girth and height; so that an elf could really admire both the warmth in the cold winters, and the beauty of the flames.) And as promised, in an off-chamber had been a sunken marbled bath, just large enough for her filled with steaming water, with one wall open to the night sky. She had lounged inside the tub longer than needed, breathing in its refreshing vapors and the spectacle of the surrounding views alike.

Now, walking the long corridors and spiraling stairs of Tyr Wadi alongside her bodyguard Tytus, she couldn’t help but to marvel once more on the appointments provided to her. Who would have thought that a mere colonial lord could afford such accouterments? And for an insignificant frontier holding as well.

She commented as much to Tytus. The Bladelord nodded and remarked, “This garrison is far too small for the tower. Have you not noticed the many closed and sealed doors? The darkened corridors? This tower is at less than half capacity.”

“Why is that?” Ailana wondered aloud.

“If this were Ulthuan,” the old swordmaster mused, while rubbing his chin. “I would attribute it to the age of the tower and the availability of warriors to the local lord. Many a tower or fortress built in the golden age of the Empire can scarce afford to be garrisoned today by the kingdoms. Too few warriors now, compared to the time of Aenarion,” he said thoughtfully. “But this tower is not old. The stonework is fresh. The mortar not yet crumbling. It is a century. Two at the most, I’d wager.”

Which Ailana thought might seem old for the shorter-lived races, but was nothing to the Asur. Many an Asur fortress or Tyr could trace its history for four thousand years or more.

“So why build a tower much larger than need and then garrison it with a skeleton force?” she asked.

“That I cannot answer,” Tytus responded. “Unless the need is something other than we know….” The warrior stopped and pointed. “Look there.”

Currently they were climbing a staircase that wound around the outside of the tower’s heights, only a slender stone guardrail carved in the shape of flowering vines stood between them and a fall of several hundred feet. The view was beyond spectacular: the vast desert lay all about rendered a rich indigo by the night’s shadows. Overhead the sky a glistening canopy of stars and luminescent strips of constellations. A single moon hung as a red crescent. Ailana stopped for the moment to just admire the view: the layers of purples and blacks above and below. It was the like of which she had never seen in Saphery, or anywhere in Ulthuan for that matter.

However Bladelord Tytus stood at the bannister, his finger pointing downwards. Ailana came over and gazed into the drop. Below, made small by their height, was the circular grounds of the interior of the bulwark, illuminated both by star and a pair of lanterns hanging before the tower entrance. She could see a few of the colonial warriors, sentries, standing atop the bulwark’s girth, lounging upon spear or chatting uncomfortably in the desert cold, their breath steaming before them. And inside the grounds a small stable to hold the packbeasts used by the garrison. (No horses, either of Ellyrion blood or the lesser ones found on the continent, were counted there: the desert was too cruel for such a thirsty animal.) But Tytus’ finger indicated something small, and to the rear of the tower, opposite of its gilded entrance. A stone door, grey and nondescript, stood in the middle of…nothing. Perhaps, ‘stood’ was the wrong word, Ailana reflected, for the door was almost reclining upon the gravel courtyard grounds, with only a slender slope of stone behind it.

“Where does it lead?” she said with a frown. “What is below?”

“That is the question,” Tytus answered. “But come, we are almost to the appointed meeting chambers,” he added and started to climb once more.

The exterior staircase ended at a balcony of sorts, jutting out from just below the tower’s apex. The stone-vine bannister continued to flow up and around the balcony’s border. Standing within the space of the balcony, illuminated by a single glowlamp of blue, stood the envoys of the other kingdoms, each looking refreshed and dressed in the formal robes of their station, just as Ailana was: she had saved a single silken gown done in a cascade of Sapheri blues and whites just for this occasion.

The Eatainian ambassador came forward and kissed her hand.

“Well met, lady of Saphery. Shall we go see what game these colonials are playing?” he added with a twinkle in his eye.

She smiled in what she hoped was a neutral fashion and turned towards the door that led to the tower’s topmost chamber. The Spires Sentinel, Atlan, stood waiting there. He nodded respectfully to her and then said, “Now that you have all arrived, please follow me within.” He swung the door open – a pool of warm yellow light escaped from the interior, reminding Ailana once more of the night’s chill – and the Sapheri girl was quick to follow the Sentinel as he stepped inside.

And blinked in surprise at the crowded chamber within. She could see the appointments of a meeting chamber, equipped with the requisite symbolic fire in its center (giving off more than symbolically welcome warmth). But standing around it were a bevy of more pairs of elves! She saw two dressed in the blues and greens of Cothique. And two more in the red and grey of Ellyrion! And two in Tiranoc browns and silvers. And in the center, a young maiden dressed in a gown of white satin that hugged her generous curves. She had long flaming red hair and bright green eyes. With her was the towering figure of a White Lion, all long blonde braids and brooding blue eyes, a massive battleaxe tied to his back.

The maiden smiled and shouted, “Talossar!” The Caledorian who had come in right behind Ailana flushed a deep shade of crimson, but smiled sheepishly, and greeted, “Princess Tarabeth,” almost mumbling the words into his hood.

