A Hymn For Thuraya - 02 - The Rifleman (deux)

Morning moves swiftly past in the mountains. With the sun rising later than it does elsewhere, noon gains many newcomers unawares. However, with the mining and hunting parties of the city gone well before, the bakers traders and merchants are free to conduct business at liesure during the long, langourous afternoon and early evening. Shortly after noon, the first of the caravans began to filter their way into the town from the lower plateaus where many would have made their last camp at any of the vast network of walled steadings built ages ago to provide safe harbour for those who travelled.
One caravan, however, came much later in the day - far after the usual traffic had dispersed and the many stables had filled, the marketplaces nearly empty. Three small carriages escorted by a dozen massive men on equally massive mounts ambled through the gates, keeping to the shadows of buildings and striking straight and true for the centre of the town, veering off on the bakers' roads, making for the Rifleman.
Auss and his staff were ready. The orders had been set, excess patrons shuffled out, and only those necessary for trade had been invited to a private dinner in the major court of the Rifleman. Auss himself was lounging in the court, at a table nearest the door, when the caravan creaked to a halt before the public house.
"About time," the one-handed innkeeper rumbled as the lead rider slipped from his squat, broad packbeast and strode toward him across the court.
"We were attacked," the man mused in soft, sibilant tones heavily accented and denoting a gutteral mother tongue. "Dar'gool took two of my riders." He smiled, wryly. "I now have a brace of Shavak aurochs for sale," he added.
"You're a cold man, Porphigaul," Auss grumbled, kicking out a seat for the warrior tradesman.
Porphigaul nodded in acceptance, the russet hair that made up his aggressive crest falling to shade his bright green eyes. He had changed little in the months since Auss had last seen him. Still the heavy leggings, knee-high boots ribbed with bronze; deep hunter's greens for tunic and coat which, Auss noted, had been extended again, the hemline now rippling about Porphigaul's knees.
"This," the plainsman said gently, raising a gloved hand toward the van, "is Cassael. He is Jaunryn's replacement among the Soren."
Auss scowled as he picked among the crew of the van for this new banker, his temper still high. Jaunryn had aided him for years - the two men had been friends until his sudden recall to the bank's root in Blackmoar. He did not like to think the bank had so quickly replaced the man who had been liaison to this province for more than thirty years, and he did not think that others in the town who associated with the Soren would, either. How could he be sure he would be able to deal with this one? A stranger, handling the better portion of the Rifleman's money, protecting it against fraud and harm.
And then he found the man, this Cassael. And he knew. No trust would be accorded him.
Smallish, for a banker - perhaps only Maran's own height, and just as wide, Cassael of the Soren stood brushing the flanks of his stout Shavakti mount, paying little attention to the world around him. He was wrapped wholly in black - or some colour deep enough in shade to look black in the failing light. Leather, silks and charred wood were the major facets of his wardrobe. And bronze. Shoulders, arms, hands and shins were all hidden underneath burnished Tai'char steel, the red-gold bronze peddled on the edges of the larger cities. He was affluent, this one, a fanatic for public show to bear such oppulence so cassually. No, Auss decided tightly. He and this new pup would not get along at all.
"I am told," Porphigaul took up with little pause, reaching for the steaming mug of tea Maran had ready for him, "that there is a pair here who wish passage into the Kajir. This is correct?"
How Gaul knew this was beyond Maran, but in his stupor of frustration he simply nodded assent.
"I will take them."
At that, Auss' eyebrows rose. "Truly?" he said with no false amusement.
"Yes," Porphigaul nodded. "Cassael and I are headed there, once we have unburdened ourselves of trade goods and taken on a few guards. My brother will be one of them," he added then, a thing placed as an afterthought, but meant to be the heart of his words.
Auss nodded slowly. Kintere would go, if he could be sobered before the journey. Anything to get the blasted boy away from the ale. He looked back toward the van, his heat rising once more to see Cassael, bronze vambraces crossed over his broad chest. Arrogant.
"I'll have word brought to them, then. Tere's inside, if you want to see him."
Now it was Porphigaul's turn to nod dumbly. The two sat quietly for a moment, sipping their tea, before the plainsman stood, made a gesture to his caravan's quartermaster, and spun away to slip through the main door and into the common room of the public house.
Auss, for his part, simply sat, refilling his tea mug from the small pot on the table.
"Looks to be an interesting few days," he muttered to himself as the majority of the van, the banker included, began to pour themselves into the stables at the side of the inn's complex.
  • Current Music
    Colin James - Far Away Like a Radio

