Status

User has no status, yet

Bio

I whip my feathered serpent back and forth.

Most Recent Posts

Yeah, sorry. That's too big of an order for us to undertake. Are you sure you can't edit? I was able to go back to a post of mine from six years ago and edit it.


Fraid not, whenever I go back and edit it gets as far as "saving..." before interminably halting. Seems like I'll just have to keep ahold of it until it inevitably disappears down the internet's memory hole, which is fair enough.
Hi there, can I have everything I posted from June 20th 2014 to May 30th 2015 wiped? My apologies if I'm setting anyone a task, I just don't have any interest in retaining some old work and have it linger over me. I'd have done it myself, but there isn't a delete button, and old posts don't seem to allow edits.

Cheers.


Turn One:






Shadows Upon the Coast





The roaring waves of the Ebon Sea frothed and foamed around his ship, churning and crashing against it with primal hate, as Ardusin El-Shadaran, Lord of Tel-Makad, stood upon the prow of his sleek black-hulled vessel. With a keen eye he watched as the fog of midnight parted before him to reveal steaming shores of Surabhumi, lightless, and dark as pitch against the marauding corsairs of the Sanghar. All around him his men toiled in silent and noiseless labour, working in concord with the dense mists to muffle their advance, with vaporous gossamer ribbons winding around them like a boil of fresh hatched sea snakes. El-Shadaran watched them in haughty disinterest with his one good eye, the other having been long lost in an accident whilst overseeing his ancestral shipwrights, and replaced with a smooth scintillating opal. Such was the manner of Ardusin, for he would never allow injury get in the way of personal vanity.

“How long until we cast board upon the shore?” he asked, his handsome face as indifferent as ever in the light of the stars.

“Not long now my lord..” came the reply from the ship’s captain, who stood attentively at his side. “We must still be cautious however. Surabhuma watchwomen are everywhere, and Sangharan corsairs swarm these waters still in spite of the Armistice…”

“The Armistice. What utter nonsense!” Ardusin snorted derisively, drawing his white and purple robes about him against the cold of the night. “Both sides conjure up a pretense of legitimate settlement, and the Dakathan Lords do not press further on naval works so as not to invalidate the false peace. Meanwhile my shipwrights suffer from idle hands and financial losses, in order to satisfy the egos of weaker Sanghar. They would do well not to cast me aside, especially after this night’s work.”

The captain said nothing. There was nothing he could say, Lord El-Shadaran took a dim view upon leigemen criticising their master, and of criticism in general. It would do him no good to mention the Armistice was not about the silently fuming lord that stood before him, nor the fact that malpractice had been the cause of Tel-Makad’s silent shipwrights. El-Shadaran was a difficult Sanghar to manage even at the best of times, but since the sudden strain on his finances, he’d been even more volatile than usual.

Crags and jagged pillars of stone passed them like wraiths in the night as they made steady speed towards the shoreline. As a final gust of wind propelled them onwards, sinewy armed Sanghar mariners pulled in the triangular sail and readied the oars. They worked them with strong steady strokes as they made their way towards the chosen anchorage, hidden amidst the headwaters of one of Surabhumi’s innumerable rivers.

Slinking into the sea, one of these rivers spilled its lifeblood into the ocean not far ahead of them, deep enough for a dragonship to make good headway, or a smugglers vessel to await the coming of it co-conspirators. In truth that was not far off from what they were, for El-Shadaran had come to do nothing less than breach “the great ban”, and treat with his nations ancestral enemy, offering a deal that he knew would be irresistible to private citizens of the Surabhi successor empire.

With the crash of a cast anchor, and the stealthy flickering of signal lanterns, El-Shadaran settled himself down on a divan laden with silken cushions and tiger skins, and awaited the arrival of his counterpart. With a snap of his fingers, his sullen Tu’mong yazhat scurried across the ship, collecting parchment and scrolls of animal skin. Returning, they scattered them upon a folding desk of geometrically carven ebony and mother of pearl, revealing designs, blueprints and information of shipcraft, inked upon crisp parchments of komodo skin. Beyond this tumult of activity, giant mariners heaved a gangplank down upon the loamy soil of the riverside, retinues tramping down it in orderly lines as they fanned out around the vessel.