Ailana scarcely noticed. Instead her mind was grappling with the new situation. Every kingdom! Every kingdom of Ulthuan was present. Well every kingdom worth mentioning was here. Of course Avelorn who conducted little trade beyond their own clans and borders that wasn’t represent by Sapheri envoys was not here. And the Shadowlands….the barbarian realm of darkness and strife to the north, had no economy to speak of. From what she heard they had no proper kingdom at all: just a few wild clans in perpetual conflict with monsters and the northern invaders of their long dead kingdom…. The so-called Nagarathi… they were not present.

(For some reason those cold-eyed killers were welcome in her cousin’s court in Tor Irian, as rare as that occurrence may be… but she could never understand why….)

She shook her head. What was important was that every kingdom with coffers of silver leafs to offer stood arrayed about the room.

“Things just got more complicated,” the Eatainian ambassador muttered with a grimace, before quickly donning a friendly smile and striding into the room shouting greetings left and right.

Yes they had, Ailana agreed, and moved to follow.


***


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:28 pm 
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The plot thickens! I wonder what scheme Spires is brewing...

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:21 am 
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As long as you keep writing we'll forgive you your absences. ;)

More scheming and plotting… Loved the read as always. And wondering what Spires is up to this time.

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:03 pm 
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A little late to arrive, but I am here now and happy for it. Welcome back! So Aicanor has a cousin? I gather she's from the mother side, born in the Annulii?

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:51 pm 
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@aicanor

I'm afraid that I don't know the details of how they reckon kinship in Saphery. Could she be a second cousin? :-k

Ailana does seem to be more of an occasional visitor to Tor Irian than a mainstay of Aicanor's court. But then I am just a lowly chronicler - I find it best to stay out of the affairs of wizards. And wizard-princesses… O:)

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:53 pm 
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Part 3 – continued


Ailana took her seat at the ring shaped council table. The Flame of Parley burned low in the table’s center, providing a gentle flickering light to the chambers. All about her the envoys sat, while their Guard stood watchful behind. Eight kingdoms of Ulthuan. Eight envoys watched each other with a mixture of expressions, while their bodyguards kept stone faced behind. Only the little Caledorian sat alone, hunched up within his voluminous robes.

“You have all received the missives of what was found here,” the colonial Minister stood and spoke solemnly. “I regret that we were not able to be more… forthcoming with our find. But now…”

He waived his hand and a line of servants entered the room, each baring a small wooden coffer. One coffer was placed before each envoy. Hesitatingly, Ailana looked about her: all the others seemed to be waiting for some reason. All this time, and now, this moment. It had been what she had traveled so far for. The reason for this long and arduous journey.

She reached out and opened the coffer. As if her hand had opened the floodgates, the other envoys did likewise. A mixture of gasps, grunts and expressions of surprise filled the room.

Only the Eatainian managed to maintain some function of speech. He peered into his coffer and uttered, “Is that…?”

“Ithilmar, yes. Raw, and unworked,” the minister said, a tight-lipped smile stretching across his face. His own bodyguard, the dour Atlan, stood behind one shoulder; the scar-faced Warden of the Keep, Harkonn, stood at the other.

Ithilmar! Ailana gazed and marveled. The starlight metal! She most blessed by Lileath and Vaul. The sacred metal that was known only to the Asur smiths. She that could be folded ten thousand times to make blades as sharp as to cut dragon scale, yet as light as the orchid’s petal in the breeze, and as flexible as an ash reed. It was Ithilmar that was used throughout Ulthuan, for everything from the armor of the Dragon Knights of Caledor, worked in their own secret foundries such that the metal could absorb the heat of hydra and drake alike; to the rams that adorned the prows of the all-conquering Dragonships, the mighty juggernauts of the Asur fleet.

Ithilmar was precious beyond words to the Asur way of life. And yet as rare as snow on the slopes of the Anvil, as the saying went. Much had been lost in the Great War before. The Dawii…the stunted race. Had claimed the mines of the colonies. Their crude blackstone forges corrupted Ithilmar into a hideous mockery of its essence, heavy and unlovely,that the Dawii used for their own crude armor and weapons. It was one of the many reasons behind that long fought war. With the death of the Phoenix King, the treachery from the North, and the resulting years of abandoning colonies, the largest portion of Ithilmar mines had been lost. Such that….

“This is the first fresh vein to be discovered in over a millennium,” the Minister spoke her thoughts aloud. “And it was found here, beneath the sands of the Arakis….” His gaze swept slowly about the room. The tight smile broadened about his features and he added, “Well worth the time and cost of the trip coming I would say.”

“A vein here? Beneath the desert,” the representative from Tiranoc said with a shake of his head. “How large? Do you know?”

“Very large. Very deep,” the minister answered. “We have just begun to work its boundaries, but our alchemists assure us it is very large indeed.”

The Eatainian ambassador settled back in his chair and gave a low whistle.

“The first new ithilmar vein found in over a thousand years,” he said with a rueful shake of his head. “Here in the Arakis… Why the Prince of Spires must positively be tittering himself to sleep every night.”

The colonials went sallow and grim faced at that. After a moment the minister uttered coldly,

“The Prince of Spires does not titter.”

“Of course of course,” the Eatainian envoy waived the remark away. “Merely a Lothern jest. So…. This is what we are talking about? An investment into developing this resource.”

“Yes.” The minister straightened his already nearly perfect posture, and said formerly,

“The City of Spires seeks a partner with which to develop and cultivate the Arakis Ithilmar, and… I am ready to hear bids of partnership on behalf of the Prince.”