A Hymn For Thuraya - 02 - The Rifleman

With morning dawning on Cile'saeri, the town finally seemed to settle down into what must have been the normal routine. The smells of bakers slaving over their ovens filled the streets as thoroughly as the sound of merchants setting up their stalls in the markets ruined the quiet of the early day. The night watch was pulled in by the same bell that sent the day watch meandering off toward the walls. The night and its routine of brawls, assaults and over loud celebration surged away like a bad dream upon waking, leaving those not sleeping to make sense of the random detritus in the streets, faun over broken windows, and sigh over petty, meaningless theft.

For the Rifleman, nearly every day began the same way. Auss Maran was up before the dawn, loping down the street to the baker who supplied the bar with its breads and kippers and, on the way back, picking up the sledge he had left with the vinter on the way. Like clockwork, every day, Auss burst back in the door of his Inn and began issuing orders - the same ones, usually; bread goes to the baskets, wine into the cellar, kippers in their assorted jars and so on. Most of his boys and girls knew their orders without even hearing them, but that didn't matter much. Auss had been sick once in the time he had been running the Inn and, for almost an entire day, no one knew what to do. Auss had taken measures to make sure that never happened again, and most of his staff remembered those measures with tender pokes at afflicted areas.

This morning was little different, however. With the dawn, the formidable Auss burst in the door and began booming orders. This morning, however, an intensely hung over Kintere bolted upright at the table he'd been using for a pillow and, in a startled frenzy screamed, hurling his empty mug toward the door. It struck the barman's palm and hung, as if shocked still in thin air, for a short moment before careering to the ground.

"Were not your brother coming to town," Auss rumbled, index finger straight as a ramrod pointing between Kintere's eyes from twenty feet away. "I would lay you down, boy. But Porphigaul is a partner in my business and you'd best not forget that he is the only reason you yet live in the manner I allow you to."

No mention of Kintere's father. The young warrior snorted and made to wake himself more rightly as the barman moved off as per his routine. Kintere brushed back at his hair with an ivory comb, teasing the crest of ruddy brown to something approaching straightness. His clothing was no more or less dishevveled than it ever was, so he did not concern himself with that. Only with the mace laying beside him on the floor. As if it were a babe, the plainsman picked up the harnessed monstrosity and slung it over his back. The mace itself barely resembled its namesake; it was more of a spiked bat, its two serrated ridges forming a small 'tee' out from its heavy head. Settling its weight against his shoulders sobered Kintere. It reminded him of purpose, of reason - and of work. There was always work, even for a layabout such as himself. He had yet to prove himself to either his brother, or their father.

Father. Levgaius, chieftain among the Shavakti. No man among the plainsmen commanded so much respect as Levgaius, save perhaps his first son, Porphigaul. Gaul was a trader - a rarity among the Shavakti, but a growing necessity. He traded with a dozen towns along the western edge of Largo's Rift, including Cile'saeri, and brought much to the wealth of the Shavakti. Levgaius led his people in war, Porphigaul led them in trade. And Kintere? Kintere had slain a dargool. He, lowliest among his tribe's warriors, had somehow managed to kill a massive drone dargool, had dragged it to Cile'saeri, and had an artisan in the town construct for him his monstrous mace, and weave for him armour out of the beast's scales. For this he was praised among his people.

For this he had remained in Cile'saeri for the last three years, refusing to return home. Oh, Porphigaul had enjoined him thoroughly, tempted him with a position in his caravan. But Kintere remained steadfast. There was future here, he had told his brother. There was wealth, and honor. There was glory to be found, and respect among the miners' guards. And Porphigaul believed him, once. But no longer. Now, Kintere was just a drunk with a nice suit of clothes and a mean look in his eyes.

And so, as he did every morning Porphigaul was due, he cleaned himself, dressed in his dargool-scale finery, and promptly drank himself to sleep at the same table he had woken in.
  • Current Music
    Wolf Mother - Say Hello

A Hymn For Thuraya - 01 - Cile'saeri

As border towns go, there wasn't much that could be said about Cile'saeri that could not be said about almost any other of the half-dozen trade and mining downs lining the passes between lower Domar and the Kajir. Largo's Rift, the great spine separating the western prairies and hills of Domar from the arid wastes of the northern Kajir to the east, was considered by most to be completely impassable, save at the smattering of low, intentionally worn-down passes which, for the most part, had been colonized by Domar during its expansionist periods. Not too many people ever bothered making the journey up to these towns unless it was to trade, to embark on the long descent to the Kajir, or to join the massive crews of workers and guards mining out the many ores from the Rift.