After many hushed minutes, the keen eyes of the ships lookouts caught the glow of bobbing lanterns, making their way slowly through the lush tropic foliage of the mainland. Crossbowmen readied their bows alertly, and tombaks were thrust forward by the soldiery, but there was little need for violence. The figures that emerged from the sepulcral twilight were of those familiar to the ambitious Asurbaalite, and he signalled to his men to lower their arms.

At last, after long preparation, he and his mutual collaborator would meet face to face.




Kadusiri trudged through the dense growth of the coast, the vast swathes of mangrove trees and other saltwater plants blocking any long visibility through the dense growth. Sweat streaked her skin, and the water was even beginning to seep through the tar lined boots she wore. She traveled light, only a sword and a small handful of guards to accompany her. She had browbeaten other members of her dhutris to throw a lavish feast, and she knew the myriad spies of the central council would have their hands full keeping a watch out for any conspiracy brewing amidst such a gathering. She had slipped from the party, hopefully unnoticed, and had begun to weave her way along the winding and oft unused paths to the shore. Neither she nor her guards wore armor, and they carried no torches, making their way by moonlight.

Silence seemed to stretch on ad infinitum, the quiet splash of plain, unormanted boots in the swampy waters of the coast the only accompaniment to their illicit excursion. At last, though, one of the guards broke the silence, readjusting the axe that hung from her belt as she did so.

“My Mahil, forgive my questioning - but are you sure this is wise? You know the penalty for such conspiracy is death. You gamble not only your future, but the future of our faith should your plans fail in any way. We could still turn now, alert the guards of the Samraajni, we could seize these plans and this Sanghar and still elevate you and yours with their new favor.” The woman shifted uncomfortably, as if her own hesitance might count some small treason within her treason.

Kadusiri turned sharply, bringing her small group to an abrupt halt as she bore down on the guard who had dared doubt her. “Because, my dear stupid Eviranu, the council are a cabal of vile apostates who stripped the land and power from the rightful wielders of such. They spread lies, deceit, and falsehood throughout the land, and they seed doubt in the hearts of those who would be righteous. I do not seek their favor, as I seek their destruction. When I take our newfound advantage with this deal, I will ensure the overthrow of the fools who have lead us astray. Does that satisfy you, or would you side with our would be masters in Rhaputira?”

Eviranu’s eyes were wide, and she hastily shook her head, taking a step back as she raised her hands defensively. “No, my Mahil, I do not! I merely wished the best for you and ourselves.”

Eyeing her with an intense, scrutinizing gaze, Kadusiri eventually snorted dismissively and turned back in her initial direction. “Come, they have surely arrived by now.”

The rest of their trip passed uneventfully, and at last they laid eyes on the Sanghar vessel. Immediately, Kadusiri’s eyes widened, and she growled under her breath, “I told the fool to come here quietly and unobtrusively, not… this.”

She gritted her teeth, moving into the open to greet her co-conspirator. “I told you to arrive quietly, and in disguise. And yet here you are in gaudy excess. You fool, do you realize what you have risked with this display?”

Ardusin raised the eyebrow of his yet living eye as he peered at Kadusiri, nonplussed. “Risked? I have risked nothing at all my good confederate. I chose a night when the moon was well in its waning, there was heavy fog to mask my landing, and the final part of the journey was achieved through silent rowers. Just because you desired to garb me in stinking beggar’s rags, and wade through the muck like a commoner, does not mean that I did not make my own entirely adequate preparations.”

Turning his back on his co-conspirator, he eyed his charts and diagrams a final time before nodding to his slaves to gather them up. ‘Always so blasted dull minded’ he grumbled to himself, chapping his hands as muscled Sanghar porters emerged with his private litter. `No matter if they’re heretics, Surabhi have no mind for atmosphere, aesthetics or mood. We’re supposed to be embarking on a grand new international enterprise, and they want to wriggle around in the filth. Typical...’

“Douse those lights Karamand,” he commanded imperiously as he pointed to the shuttered lanterns, and settled himself into the litter, despite the flustered anger that began erupting from Eviranu. “I want this ship well hidden in one of the river’s tributaries,” he demanded. “Ekuni should know which one. I didn’t pay those spies handsomely for inaccurate charts.”