Another pause descended upon the room, as envoy eyed envoy. Ailana stared once more at the tiny glistening nugget inside her coffer. Fresh ithilmar! Unshaped. She had never seen it before. The metal was becoming so rare that in certain parts of Saphery the smiths had begun to scavenge older pieces from no longer used ruins and metalwork of the past. It was shameful, and yet the demand for the metal was voracious, and unending.

The tiny Caledorian cleared his throat and stood. Uncomfortably shifting his weight from foot to foot, he began speaking as if reciting a speech before memorized.

“Caledor has the largest deposits of ithilmar left in Ulthuan. And eastern Caledor has the largest mine. My… mighty Uncle, Prince Malossar the Dread, Son of Mentheus Dragonborne, the One Eyed, Conqueror of Caldera, and Subduer of the Druchii Menace…and ummm….” He paused and scrunched his face. “Yes! Ummmmm….feller of ten thousand orcs at the Battle of Tyr Calith….ummm proposes an alliance with the most honorable Prince of Spires in the production of this valuable resource. Caledor would be most able to extract and develop the ithilmar. Our smiths are the most experienced and the most skilled.”

Sweat was positively trickling from the little elf’s furrowed brow as he hurried to say his speech. “And in exchange for three quarters of the ore extracted, Caledor pledges gold and silver in proportion to the value.”

The minister settled back. “Spires has gold and silver,” he said. “Perhaps something more is in the offering…?” the shaven headed colonial glanced about the table.

There was a flurry of voices from the other envoys eager to go next, yet the Eatainian cut through the lot with another shrill whistle.

“My pardon please,” he began. “But there is a little matter that must be addressed first.” He glanced about. “I am unsure of the intricacies of the colonial charter granted to the …. Now-called Prince of Spires…. But I would be very surprised to see that the Crown’s benevolence extended into the interior of the Arakis, or the development of those lands. Therefore this very negotiation is of questionable legal standing.”

The Minister’s face had turned positively sour at that. “You wish to argue the legality of our claim? The ins and outs of contracts?”

“I am an Eatainian afterall. Contracts built the Empire,” the envoy said with a smile, quoting an old Lothern statement.

The Warden Harkonn stepped forward. “We do not need to play this game of letters and contracts! We are here! Our swords cleared this place of land. Our alchemists discovered the vein. It is ours by right of valor and finding!!”

“Peace,” the Minister waived the tower captain back. Turning once more to the Eatainian with a cold look, he said, “Just so. And I do not doubt the Prince of Spires’ right to this land nor its development. Neither should you….” He finished with a tone more than cold. Almost ominous.

The Eatainian though was nonplussed. He simply settled more comfortably in his seat and smiled. “Yet it would be a terrible shame to have any contract negotiated here today invalidated by an adjudication in Lothern, wouldn’t it?” he smiled with a faux sympathy. “Perhaps it would be wise then for the most impressive Prince of Spires to consider with whom he should partner with. Not everyone’s voice carries the same weight in the courts of the Crown…”

The other envoys erupted at that with counter offers and accusing cries.

Ailana settled into her seat, feeling that this night would prove to be even longer than she had feared. And worse, that the negotiations may cost her cousin more dearly than they had factored. Once more she began to mentally peruse her negotiation assets, a mixture of offers and alliances between Tor Irian and Spires, coupled with a few veiled threats: for afterall, wasn’t the City of Spires dependent on the spice trade between Saphery and here. And who purchased the bulk of their dragon eggs? Not the Caledorians, that was for certain.

Yes, it was going to get ugly before the dawn….

***

Ailana awakened to the sound of shouts and running feet. She opened her eyes, feeling the late morning desert light already hot on her cheeks. Her room was empty, though the noise continued unabated. She reached for the pitcher of water beside her bed; her throat felt like paper.

The night had been long indeed – and she had only retired to bed after the first morning light – with nothing having been decided. Except acrimony and greed. More and more offers had descended upon the colonial representatives. Everything from ships filled with jewels, to two score of the finest white steeds of Ellyrion. The little red headed princess from Chrace had even offered a century’s service of a cohort of the fabled White Lion guards to the City of Spires (though she did not seem enthused to do so….). The scions of Tiranoc had offered joint trade and mutual protection pacts. Over and over, offer had come, over and over the colonial representatives had waited and listened.

Uggh. She hated her job. She filled her cup with the water pitcher and drank it in a long slow swallow. She hated the avarice and the politicking. Worse, she hated that she had been unable to make a decisive advantage: no matter how much sorcery she promised, or trade treaties she implied might be threatened. The colonials just sat and stared. Infuriating. And arrogant. They seemed to relish the courting.

And she used to think Caledorians were bad….

The shouting continued and finally Ailana focused her attention on the door. Still clad in only her nightrobe she crossed the room and seized the handle. Swinging the door open she was immediately confronted by the visage of Tytus, hand poised to bang on the door.

“What is it?” she asked, frowning as a trio of servants ran down the hall behind the Swordmaster captain.

Tytus’ face was grim indeed. He looked at her with a serious gaze and said:

“The Eatainian envoy was found slain in his room this morning. His chest cut open."

"The soldiers of the garrison search now for the killer. As of yet, in vain….”