Even then, the majority of those who did make the journey were by and large considered mad. Dozens of dargool nests lined the mountains and had for centuries - it was one of the few breeding grounds left for the beasts, outside of the great mountains far to the west, which spanned between Morsatti and Tamar Kamine on the coast. Less than a hundred years, Domar has been in the Rift. Before that were the civil unrests known as the Troubles, which had come quick on the heels of the Iron Empire War and the Shad Hazar War. Domar - indeed much of Aragos - had spent a long time recovering from those conflicts and, true to form, its diverse cultures had quickly settled into a sullen pace akin to stagnation once they couldn't think of anything more to fight over. The last major conflict recorded had been between a pair of Banks, after all. Who cared about banks fighting, when drops had failed in most of Lashan the same year? Domar, having had good relations with Lashan, sent relief at cost which stirred up annoyance in both Calizar and Morsatti, both of whom had their own troubles with one or the other kingdom for whatever reasons they felt were important.

And that's about how close history and current events got, in Cile'saeri. Common sense, mild distaste for the foolishness of the oppulent cities. Distrust for anything more complex than a meal or a sword. The town itself remained in relatively good shape, dispite the crop failures and drought elsewhere. Trade over the mountains with the Kajirden empires remained nothing if quiet. A few caravans per season, little more. No news, reticent desert men. From the west there was always news. Always travellers, fodder for the mines.

Dargool took nearly an eighth of the total head count in a given mine during an average warm season - every year nearly seven hundred men died in the mines or between them and the town supporting them, whether by roving dargool drones, or by digging through the wall of a hive and meeting unexpected guests. The mines always needed workers, and able warriors, and so both came with teh hope of something visceral to give their lives meaning. No one in the town proper ever asked questions of such people. Few would even put up with them - miners only came down from the ridges every fortnight, but when they did, they tended to be rowdy, rude and do a lot of damage.But they paid good money, and a number of merchants and tavern keepers in the town knew this well. One of them was Auss Maran.

Auss Maran was an imposing figure. Nearly seven feet tall, broad as a bull and nearly as sour-faced. Auss had once been a Rifleman in the ranks of Domar's elite - until he had lost his left hand to a dargool just up the road from Cile'saeri, and with it his ability to use the dread weapon. Legend had it that Auss had killed the dargool by putting out its eye with the jagged end of his arm bones. He had dragged himself into the town and - somehow - engendered himself thoroughly enough with one of the local innkeepers to buy out the Inn when the man died two years later. For all the nearly twenty years since, the rough, massive inn and public house crouched like a brooding lizard on the south-west edge of the town had been known as The Rifleman. No one had ever accused Auss Maran of being subtle.

Among the many who frequented the Inn itself were the miners, their guards, and the many of Auss' serving girls who did their absolute best to keep the miners happy. There were also many foreigners - Kajirden were wont to squat the rooms whenever they came to town, as were some of the less dignified dignitaries from both Calizar and Domar. And the tribesmen.
Cile'saeri itself was a noman's land. Resting not so far south as to be out of reach from Calizar, and not so far into the mountains that the plainsmen of Pelios to the south could not seek it out, it truly served all kinds - a sort of hub for the eastern end of Aragos. Indeed, the chieftains of the Peliosean and Shavakti tribes often sent their sons there to learn, to become fierce at the cruel ministrations of the dargool. One such chieftain, Levgaius of the Shavakti, had sent two sons there.
His eldest, Porphigaul, was a natural leader. Having spent a season in the miners' guards, he grew to respect in his prowess, but it was his mind which had grown the most in Cile'saeri. He had spent the next five years fostering business relationships and trade agreements with many of the city's leaders, becoming in effect the Shavakti ambassador to Domar.

The younger, however, was a different story. Kintere Slayer was a fighter. Not just a soldier, he was a brawler, a mad dog. He had come on the heels of his brother, entering the ranks of the guards - and then had never left. Immaculate of skill, he was welcomed in any camp he strode through, paid well by the mine foremen for his flawless protection of every charge he had ever carried. This, however, was when he got to work. Most of the time, he spent quiet afternoons in the Rifleman drinking away his earnings with voracious abandon, his eyes wandering amongst the serving girls though - to Auss annoyance - his hands never followed suit.