Closing the door to his private compartment, he watched as his slaves took position at each pole of the carven sandalwood box, his retinue locking into place behind and in front of him, to form a two-breasted marching line.

“Now Kadusiri,” he said, leaning out a shuttered window and clenching the side as the litter was heaved upon the shoulders of his porters. “I trust you have arranged a suitably accommodating and private manse for us to finalise our agreement in? If you expect me to sit in the mud with you, and pick my bum whilst your nations wretched mosquitoes give me marsh fever, you’re sadly mistaken. There are afterall, plenty of others just as eager to get their hands on my secrets as you are. So quit huffing, hurry up, and lead on.”

Kadusiri stared aghast at the Sangharan on his palanquin, stretched leisurely on his silken cushions. She looked to his entourage, servants and scribes, grandeur entirely unsuited to the task at hand. Her heart fluttered in her chest, clearly she had underestimated the sheer flamboyance and vanity of this shipwright, or her warnings of the pervasiveness of the spies of Rhaputira had not been emphatic enough. With a helpless look back at her own considerably smaller entourage, their muted, unobtrusive garb and the lack of any noisy implements that might alert passers-by, she sighed. She would have to think fast.

“Ah… yes.” She murmured to him, turning away and making a sign to ward off bad luck that this Sangharan could assuredly bring. “We shall be conducting our business in a farmhouse, away from prying eyes. Please, if you will, follow me - and for the love of Ishareth, be quiet.”

She beckoned to his entourage, her own soldiers falling in behind her as she picked her way back through the muck and mangroves. She hid her mirth poorly as several branches and muddy vines scraped and soiled the ornate decor of the exterior of his palanquin, but let no protests dissuade her. As they neared the first road, she turned away from whence she had come, setting off in an easterly direction.




They marched for miles along the road, Kadusiri cringing all the while at the sharp sound of the Sangharan boots on the paving stones. Her own boots were near silent, the cured pitch soaked soles, worn with the intent of remaining in the mangrove swamps, soft and pliable. She cursed herself for her foolishness - the idiot should have been better appraised of the pervasive surveillance she and her fellows lived under the watchful eye of the council and governors searching for any trace of ‘treason’. She would have them all hanged, and then this pompous dullard slung away, far away.

At last, however, the silhouette of a farmhouse loomed in the distance, and their party drew close. Kadusiri lifted a hand, calling for the Sangharans to halt, as she and her compatriots crept forward. For a moment, she considered simply kicking the door in and executing all who resided therein - but she did not need the murder of an entire farmstead coupled with the same time she would have been noticed absent the proceedings at the party. There was little need to provide the spies and bureaucrats reason to investigate her dhutris - and her. So instead she knocked softly at the door, then once more, more audibly.

A small delay ensued before a wary face emerged, the glint of a falx evident in the hands of the farmer. “Yes?” She asked, slowly lowering the weapon. “What is it that you want at this hour?”

Kadusiri smiled, putting on the best soothing voice she could manage. “My humble apologies, my friend - I was traveling on urgent business from Rhaputira, and I must rent out your building for the night. I’m afraid you can’t stay the night as well - crucial documents, far above the head of almost any in this province. I am of course, more than happy to compensate you for the inconvenience.” She hefted a sack, bulging with silver coins, more money than many in this province would see in an entire year, she knew. “This is the most I have been cleared to provide, but it is a debt the realm gladly pays to ensure the safety of my mission.”

The farmer’s eyes were wide now, and Kadusiri could sense the presence of many more behind the door, children and adults alike. After a tense silence, during which muted whispering behind the door could be heard, the woman peering out at her nodded tersely. “Give us a moment, please. We will be back tomorrow morning by dawn, the fields need weeding.”

A smile broke across Kadusiri’s lips and she nodded to the woman. “Of course, my friend. Please, we will wait.” The door shut softly, and she turned around, whispering urgently to one of her cohort, “Alert the Sangharans to move off the road, out of sight, until my signal. They cannot be seen.”

At her words, the guard nodded, taking off at a brisk jog towards the Sangharans to inform them.




Examining the adobe walled interior of the massive square building, his boots scuffing the brick beneath his feet, Ardusin sniffed in distaste.