***


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 31, 2013 8:14 am 
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This starts to read like mystery murder novel, or perhaps classical horror? Looking forward to see where you will take the story. The setting is perfect. :)

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@aicanor

I'm afraid that I don't know the details of how they reckon kinship in Saphery. Could she be a second cousin? :-k
Ailana does seem to be more of an occasional visitor to Tor Irian than a mainstay of Aicanor's court. But then I am just a lowly chronicler - I find it best to stay out of the affairs of wizards. And wizard-princesses… O:)
headshot


First cousin. Must be granddaughter of Aicarin, a lord of Sapherian Annulii who is famous to this day for refusing to acknowledge existence of the White Tower for a thousand years, claiming it interferes with his magic (and he thought the waystones were bad enough!).
Good guy really, he fell at Finuval Plain where he led his famed White Guard rangers. Took a lot of Dark Elves with him and is fondly remembered by all of us. Since then, the family is not so isolationist any more, which doesn't say much. But it seems times are changing indeed. :D

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 31, 2013 8:56 am 
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=D> Lovely read. It does indeed read like a murder mystery novel. Almost in the tradition of the "Druchii Amongst Us" threads in the roleplaying forum. Or an Agatha Christie novel. Thanks for chronicling

As for the actual negotiations, where all the envoys are going wrong is that they are simply trying to outbid each other and try to purchase the aliance. When of course if you have a rich ithilmar vein money stops being an issue and they should ask themselves what Spires wants (and can't be purchased with money...) and needs. Which makes me think along the lines of influence, political power, standing and acceptance in the upper circles of ulthuan or perhaps even a marriage to a daugther of a prince/noble (at least in all my stories I haven't run into a wife for Spires yet).

All the rest can simply be purchased with the ithilmar itself. And given its rarety (is that a word?), finding buyers (and thus trade agreements) is not an issue. Which of course makes all threats useless. After all, they need him more then he needs them. I would personally go for the last option, a political marriage to cement an aliance, which then enhances the standing and actual nobility of Spires and the collonies (after all, his origins are fairly humble). And they are all things money doesn't buy you.

Rod

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:39 pm 
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Aicanor wrote:
This starts to read like mystery murder novel, or perhaps classical horror?


Heh heh! Happy Halloween!! :D

(Though maybe a 'Merry Christmas' to get all the story updates here…. #-o )

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First cousin.


Good to know! I'm afraid my knowledge of things south of the Annullii is filtered by my Nagarathi informants. Who I've found to not be too terribly knowledgable of things thataway. (They tend to mutter stuff like 'as silly as a southerner', or 'a southern problem', as a metaphor/euphemism for 'irrelevant' or 'stupid'. Not trustworthy narrators for sure!)

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they should ask themselves what Spires wants


Yeah, but who can figure that out?! The guy is inscrutable! Does he even know what he wants half the time?!

And then, he's got that dead mime poker face.

Wheels within wheels with that guy…. shrug

:wink:

headshot

PS. There have been other Spires stories?! Ah crud! Maybe I should actually read the forum instead of just posting willy nilly. :?

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 8:40 am 
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Headshot wrote:
Aicanor wrote:
This starts to read like mystery murder novel, or perhaps classical horror?

Heh heh! Happy Halloween!! :D
(Though maybe a 'Merry Christmas' to get all the story updates here…. #-o )
Good season for this kind of stories with the long cold evenings by the fire (not that in-season in Australia, obviously :D).

Aicanor wrote:
First cousin.


Good to know! I'm afraid my knowledge of things south of the Annullii is filtered by my Nagarathi informants. Who I've found to not be too terribly knowledgable of things thataway. (They tend to mutter stuff like 'as silly as a southerner', or 'a southern problem', as a metaphor/euphemism for 'irrelevant' or 'stupid'. Not trustworthy narrators for sure!)[/quote] I can well imagine (Cold evenings? In Saphery? Really?). But in this particular case I doubt anyone outside Saphery knows and even within the kingdom they are more stuff of legends than of actual gossip. ;)

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 9:02 am 
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Headshot wrote:
rdghuizing wrote:
they should ask themselves what Spires wants

Yeah, but who can figure that out?! The guy is inscrutable! Does he even know what he wants half the time?!

And then, he's got that dead mime poker face.

Wheels within wheels with that guy…. shrug

:wink:

headshot

PS. There have been other Spires stories?! Ah crud! Maybe I should actually read the forum instead of just posting willy nilly. :?

O, I agree that figuring out what Spires wants is always a challenge (even for Spires himself...). I was more commenting on the fact that the envoys were not even trying to figure it out and offering what they would want to get instead. Which is never a good plan. And it turns the whole thing in a bidding war from which only Spires realy benefits.

And once you realise that money is not realy the objective (seeing how he is already sitting on a pile of it anyway, with that ithilmar), then you can start working from there.

There haven't been more Spires stories, except those stuck inside my head. So you haven't missed anything yet. I still plan on writing them down, but I somehow never find the time for it. But as I slowly paint my way through the troops of his army I get a few insights into his mind here and there. There have been some new aditions on that front at least. I will let you know if I ever do put something down on (digital) paper about him.

@Aicanor: have you written down your army fluff somewhere?