Little bothered the town. The patterns very rarely shifted. Men and women could spend years doing the same things day in and day out and not notice. Many did. However, patterns break, and eventually things begin to happen that fall out of peoples' experience. And, for Cile'saeri, this begins to happen during the last long shut-down of the mines before winter, three hundred eighty-three years after the Shad Hazar War.

((Crazy go nuts, people!))
  • Current Music
    KT Tunstall - Black Horse and the Cherry Tree

A Hymn for Thuraya - Prologue - Rifts

Dust settled in clumps and motes, fearful of the burgeoning rain crowding its way in aside shafts of light through the broken, partially collapsed roof of the Great Chamber. Rileck ai'Jaunryn, little more than a name reclaimed amongst the lists of those lost during the war, sat perched on one of the fallen spires which had made up the huge Stone Circle of the violet tyrant, the Twilight Knight. Dizzy, unsettled, he studied the red tattoos on the backs of his hands with mute dissatisfaction, still trying to piece together all that had happened.
It's done, he thought to himself. Over. We can go home.
He couldn't. He knew better. But the others could, most of them. Looking up, he saw Walker Flynn, Captain of the Domaran Riflemen ushering out the last of his agents alongside Damien Dayne, one of Rileck's own. They would be fine. Dayne had surpassed the requirements of his release, and now would return to Han Vessa a free man, Ti'Ra of Vehim's Path. Flynn would likely be stuck in the courts when he returned to Domar - his father, the Earl of Rue, had passed on weeks ago. Flynn had much to deal with and much time to deal with it in.
"Old man," a voice below boomed up at him. Rileck looked down between his feet and frowned. Grantes Maleron, white hair singed to grey and curling in the damn air grinned up at him from where he lay on the floor. He was being tended to by Rhayd, the Priestess of Nef who had trailed the warrior for the last three years. She was rebuilding his pulped left foot, having tugged the man from underneath a fallen spire.
"Seems like we're both doomed to obscurity," Rileck muttered as he lept down from his perch, coming to rest crouching beside Grantes' shoulder.
"Aye. I'm happy for it," the fallen warrior whispered, eyes closing.
"Oh? How did you fall upon that conclusion?"
"He can start over, now," Rhayd returned, smiling from under her cowl. "We can start over."
Rileck's only answer was a smile. Rhayd and Grantes had been facing off since they had met at the beginning of this infernal ordeal, so it wasn't too much of a surprise.
"I need a new name, anyway," Grantes muttered weakly - then grunted as Rhayd twisted a little too hard on his leg.
"A new name?" Rileck querried, not fully understanding.
"Yes," Rhayd whispered solomnly. "I am, after all, an adherant to Grimuard. Now, at least," she added with a soft touch on Grantes' hand. "If we marry, I own Grantes. It is law."
This made Rileck a little dizzy. Surely, at some time, this had come up before. But an adherant of Grimuardian Law among the followers of Nef? There was something truly strange about this Rhayd. "You bear no crovex," the black-haired warrior found himself saying. "What House holds you? Why have we not heard?"
Rhayd simply smiled.
"Old man," Grantes said slowly, opening his eyes. "My name. Maleron. You don't know it, do you? Last prince of Grimuard. D'arcy Maleron. Come on, old man, I know you've missed a lot, but this is a little too backward even for you."
Rileck rocked back against the pillar, raising a hand to brush offending hair from his brow.
"Which brings us to the next point," Rhayd said softly, looking up from her now-finished healing. "We need a place to live."
With Grantes and Rhayd both leering at him, Rileck could do nothing but laugh and shrug.
"Fine!" He bellowed, raising his hands in a futile gesture. "How am I to introduce you, then? And to whome? I certainly cannot return home, not with these marks on my hands."
"What about Dayne and Journey? Both are returning to Han Vessa, I gather. You need not exhert yourself beyond them, old man."
Rileck considered that for a moment. True, both would return, but both were marred by their association with him. No, not by their association with him - with Shad Hazar. His other half. Rileck scratched at the red marks on his hands absently. They would not do well by themselves to bring home a pair of strangers - and human strangers at that - into the halls and cloisters of D'nan Han Vessa.
"No," he said finally, w pall of frustration and sadness settling over him. "Not them. There is one more who will still listen to me. It'll be a bit out of your way, but at least I can go with you."
"To where?" Rhayd asked.
"Tamar Kamine, on the banks of the Antama Ocean. I have - an old friend, there. He can guide you back to Han Vessa without too much upheaval when his return is due next spring."
"I've never been to Tamar," Grantes said whistfully, looking up at Rhayd with weak laughter in his eyes. She nodded, then looked to Rileck, approving of the plan.
"Very well," the aged warrior acquiesced, clenching his fists just to stop itching. "But if you are to take new names, it must happen now. And we must leave before the dawn. Otherwise there will be questions I don't have much interest in answering."
"I am not in need of a new name," Rhayd said with finality, resting her pale hand on Grantes' bared chest. "But you are, Grant. You know the name. The Angel gave it to you, didn't it?"
Grantes nodded, his eyes closing. The Angel of the Gate, the thing that had begun this terrible mess so many years ago. The black sword that had given Grantes his white hair, given him back his youthful countenance and made him into a frightening, bestial warrior.
"I do," he said finally. "Arkady."
"Very well," Rhayd whispered with a weak smile, grasping her man's hand and raising it toward Rileck. "Rileck ai'Jaunryn, head of House Darkangel, I present you with Arkady Thuraya, Lord of House Maleron and heir of Grimuard. My husband."