“Very... rustic…” he said at last, after a long silence. “I suppose it will have to do. Very well then…”

Once they’d managed to escape the sucking quagmire of the coastline, and the Surabhi had returned from newly established safehouse, Ardusin had continued the journey to the farmstead on foot. His palanquin had been too obvious to travel upon open roads, and had been quickly hidden amongst the forest to keep attention to a minimum. Doubtless Kadusiri would have complained about even that, but Ardusin had scant care for his companions paranoia, the Surabhumi’s matriarchs only had so many eyes between them.

With a nod of the Asurbaal’s head his Sangharan retainers tramped inside, quickly darting into niches within the partitionless interior to keep a tigerish watch for potential intruders. Kicking the last of the road’s muck from his silken slippers in great earthen clots, he took the box of parchment from his servants with both hands, and turned and strode to the firepit. The flames of the evening hearth smouldered quietly away as Ardusin took a seat heavily in one of the solidly built chairs, shifting his adornments of rich but off-colour Sanghar purple into a more comfortable position. Pulling a bronze key from around his neck, he unlocked the chest and began to spread scrolls of parchment across a table next to him, murmuring quietly as he began to lay a kaleidoscope of schematics and designs out in neat order.

“Now, we have time until dawn to look through these technical schematics together. I trust they’ll be satisfactory to you, at least for the purveyance of my first half of the bargain.” he remarked breezily, throwing a log of hardwood on the embers of the fire. “I trust you in turn have brought the documents necessary for the acquisition and transportation of the Surabhumi munitions and materials I requested?” he asked, his opal eye fixing his companion with a blank expectant stare.

When she nodded, he continued, smoothing out the curling parchment as he turned back to his work. “Once that first load has been delivered properly to Tel-Makad, I shall naturally deliver the final components for the construction of Republican class vessels,” he stated in a matter-of-fact tone. “Now, I believe that you should have also brought examples of the new equipment designed by your forgeworks? These cracked and stained papers are the product of a thousand years of skill in boatcraft. Even with half of them you’d learn more than the Surabhuma have in centuries. I need to be assured of your honest intentions, and the quality of your resources.”

He gestured with a hand of ornate gold nails, signalling for whomever was carrying the examples to step forward. “Now, if you please...”

Kadusiri frowned as she relaxed in the sturdy wooden chairs arrayed throughout the room. “This is about as grand as it gets on the coast, my friend. Your compatriots have savaged the coastline for generations, and scarcely anybody lives within a league of the shore. The march from our lands to the coast to meet you took well over three hours. It is not the fault of the people here that this is one of the poorest regions of our nation. I can assure you, were it grandeur you desired, Rhaputira would leave you wanting for nothing in the slightest. Nevertheless, to the business at hand - Amali, if you would please go over the documents with Veidu, I would appreciate it greatly.”

She steepled her fingers, looking her counterpart in the eyes as the seconds ticked by. “As to my end of the bargain, it is obvious that we could not mass the materials and armament here with us - such action would be far too obvious and the Council would doubtless look closer into my affairs. I have, however, brought with me a carefully selected representation of what you will find awaiting you on the docks of Lotihal, along with a manifest you may bring with you to fully account for the presence of each and every piece.”

She raised a single sheet of paper, densely coated in black ink in the Surabhi script and the Sangharan counterpart, numbers and detailed descriptions running on seemingly without end. “You may pass this to your… secretary, to peruse at your discretion. Now, Arnala, please bring our samples for this fine gentleman to examine.”

Another Surabhi moved forward, taller and broader even than the average, lugging a bulky, mishapen pack on her shoulders. With an audible sigh of relief, she lowered it to the ground, stretching out the muscles and joints that had been compressed for hours by the heavy load.

Kadusiri smiled, bending down to open the bag, returning to the table with the first example of Surabhi craft. A simple, unadorned falx, of perfect size for use by the Sangharan Surabhi, or even a particularly large Sanghar. The dim light gleamed dully off of the steel, wavelike dark lines running the length of the blade, tapering with the blade itself as it curved inwards into a cruel point, one that could burst through chain armor with a piercing power unlike any other blade - the fate of many a warrior. At the other end the metal terminated in a simple, rugged handle of wood and cord, a similarly unadorned but expertly wrought piece of steel serving as the elegant but brutally effective spiked guard for the bearer’s hands.