Rod

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 10:31 am 
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@ Rod, just a little of it and not of this part of the family. Although the White Guard slowly infiltrates my painting log (they are older than the new book, but it looks like they work well with Sister's rules). I will have to write the family tree down now for the Nagarathi to make fun of. :twisted:
After I am done with my shamefully unfinished story... :oops:

Spires needs someone to help him get the ithilmar to potential buyers first. I guess he'll go from there. :mrgreen:

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 1:14 pm 
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Feck I'm late to the party, glad to see the shapely one back and a representative of Yvresse.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:00 pm 
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Damnit Talossar! Don't stutter so much, makes us look weak!

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 6:18 pm 
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@Tiralya

Hi T! Glad to see you, and welcome back! I was starting to worry that ulthuan.net had lost you. Good to see that you are still kicking around here. :D

@Cal

Yeah, well y'know yelling at the poor boy is not going to help the stuttering. [-X

Or maybe Mal should just think of streamlining his twelve pages of titles/accolades, hmmm? Must get awfully burdensome for the court heralds….

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 01, 2013 8:09 pm 
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Headshot wrote:
@Cal

Yeah, well y'know yelling at the poor boy is not going to help the stuttering. [-X

Or maybe Mal should just think of streamlining his twelve pages of titles/accolades, hmmm? Must get awfully burdensome for the court heralds….

:wink:

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Bah! If the boy can't remember a few simple titles of glories his uncle has earned...

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 7:21 pm 
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Part 4 – The Druchii Amongst Us


“Druchii! Here?! How??!” Ailana exclaimed

She was standing in her chambers, having just finished washing and changing for the day; though given the late night it was already past noon. Bladelord Tytus stood just inside the chamber’s closed door, watching from a respectful distance. And standing before her was the Eatainian Sword, Lothello.

“The colonial guards say that a patrol found them out in the desert,” Lothello answered looking both exhausted and befuddled. “They were holding them under guard for the Minister’s arrival. After…last night…they checked the cells to find one missing.”

“By Asuryan!” Ailana covered her mouth. “You think…?”

Lothello nodded and shrugged at the same time, his face composed but his posture was that of an elf sleepwalking. He seemed stunned by the turn of events. And for good reason: the envoy had been his brother. And yet, when Ailana had first seen Lothello that morning, witnessed the sheer grief written across his face, she had been startled. Her own surprise had disquieted her, and made her a little ashamed of herself. It was just that she had become so accustomed to the Eatainian people – their ready humor and quick wit, coupled with an adventurous spirit and a willingness to laugh at adversity – that to see the powerful sadness and dejection in one….

She had to correct herself; they were Asur too. And like most Asur, much of what was seen was a façade. Of course Lothello felt the loss of his brother as deeply as any Sapheri….

Ailana reached out and laid a comforting hand on the warrior’s shoulder. “I am sorry. If there is anything I can do….”

“Actually, my lady, there is,” the warrior said with a grimace. “The guard have spent the morning searching the tower floor to floor, and found nothing. Soon Harkonn will lead a party to scour the surrounding desert for the Druchii escapee. I will go with him.”

“You?” Ailana puzzled.

“Yes. I am…was…kin-guard to an emissary. I have the Right of Inquiry in this,” Lothello explained. “I will accompany the colonials in their search. And make sure this Druchii is brought to justice.”

“Of course,” Ailana nodded. She knew the laws of emissary better than most, having spent some time at the Tower studying them before her current appointment. The Right of Inquiry was one of the oldest, dating to the clan practices of the time before Aenarion. The Right of Inquiry stated that in the event of a death at council, the surviving member of the embassy had the right to investigate the death and demand justice and compensation of the host. It was a practice that dated from a more barbaric time when assassination was not unknown among the Asur. Fortunately it was little used these days. Still, the custom remained.

Lothello continued:

“And if I may be so bold as to ask, is it possible that my lady be of the Celestial School? A Starseer? I know that many Saphery ambassadors are,” he finished hopefully.

Ailana nodded once more. Lothello looked relieved and said, “Then if we do not find the escapee this day, I may have to ask for your assistance. Though Harkonn assures me he couldn’t have gotten far,” he hastened to add.

“I understand,” Ailana said, and did. In Saphery the Starseers of the Celestial School of magic were those gifted with the sight: the ability to read signs and portents in the heavens above, and in the movements of the earth and sky. Some particularly powerful seers could even read the histories of the artifacts of men and elves, seeing the past of the wielders as a vision or dream. Because of their talents for prognostication, the Saphery envoys often were drawn from their ranks. And it wasn’t uncommon for the Wardens of Saphery to come to the Tower and seek the guidance of a Starseer when investigating a crime or disappearance. Some few Seers even became Wardens themselves. It was a path that Ailana had briefly considered, before the demands of Tor Irian intervened.

“I will help however I can,” she added.

“Thank you Lady Ailana. As I said before, I hope your assistance will not be needed. But…I am grateful nonetheless,” Lothello said. He stood there, not directly looking at her as he did so, still seeming distracted and confused. “I…” he began, then stopped. With a shake of his head, he continued. “I am now Prince Elithmar’s envoy. I have inherited my brother’s duties. And… I ask that… I mean I know that beside Eatain, Saphery is the other most powerful and wealthy negotiator here,” he said, stating the obvious with a bluntness that no true emissary would. “I ask that you do not make any…arrangements…while I am away today.”