They were away before dawn, three dark figures huddled into the backs of their horses. Three names disappeared from history, then: Grantes Maleron, last wielder of Grehl, the Angel of the Gate; Rhayd Thuraya, Priestess of Nef; and Rileck ai'Jaunryn who was known as Shad Hazar, killer of gods. It would be a long time before these names mean much to anyone other than rogue historians, but Thuraya - an unknown, essentially unhistorical name, would eventually become one of the underpinnings for the return of the Grimuard Empire. But not, as it would happen, on purpose.
  • Current Music
    Japanese Traditional - Sakura (Flute)

"Domarai, The Mountain of Black Fire" - An Anthropological Study, by Riggor Zahn

"Domarai, located in the central-southern plains region of western Aragos, has long been thought of as a wayfarer's paradise. Resting as it does between Pelios (south), Guist (North-east), Lashan (North), Blackmoar (North-west) and bordered on the west by the ocean and on the east by Amthar's Rift, the wide, sprawling emirate has long been a bastion of trade and a melting pot of cultures. It has passed through many differing governments, dictatorships and even theocracies nearly unscathed since its founding shortly after the fall of Grimuard and, partly because of this, may be overlooked by many historians as a featureless and altogether unnoteworthy place. This could not be further from the truth.

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"Which leaves us with Domarai as it stands now, nearly eight years after the War of the Tainted and the conversion from electoral democracy to the uneasy Dukedom under the rule of a D'nan duke for the Tai'Char royalty. Not a simple situation, nor a quiet and comfortable one. The people grow restless, yearning for a return to the simpler, more understandable pragmatism of their forebearers. Fractious mulitant factions are being put down slowly by the Shadow Vipers - the city's police - and their rural counterparts the Ophidian Guard. The Tai'Char are moving, aiming to choose a new heir and, it is rumoured, the Ren'ai of Han Vessa aim to play a part in the choosing. Difficult time to be Domaran, yes - but an exciting time for an historian."

~This report given the Twenty-fourth day of Luratte, the year Nine-hundred-eighty-three after the Fall of Grimuard.
Prepared, written and presented by Riggor Zahn, Historian to the University of Domar, Sixth among the Praetorian Guard~

  • Current Music
    Ferry Corsten vs The Thrillseekers - Sublime

Humans

The race of man is an interesting thing on Aragos; a study of contradiction, as it were, though not wholly different from what we know as man on other planes - even our own. Not so long-lived as the D'nan, and much less powerful than the Kargari, man bears its own distinctions, and they have thus far been enough to bear them through all the trials of the world, especially when set in comparisson to the other races they have competed against for cultural dominance.