Kadusiri allowed Ardusin to examine the weapon for a moment before speaking. “A falx, one of our favorite weapons. Something I am sure your countrymen are very aware of. You will find we have prepared five hundred such items of similar make, including this one, which I present to you now.” She extended her arms, allowing one of his aides to take the weapon.

“Next, we have a full suit of chain armor. Please, allow a moment to unpack it.” She bent over once more, one of her own aides moving to assist in the extraction of the armor. A great rustling and clinking filled the room as they withdrew the armor.

Thousands upon thousands of rings of Ukkayan steel, each coated in a gleaming layer of wax, shone in the wan light of the fire. The suit was small in comparison to the Surabhi holding it, evidently designed with the intent of a Sangharan wearer. Over the chest, back, and sides of the armor’s torso lay sturdy steel plates, similarly waxed to ward off rusting. Gently, her aide placed a helmet on the table - designed in a Sangharan rather than Surabhi fashion, sockets for the colorful plumed feathers and decor worn by Sangharan officers and nobility.

“You will be hard pressed to find better protection without resorting to thaumaturgy.” She said, a proud smile evident on her lips. “This particular suit was constructed with your own measurements in mind, and you will doubtless find it fitting. You will find a thousand such suits of armor awaiting you on the docks.”

Not allowing him to reply, she continued without breaking flow, leaning to the side as they pulled from the bag a simple ingot of Ukkayan steel, the wavy black striations running throughout its length. “And, of course, the steel for which we are so well known. Including this one, two thousand such ingots await your arrival, for use by your own smiths, for your own ends.”

Before Ardusin could even consider speaking, she still continued, raising a finger, “And, last but most certainly not least - one of the finest smiths in this province crafted a blade specifically for your own personal use, my good partner. A piece worth a small fortune. You will find no equal in the land for this blade, at least, not one that can be had without endangering your personal fortunes once again.” She lifted from the bag its final item, a lustrous, brilliantly polished and finished blade of Sanghar design. Bearing the hallmarks of Surabhi practical minded simplicity, the blade nevertheless was a thing of beauty to behold. An elegant curve ran through its length, the ever-present dark striations of Ukkayan steel even bolder and more vibrant than normal, a wicked keen edge evident even to the layperson. Woods imported from Sanghara specifically for this blade formed its handle, richly colored mahogany with detailed silvered inlay in various stylized depictions of Sangharan rites and rituals. The guard and pommel were likewise etched. The blade was as much a work of art as it was a masterfully created and brutally functional killing tool. Kadusiri smiled more broadly as she presented the blade and its mahogany sheath to her compatriot, allowing herself to feel pride in her peoples’ skill at crafts.

Ardusin studied the materials with feigned indifference, but anyone could tell by the gleam in his eye that he hungered for the steel, like a starving wolf gifted a fresh carcass. Taking each piece separately in turn, he inspected them like an eagle, feeling the weight of the blades and the quality of the finish before nodding forward his personal retinue and attendants to examine them in turn.

Continuing to half listen to Kadusiri, he pulled out a lone finely cut quartz magnifying spectacle and squinted through it at the dense bundle of Surabhi text, examining the parchment for any attempt to doublecross, undercut or legally exploit him. He saw nothing in it that spoke of some attempt of subtlety on his partners behalf. Although he was distracted, his interest was nonetheless piqued by the richly worked steel mail, and he murmured approvingly as it glimmered in red flame light of the firepit.

At last he pulled the spectacle off the bridge of his nose and turned his attention back to Kadusiri, only to be startled beyond all expectation by the fine craftsmanship she now offered him, in the script and artistic style of his own people no less.

“By Ishareth’s ivory shoulders…” he murmured, awed by the work presented to him.

Taking the blade in both hands, he ran his fingers across the work of high art, testing it like all the others in its balance, the smoothness of the blade’s surface, as well as it’s vicious sharpness. It did not disappoint. The finely engraved Sangharan mahogany felt like cool silk within his clenched hand, and he wielded it expertly in the dim midnight glow of the fire. For once, his appreciation of quality trumped his instinctual pride, and he laughed slightly as he cut the air.