“I see,” Ailana said. It was a blunt request, though not unexpected given either the circumstances or the fact that Lothello had neither the experience or training of an envoy. And on the surface a perfectly reasonable request: with the Eatainian’s absence no formal meetings could be held by the remaining emissaries anyways. However, Ailana was an experienced enough envoy to know that the formal rules of these dealings had scarce relation to how decisions were truly made. In the hallways, in the corridors, occasionally, in the bedroom, before and after the official meetings.

More than that, as much as she was personally fond of the Eatainian guard, her first duty was to Tor Irian. She had been sent to gain her House an advantage. And an important one at that.

So she smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way, and gave what she hoped was an equally reassuring nod, knowing that it meant nothing….

***

However, despite the activity of that day, with the under-strength garrison busily searching the many empty rooms and corridors of the tower – a task both frenetic and seemingly impossible - there was little for her personally to do. Most of the other emissaries had withdrawn into their own rooms and their own counsel. Ailana considered doing likewise, but then discovered she was hungry. In short order she found herself in the Tyr’s dining hall, which for some curious colonial reason was called the ‘Galley’.

The room with its long tables was mostly empty. Tytus had accompanied her of course, but with a shake of her head she had let him know that she wasn’t seeking companionship. He stood ever watchful to one side, while she settled down at one of the empty tables with a bowl of the thick sweet fish-stock the citizens of Spires favored. It was disgusting, but she was hungry.

A couple of tables away were the only other occupants of the hall. Seated facing each other were the young Caledorian cripple, and somewhat surprisingly, the beauty from Chrace. They were huddled in a quiet conversation. Ailana couldn’t help herself; as she sipped her soup, she cast her attention their way.

“How did you come to be here, Talossar?” the little redhead asked. She was no longer dressed in the formal gown of last night and instead wore white leathers, stained from long travel. They were so tight as to give ample impression of her figure: the generous curves and fullness of her youthful body. She was probably a century or so younger than Ailana herself, only a few decades from her age of passing, and still had the full cheeks and flushed features of youth. Judging from her attire, she also didn’t seem to have much modesty.

Ailana could only shake her head, remembering what she had heard of the practices of the highlanders of Chrace. How some of their athletic contests were done in the nude. Quite shocking even for the warm weathered south! Not that the Sapheri were particularly known as prudish – they did share a border with Eatain, and its famous wine and dance festivals, afterall – still, she found herself flushing at the maiden’s dress.

“Everyone knows that Caledor has the most ithilmar,” the Chracian girl spoke into Ailana’s musings.

The small Caledorian seemed to be trying very hard not to look at the girl across from him, instead studying his own bowl of fishstock intently, as if getting ready to hide within its salty murk. Ailana could see his burning cheeks even from where she sat. The young cripple gave a little shrug without looking up and said,

“My uncle wants more. He always does….”

“I see,” the elf girl said. This morning her flaming crimson hair was tied in a cascade of Chracian braids. She had wrapped one about her finger and was playing with it while she sat with a puzzled expression on her face. “But why you in particular? I mean, I’m glad you are here, but I’m surprised your uncle would send you.”

Talossar shrugged his crudely shaped shoulders once more. “We weren’t that far away. I mean, I wasn’t. We were in Cathay when the message reached us.”

“Cathay?!” the girl and Ailana both sat up at that remark. “Why-ever were you there?!”

“My uncle was laying siege to the pirate city of Lo Shao,” Talossar explained. “The human pirates had attacked some of our ships. This made my uncle angry. Very angry.” The boy added with a shudder. “He took his entire army there to destroy the pirate fleet. But they withdrew within the city walls, and well….”

“But in Cathay?!” the maiden said echoing Ailana’s thoughts. “Isn’t he worried about war with the Cathay Empire?”

Talossar sipped his soup and shook his head. “My uncle doesn’t think they will intervene. Because it is a pirate city, independent from the Empire. He thinks the Jade Throne will not think it worth intervention. They would risk full-scale war with Ulthuan if they did. So he thinks they will just watch. Well, at least he hopes so….” the boy finished feebly.

Gods! Ailana thought. The arrogance of Caledor. She couldn’t believe that some lord would risk the safety of all of Ulthuan just to punish some pirates!

Then she paused and remembered the Caledorians she had known…. And decided that yes, yes she could believe it afterall.

Though that was a disquieting thought.

“Anyways,” the young Caledorian continued, “They say there are a hundred thousand pirates within the walls of Lo Shao, and my uncle’s army…well isn’t that large. So he told me he didn’t want to send any of his generals to this meeting. He sent me instead,” the boy said with surprising honesty. Honesty that marked him as decidedly poor choice for an envoy, Ailana mused.

“He also told me not to stutter,” the Caledorian finished, looking sheepish and embarrassed.

The Chracian maiden gave him a playful smile and put her hand on the boy’s arm. “I thought you did very well, Talossar.”

At that, the Caledorian took on an expression that Ailana had last witnessed on a puppy….

***

Night had fallen on Tyr Wadi. The patrol had returned empty handed, and Lothello looked dejected. With little more to accomplish or say that evening, Ailana retired to her chambers. She had scarce closed the door and begun to brush the day’s dust from her long hair when there was a knock at the door. She opened it, seeing Tytus there, and alongside him a servant of the Tyr.

“I bring an invite from the Lord Minister,” the servant explained. “He wishes to see you in the council chambers. Alone,” the servant finished with a glance at the large swordmaster.