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That's all I can think of on humans for now. It's late, and I'm sleepy.
  • Current Music
    Jan Johnston - Unafraid (Paul Oakenfold Mix)

"Once, There Was..." - An Historical Review of Aragos, by Riggor Zahn

"Once, there was a world named Aragos. Now, this is how the people of Aragos thoguht of it, but the world itself was not Aragos - that name can be applied only to the northern major continent of the world, in which our tale will take place. Other continents, regions on this world also might be considered "the" world, by their people, but only insofar as there has as yet been no major cross-continental communication, save the two disparate migrations of a race known as the D'nan, from a continent labeled by Aragos historians as Dnanshin. There is also the land of the Ossaquai - unnamed because of its small, relatively unnoticed role in current history. But more on these regions and the roles they will play later.

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"Which brings us, roughly, to 'now.' Almost five thousand years after the fall of Kargarouth, and what have we learned? Well, for starters there hasn't been a unifying nation since the end of Grimuard which is how we've all kept so well out of trouble. The Tai'Char have been coaxed out of their complete Xenophobia by the Vessite Na'ai, strangely enough, who have also presented themselves and become much more transparent since the breaking of the Tainted - a subject I'll go into with excrutiating detail as well, later on. Domarai is no longer ruled by Senate, but by a Duke named by the Tai'Char king of all people, and Guist is still rebuilding after the near-destruction of Calazar. So things are, for the time being, calm on Aragos despite our myriad intrigues. It never lasts, we all know this. What we don't know, is not if - but when, and how badly things will begin to fall apart all over again."

~This report given the Eighth day of Solamne, the year Nine-hundred-eighty-three after the Fall of Grimuard.
Prepared, written and presented by Riggor Zahn, Historian to the University of Domar, Sixth among the Praetorian Guard~

  • Current Music
    BT - Satellite

the Spire of Ker'tal'Ayn

Daewar ai'Masaurean had been in the city for nearly two hours by the time Lerin and Arkady arrived, their various charges and the Knights Errant in tow. The Lord of Talwen's Path didn't so much lift himself from the bench he had claimed, as he did unfold the way tectonic plates might be said to unfold.
"Warprince."
"Pen'Ra."
"I believe we're waiting for one more, Warprince. And then we can join your father."
"Oh? Whom?"
"The Spire of Ker'tal'Ayn."
That stopped the knight cold.
Daewar waitied.
"I've two heirs-possible with me."
"Oh?" the massive warrior said softly, looking back to the party, where waited the golden eyed youth and a tall, leather-clad figure. "Which ones?"
"Treskal Tarraux," Lerin said warily, "and a young one known as Varick Thuraya. He is the Son of Ti'Ra'Vehim Arkady Thuraya."
Daewar's vision blurred for a moment, and the Pen'Ra was forced to lean against the wall.
"Vehim?" he whispered, looking slowly toward the Warlock. "He is no Vehim. Arkady Thuraya is Quo'Ra'Sebrithael. He is Spirian de'Navak's second!"
"I know," Lerin whispered, stepping close. "But few others do. For now, he is a Null, Diæ'uar. He is no one. He has a name only because Azar-ahel granted him one. Do you understand."
"When I knew Gra-"
"Hiss!" the Warprince cut off the big man, slamming an iron clad fist into the warrior's stomach to accentuate the need for silence. "Arkady. Thuraya. Is Ti'Ra'Vehim, under Quo'Ra Shad Hazar."
Long, slow breaths drew Daewar back to himself. He nodded. He stood on his own, and pushed away from the wall, his eyes turning to the dark, soaring clouds.
"So," he said at length. "Bring the heirs forward. Treskal first. I will meet this Varick Thuraya later."
Lerin nodded, and turned back toward the war party, gesturing to Firedrake to come and introduce himself.
  • Current Music
    American Dad

Fire on the Mount (Continued)