‘With blades and armour like these I have a chance of seizing wealth beyond measure!’ he mused, growing ever more excited about the prospects. He checked himself quickly, but struggled to keep it contained.

‘I will need to be quiet about it though, and distribute them slowly and subtly beneath the Senate’s nose…’ he thought to himself. ‘This is more than enough to bring fresh interest to my shipwrights, to keep my station, and then some…. It might even be enough to garb and arm my own retinue with it, fancy that…’ He smiled, imagining the envy of other Sanghar lords as he rode by with his men, gilt in shining mail, as impervious to their glaring eyes as their ready swords. Reining in his enthusiasm he sheathed the blade, which absently he thought reminiscent of the Sangharan Golok. As he took his seat again, the opal glinted in myriad colours as he threw another log on the faintly burning fire.

“It seems we each have held to the letter of our agreement,” He said, returning to his prior primness. “I trust all is well in the documentation?”

His personal scribes, peering through the manifest one last time, turned their heads and nodded. “All is as the lady describes. We can find no fault nor deception in this and as our spies have already informed us, the ship she mentions has anchored port where she said it would be. My Lord, the deal is sound.”

Ardusins hand stroked his chin as he leaned back, letting a gleam of triumph shine through his remaining eye. “Very well then. Once I receive the first half of the shipments you promise, then I shall send all but the final document to you by a smuggling vessel known as ‘The Sapphire of Tel-Makad’. When I have received the entire shipment, I will send the final piece by secret courier, and then smuggle in shipwrights to assist you in your new operations. Lady Kaduisiri, I believe you now have the beginnings… of a navy.”

With those simple words, around the smouldering and crackling fire of a lowly estate, the fabric of an age rippled and changed. Although neither side knew it at the time, the bloody scales that had long upheld the ancient cycle of war and peace between the successors of the great serpentine empire, were thrown into disarray. No longer could Sanghara rely upon their predominance upon the ocean to guard them from harm. Their ancient mastery had come to an end. One might think that this would be an age of the Surabhi, their triumph come at last after bloody struggle with ancient adversaries… but it was not to be.

Elsewhere, others moved… and schemed. This would not be the only change in the fabric of existence…

It was only the beginning.




National Action Results, Turn One:


Roll Results:
20: Critical Success
19-16: Great Success
15-10: Moderate Success
9-5: Neither successful or unsuccessful, little progress made
4-2: Goes Poorly
1: Critical Failure





Arqantay:

Diplomatic Actions: Diplomats leave the golden palaces of Arqantay, their move is towards the east. Trying to find backers for their new conquest enterprise among the local leaders of the desert Khanate. They offer gifts and promises of relative autonomy in exchange for the rights to exploit the mana reserves of the desert without any kind of interruptions.
Military Actions: Arqantay engages in a campaign to pacify the western area of the desert of the Kipchak Khanate, beginning a slow but intrusion into khanate territory building forts in strategic areas and fortifying magical crystals deposits.
Economic Actions: Arqantay begins to intensify its trade influence among its southern neighbors, specially among the Mysrlaka.
Research: The Arqantay natural engineer continues to invest time and effort into the construction of sanitation houses for the people of Arqantay.

Arqantay Roll Results:
Diplomatic Actions: 12 - Moderate Success
Military Actions: 19 - Great Success
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Arcana:

Diplomatic Actions: Arcana sends an envoy to the nearby Khanate in order to negotiate an exclusive crystal trade deal to secure affordable reserves for Arcana for the foreseeable future.
Military Actions: - Lord Daemon of Arcana and his retainers lead an expeditionary force of Steel Legionnaires, Arcane Knights, Arcanan Marines, and professional sellswords on an Arcana armada that includes over a thousand Arcanan warships and several score sellsails. They seek to take Drakon unawares, conquer the city, seize its wealth, and break the back of the eastern slave trade. They have information from greedy Drakonese.
- The Consortium of Guilds, the gendarmery, the knightly orders, the Circle of Wizards, and the Navy all send their professional experts to the palace in order to begin the complete overhaul of Crown's Own. The skills and knowledge of these groups will be applied in order to formulate a plan to improve the logistical, technical, and professional capabilities of the royal army and reduce reliance on private groups and the Navy. The Artisans Guild begins training royal smiths in order to forge better equipment, the tradesmen begin educating the quartermasters, the Artificers teach the field engineers, the knights begin drilling officers and forming curriculum, and so on and so forth. It is a long-term plan intended to make the Crown's Own a formidable force once more.
Economic Actions: The Ministry of Coin begins an introductory roll-out of paper notes backed by the Arcanan Gold reserves in order to test their efficacy in the market. If results seem promising, the mint will begin printing more notes.
Research: - Arcana's druids begin research into nitrating crop rotation and the formation of an agricultural institute managed by them.
- Every professional Guild as well as the Cerulean Navy, the Confraternity of Martial Orders, the Papal Communion, and the Circle of Wizards all send representatives to meet under the royal warrant to discuss the formation of a national system of examinations beyond collegiate examinations. The diverse groups will seek to institute a curriculum that will best serve the citizenry and the realm.
- The financial, mercantile, and academic guilds meet with Regency representatives to discuss the merits of greater state control on trade. They seek a compromise between the privately owned guilds and the government that will best serve the realm as a whole. If a beneficial plan is formulated it will begin implementation.
National Construction: - Arcana begins implementing their long-term plan to rebuild the highways that once connected the distant Outlander settlements with the Ecumenical lands. A task force of Arcane Knights, gendarme Rangers and Guardians, and sellswords ally with the Witcher Guild and the Artificer's Guild to clear the roads of vegetation and reduce the incidences of monster and outlaw attacks.

Arcana Roll Results:
Envoy to Khanate: 16 - Great Success
Expedition to Drakon: 1 - Critical Failure
Military Overhaul: 20 - Critical Success
National Construction: 10 - Moderate Success
Paper Currency Testing: 15 - Moderate Success
Research: 12 - Moderate Success
Intrigue: 4 - Goes Poorly
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tushina:

Diplomatic Actions: Tushina sends a diplomatic party to Bwca in order to try and broker peace between the goblin nations... however, due to cultural differences/misunderstandings, the talks go nowhere and the war continues.
Military Actions: Even as Taler was talking in Bwca, Tushina's military caste was preparing an invasion force into Owca. Mobilization takes time after all and while they were willing to allow a diplomatic attempt to take place, they didn't have much hope of it actually being successful. Unlike prior militant action into Owca, which were raids to break up gathering warbands of hobgoblins, this one is a true invasion force. Between a desire to secure a western land trading route and to secure their western border against hobgoblin raids, they hope that a show of force will do what diplomacy has failed to achieve.
Economic Actions: The merchant caste is throwing in their support of the military caste. The promise of western land trade to them is worth investing their money into this military expedition.
Construction: The various builder castes are putting off any major projects at the moment, since they fully intend to send a workforce alongside the military expedition in order to build proper defensive works and start to establish infrastructure in Owca.
Research: Currently, the merchant caste are looking into the value of nothing in order to strengthen finance and mathematics.

Tushina Roll Results:
Mobilization: 12 - Moderate Success
Intrigue: 4 - Goes Poorly
Research: 18 - Great Success
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bwca:

Diplomatic Actions: A failed attempt to broker peace between Tushina and a Hobgoblin minor took place. The government is preparing for possible escalation; the failure is being blamed on the poor diplomatic skills of the Tushina representative to avoid any offence to the Hobgoblin minor.
Military Actions: Generals and admirals are antsy about a possible escalation. The navy is preparing for a possible invasion, while the army has begun drilling on rocky terrain.
Economic Actions: All shipping passing through the Green Strait must submit to a cargo check. Failure to comply may result in the ship and it's cargo being seized or even sunk, optionally with the crew still onboard.
Research: Political scientists note a growing school of thought among intellectuals concerning the position of the government in the welfare of its people. This school of thought appears to combine Agrarian support for artisans and peasants with Liberal ideas about the natural rights of all intelligent creatures, but it is seperate enough to be distinct.
National Construction: A bill calling for the construction of a water gate across the Green Strait was proposed in the Ty by tribal chieftains, however, it failed to pass.