Tytus looked none too pleased at that, however Ailana was not surprised by the invitation. This was perhaps an opportunity. So she quickly grabbed her robe’s overwrap and fell in behind the servant, after giving Tytus instructions not to wait up for her. He looked even less pleased at that; and she was fairly certain that those were one set of orders that he would not obey.

The servant led her to the tower peak once more. The chamber was as yesterday except the only occupant currently was the shaven headed colonial scholar-minister. He sat to one side of the table, but stood upon her entry.

“Lady Ailana,” he greeted. “Thank you for coming to meet with me. I was hoping that we might perhaps discuss some matters in private. Away from the bedlam of the meetings.” He gestured to the table near where he had been sitting. A decanter was set there, as were two crystal goblets. Ailana entered and took the offered chair. The servant departed and closed the door as he left.

Ailana savored the wine offered. “A Saphery red?” she said feeling moderately impressed.

“Yes. Bottled in the time of Aethis,” he answered, referring to the reign of the Phoenix King over a thousand years before. “We are not savages here in the colonies,” the minister added as he refilled her glass. “We have a great appreciation for the finer things Ulthuan has to offer. Some of us are even old enough to have fond memories of the homeland itself,” he finished.

Ailana looked at him appraisingly. “You are from Saphery?” she queried curiously.

“Yes, I was born there. Among the Rocks of Farendel, the ‘three corners’,” he answered with a wistful smile, referring to the rugged hilly region in Saphery’s south: the ‘three corners’ where Saphery, Eataine, and Yvresse met. “When I was a boy, I had many a pleasant jaunt across the borders to steal grapes from the vines of our Eatainian neighbors…..” he said, and his elder eyes became lost in a mirthful reverie. After a few seconds he continued with a smile, “The Eatainian lord caught me once and gave me such a thrashing it was four days before I could walk again!” he said and laughed. “Though this was an age and a half ago,” he murmured and returned to his seat.

“How does a boy from the Farendel Hills wind up across the world in the colonies?” Ailana asked, a mixture of curiosity and politeness, wanting to keep the Minister speaking while she figured out his game.

“I’m afraid that would be quite the tale to tell,” he answered without irritation. “For another time perhaps.” The smile slipped slightly from his features, and he said, “Suffice to say that I was in need… and the Prince of Spires took me in, and recognized my potential.”

“I see,” Ailana responded. She added her most understanding smile; wanting to put the minister at his ease.

“It is pleasant to hear the old words, the old phrases, in your speech, Lady Ailana” the minister said after a moment. “And it gives great comfort to an old elf like myself to know that some things from my childhood continue still.”

Ailana nodded again, and held her smile, and waited. After another moment:

“It is as you said yesterday, quite eloquently I might add, that the City of Spires and Saphery have a long history. Tor Irian in particular has been a close trading partner since the War.”

The War, Ailana mused. That always could only mean one thing for most Asur: the great invasion of the Druchii armies. The Dark Elves of the Land of Chill had laid waste to much of Ulthuan some centuries prior; even managing to besiege Tor Irian itself: the Rainbow Citadel, the ancient keep that dominated the Bay of Irian from atop the cascading cliffs and falls which overlooked the bay and gave a many league deep view of the placid waters of the Sea of Dreams, she of the iridescent colors and night glows green, blue and gold. It was during the War in Saphery that the armies of the Asur had finally united and been able to drive the invaders back. A fact that the peoples of Sapheri took great pride in.

And it was shortly after those climatic battles that her House had begun to invest more heavily in trade with the colonies: seeking the resources to rebuild that which had been lost. Her grandfather, a great wizard lord of Saphery, had been equally famous for his magic and eccentricities. The latter having resulted in a certain isolation of the Tor from the rest of the kingdom. However after he fell in the war, the House took on something of a new direction, reaching out to others beyond their borders, and trying to strengthen old bonds that had been long neglected.

And yes, they had started trade with the colonies. Spires among many others. For despite the war, Saphery was wealthy. Tor Irian was wealthy; and could easily afford the fine wares, luxury spices, and raw building materials that the colonies provided.

But ithilmar…. That was something else entirely.

“The people of Spires have long accounted the people of Tor Irian as friends as well as trading partners,” the minister continued, cup in hand. “My prince in particular thinks very highly of your House. Very highly indeed.”

A silence descended after that announcement. Ailana waited, expecting ‘it’ to come – some hinting of the Minister’s intentions – and yet as the silence stretched into minutes, she began to wonder what this meeting was really all about.

“It would be very agreeable if we could then make arrangements to the benefits of both our Houses,” she stated a vague pleasantry, hoping to prompt the elder elf. The tone of the statement was careful: she had referred to the City of Spires as a House, even though as a colonial union it was far from being one of the Great Houses of Ulthuan. Far indeed! Especially from the elder line of Irian; a family that accounted many wizard lords from Saphery’s past, and could number two brothers amongst the peerage of Aenarion himself! Within those simple words she uttered were buried both the generosity of treating the servant of Spires as an equal partner, but also the reminder of how much the pleasantry elevated the elf’s station.

The minister paused, and the tight expression on his face showed that the message, in all its import, had been received.

“Yes, indeed it would,” the shaven headed scholar-minister said, keeping his own tone neutral. He sloshed the wine around in his glass and studied the ripples and movements within for a few seconds. Then he said,

“In fact it is my lord’s most fervent desire to strengthen the ties between our houses. To further embolden the bonds between our two kingdoms.”