With the dawn had come the Tai'Char, resplendent in their bronze and silk. Their sorcery and power shuddered the city with its fierce displays, furthering many of the already less than noble sentiments among the Domarai. Now, hours later, they had heard that their Regent had been imprisoned. Many were fomenting riot in the nearly empty streets. But, on the south causeway, one was lucky enough to see the tall figure of Shad Hazar striding through the gates, the guards saluting him and backing away. Even the young knew what this meant. One figure at the head of a serpent of obvious, subtle power. And, in the distance, an army, riding the wings of day like a ground borne dragon.
The Duke had returned.
By the time the Blood Fist and his Praetorian Guard set their feet on the grand Dais of the Mount, already a crowd had built. Shad Hazar turned, pausing as if to speak, and then thought better of it. He took his first few steps up the grand stairs, gesturing to the hulking stone construct behind him, and its slender wizard guardian. Those two stood at the base of the south rampway, the wizard on one side, the gargantuan construct on the other. The golem drew from its back a heavy sword and bit the ground with its tip, the entire chalcedony blade lit with fire upon contact, lighting up the monster.
"I am Nymruk the Harbinger," the wizard called, "placed in guardianship along with Grimfang the golem, of this temple, until such time as the remainder of the Duke's army arrives. Duke Shad Hazar has business with those inside, and will not be disturbed."
Others of the Guard circled the pyramid, taking up positions at its sides. Toralyon Steelsong to the north, Gaede Rukay to the east, and emerging from the temple itself, Ghenaa Bloodeyes  and Riggor Zahn overlooking the west. A formidable grouping to say the least.
The Duke of Domarai - now Lord of the Mount - strode onto the high platform of the Grand Chamber, removing the floppy leather had that hid his features, and shifting himself free of his long, dark riding coat.
"Some may not have believed I still lived," he says quietly, folding the coat over one arm and carrying the had in the other as he surveyed the crowd, his expression stern. "I am to understand that my city. My. City. Is to be usurped for the purpose of feudal engineering and petty political warfare."
One eyebrow climbing, Azar-ahel glared down each of the Heirs, settling on Agrafael Moonblade with a startled frown.
"I will not have it. Nothing can be so simple. Domarai is no longer simply a protectorate of the Pax Tai'Char. As my son, I assume, has already said, this city-state os now named e'Kouzan o'Kurohinote. The Mountain of Black Fire, in the tongue of the Tai'Char. I now pass upon it a second name, just as e'Hori o'Jinei - the Well of Souls - is known also as Ammox'un'ramma, the Place of Forging. e'Kousan o'Kurohinote will also, among those with the blood of Old Grimuard, come to be known as Ammox'un'memir. The Place of Memory. This has always been a city of peace, a city where mediation ruled. So it shall remain, as both a city of the Pax Tai'Char, and a dominion of the Holy City of Han Vessa, and its parent nation, Grimuard."
He is silent for a long moment, waiting for this to set in. Even as the whispers among the court and servants bubble once more, he raises his free hand and speaks again.
"I am Azar-ahel, the Blood Fist. Some know me as Rileck Darkweaver, or Shad Hazar. Some know that I am of the Ra'Vehim, although my rank of Quo'Ra has survived for nearly three hundred years, due to an accute lack of personal ambition. I clarify now, know in truth, that I am the last surviving Pen'Ra'Vehim. Soon to come are the Pen'Ra'Talwen and a representative of the Pen'Ra'Sebrithael, making up the substantial portion of Han Vessa's High Council. I reveal this to you not because I am gloating. I say this because it needs to be known, because you need to understand that your decisions will affect not only the Tai'Char, but also the humans, the Na'ai Shin, the Changing Men, and the Sae'aelf. Kajirden. Aragos itself. This day, and in the coming days, actions must be taken to unify Tai'Char and Na'ai. To heal the rent forced between us, and between ourselves and the humans by the Church of Man. The storm is coming, respected Elders and Heirs. A storm from which there is no safe harbour. Now, speak, and if you are within candour and purpose, you will be rightfully heard by all."
Finally, the Pen'Ra sets down his coat and hat, striding to, and leaping the high table, settling himself swiftly into the seat moments ago occupied by his son, Ghenaa Bloodeyes.
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Fire on the Mount

The shadow of a smile played out on Shad Hazar's face as he stepped up to the south gate of Domar, the floppy brim of his leather hat hiding his expression in the night's rain just as well as his stained spectacles had during the bleaching hot day before. The night had begun and the swordsman was too weak for absolution.
"Praetor," came the voice of Gaede Rukay from his left. "Do we now enter?"
"No. We're still waiting for Arkady." Sha'ad turned back, toward where the remainder of the Praetorians were approaching Domar's promontory, raised his fist. The others did the same - as well as a small, glimmering outline in the distance. "Now we enter. Within the hour, Lerin's knights will be at the gates as well. That's enough time to do what we've come here for, I'd say."
With a false smile promising a long night ahead, Shad Hazar strode through the gates of Domar, cadre in tow, to walk alone down the South Way, ambling ever forward to the forbidding, darkly lit height of the Mountain of Black Fire at the centre of the city.