Hmmmm…this was it then. The reason for this private meeting. But…she still could not understand the meaning. Tor Irian and Spires already were closely bound through trade. And there was no enmity to speak of.

Perhaps, she mused, this was in relation to the rumors that Spires was heading a faction of colonial lords seeking a position on the Conclave? The Prince’s Conclave was one of the most important governing bodies in the Ever Empire, just beneath the Phoenix King himself in importance. In fact, one of the most important roles of the Conclave was nominating the successor following the passing of a King. It’s membership was strictly limited to the heads of the Great Houses of Ulthuan, those of the Ten Kingdoms, who by custom and history had united in the first founding of the Empire. That founding though had been over four thousand years before and there were some that said the Empire needed to change with the times. Now that more and more wealth and resources were flowing from the colonies to Ulthuan, as well as a larger portion of the royal levy and fleet were drawn from colonial sources, some argued that the colonial lords deserved seats on the Conclave. Despite their questionable qualities of blood, and history….

And history mattered to the Asur; it meant loyalty. Other factions wondered at the colonial lords true dedication to the Empire; beyond mere mercantile interest. Afterall they hadn’t stood shoulder to shoulder with Aenarion during the Great Rift and the coming of Chaos. Nor during The War were they much assistance against the Dark Elves. During those years Ulthuan had lost contact with most of the colonies as Lothern lay under siege and the fleets were needed to fight the battles in the northern oceans. It was later learned that the colonies themselves were not spared of the Witch King’s wrath. Several, like the City of Spires, had seen the coming of Dark Elf armies. Yet, the detractors still pointed to the absence of the colonial lords and levies from the walls defending Ulthuan. That they were, in fact, a drain on the resources of the Ten Kingdoms. That once more, as the Empire had done during the war with the Dawii, the colonies should be abandoned and the soldiers and craftsmen returned to repopulate the undermanned keeps and Tors of the homeland.

Others of course pointed to the wealth and growing population of the colonies as a core strength of the Empire. It was a question not likely to be solved any time soon. And perhaps, it was a question that explained Ailana’s presence in the meeting chambers that evening. Tor Irian’s voice in support of a recognition of the colonies could sway the balance within the Conclave.

Ailana frowned. “An alliance is what you seek?” she asked, turning it over in her head. She decided to prod further, hoping to get the Minister to betray more of his hand, and said, “Beyond a trade agreement? We of course would honor the will of the Phoenix against the enemies of the crown, and come to the aid of Spires against any outside foe. That you have no fear of. So against what enemy would you need Irian’s aid?” she said, and watched the minister with hooded eyes.

The Minister shook his head. “Spires does not seek another contract between us. We are swimming already in trade contracts,” he added with a chuckle that was strangely mirthless. “And as you saw yesterday, there is no shortage of offers for more alliances, military and otherwise.” There was a knowing in the look he sent her with that statement; a reminder that it was Spires that held the advantage in these negotiations. The other kingdoms were practically falling over themselves to become new friends with the colonial city…and the minister wanted to remind her of that fact. Ailana kept her features settled and waited.

“No, what we seek is something beyond lines on paper. Beyond signatures and legers.” The Minister spoke with a smile and a shake of his head; though his eyes burned into hers.

“We seek an alliance in blood,” he finished, and sipped his wine.

Ailana sat back, stunned. Could he have just proposed what she thought???

“Are you suggesting…?” she said carefully.

The Minister nodded and reached under the table. He withdrew a small, rectangular shaped box fashioned of polished teakwood, engraved with fixtures wrought of silver. He slid the box across the table towards her. Ailana opened it, transfixed by the beauty of the coffer, and couldn’t suppress the gasp that resulted when she saw its contents.

A single rose, lifelike in its proportions and detail, wrought from luminescent ithilmar!

She stared at it, lying there on a velvet lining, watching how the metal gave off a glow reminiscent of starlight. How the blossoms were carefully arranged such that they perfectly depicted the curve and shape of the living flower. And there nestled amongst the petals were a string of glistening blue diamonds.

The craftsmanship. The material. The contents of the box was worth a small fortune. Perhaps the cost of an Eagleship… Or more!

“The Prince of Spires has long been an admirer of your noble cousin’s many qualities,” the minister intoned, studying her face while he spoke. “He is earnest in his desire that his affection be made known.”

Ailana shook her head and flushed. The impudence!

“The virtue of Saphery can not be bought with baubles, Minister,” she said, feeling the flame in her cheeks.

The pleasant expression slipped slightly from the colonial’s face. “Then you mistake my lord’s intent.” Nodding towards the small coffer, he said,

“This is a gift, freely given, from the Prince of Spires to the Princess of Tor Irian. Simply an expression of the Prince of Spires’ admiration and affection for your noble cousin. Nothing more.”

Right, Ailana thought sardonically. A gift of this magnitude only came with certain expectations attached.

“It is a gift that my lord hopes that you will faithfully convey,” the Minister continued. “As he hopes that you will convey the idea of the many benefits that would result…”

“…from a merger of our two Houses.”


***


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 7:58 pm 
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Bwahaha only a hundred thousand pirates?!

Fools.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 8:32 pm 
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Well played Sir
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Feck, Spires is a sneaky bastard. Sick of waiting to gain access to the conclave, he seeks another route.

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