Bwca Roll Results:
Preparation for Defensive War: 17 - Great Success
Cargo Inspections: 4 - Goes Poorly
Intrigue: 20 - Critical Success
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Steel Legion:

Diplomatic Actions: The Steel Legion is a vassal of Arcana and is participating in its war of conquest
Military Actions: The Steel Legion is sieging Drakon with the Arcanan army
Economic Actions: Shifting to war production, making steel weapons and armor
National Construction: Infrastucture construction at the capitol of the Steel Legion.

Steel Legion Roll Results:
Military Action: 10
Economic Action: 9 - Neither successful or unsuccessful, little progress made
National Construction: 15 - Moderate Success
Intrigue: 11 - Moderate Success
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Imasicia:

Diplo: The king hosts an envoy from the Alliner government in exile
Military: Imasicia begins a recruitment drive to fill in the legions lost
Economic: Imasician traders continue to foster mutual growth among Arcana and Drakon
Construction: Urbe Salis builds new luxury residence to foster its growing gentry class
Research: The College of Magic continues to press the limits of what may be done with magic

Imasicia Roll Results:
Recruitment: 11 - Moderate Success
Magical Research: 9 - Neither successful or unsuccessful, little progress made
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sanghara:

Diplomatic Actions: The final struggles of the sixth century war have finally come to an end. With the Great Armistice of Tel-Belit, Surabhumi and Sanghara have finally entered a period of tentative peace. Now Sanghara reaches out to other lands and peoples, such as the Usharid Caliphate and Arcana, in order to find new allies in this new period of change. Embassies have been sent to both to secure both trade deals and potential alliances among these mighty states, joined by explorers and merchants, to bring fresh knowledge upon the state of the world back to the land of the Golden Serpent Banner. The Sangharan-Surabhumi Cold War has begun.
Military Actions: With the great fleets now no longer patrolling Surabhi waters, the Dakathan Senate has at last turned its eyes outward from the twin matters of economics and the blockade of Surabhumi. With Sanghara now no longer tied to the Ebon Sea, many Dakatha now call for a ‘Republican Reconquest’ of rogue states that have rebelled and declared themselves independent of Republican rule. All eyes have turned to Tsang-Mah and the island city-states around Sanghara, who desperately scrabble to secure their borders for what they know to be coming. The standing army, long left to garrison duty and patrol of the frontier has begun to be retrained and reorganised under vigorous and ambitious Dakathan Senators, such as Amra El-Haddun and Shadam Baal-Hannon, who aim to restore the Republic to its once serene and imperial glory. Overall, Sanghara sees the regrouping, organisation, de-nepotization and redevelopment of its armed forces. Stagnation is now no longer an option, the Banner of the Golden Serpent must fly triumphant again upon Southern Venhdathaya and the Indaskian Sea.
Economic Actions: With many new fleets freed from military service, Sanghara has begun to clamp down on the innumerable pirates that have flourished within its sphere of influence, and ships going north and west now see heavier escorts than ever before. A general pardon has been offered in the Senate for any pirates who desire it, so long as they in turn become the hunters of their one-time brethren.

Elsewhere in the senate, the ‘Empire of the Isles’ faction continues to lobby for the colonisation of many uninhabited isles upon the Indaskian Sea, and the establishment of tributary states among those that do, bringing in fresh commerce and exotic goods into the Sangharan fold once again. This faction sees heavy support from the miners and smiths dynasties, who are troubled by the decreased output of tin mines upon the Sangharan main, and fear they run dry. If they do, Sanghara will not be able to produce Belitan Bronze, and will be rendered vulnerable in war. Eyes now turn with interest to beyond the Ebon sea, for Tsang-Mah has known if modest reserves of tin, ready for the smithing amidst its brooding inhospitable mounts. Rumours further abound of a string of great islands beyond the Indaskian sea that hold tin in plenty, and although few give credit to such fanciful tales, explorers have now begun to range far and wide in search of such reserves...
Research: Sanghara as part of its military redevelopment begins work on creating organised mobile smithworks that can be transported and unpacked on the march.
National Construction: With hundreds of ships-of-war freed from the blockade, Sanghara begins to expand their merchant fleets in order to take advantage of the easing of its military tensions. Elsewhere, the ‘Empire of the Isles’ begins to construct colonisation fleets in order to begin the process of expanding Sanghar predominance across the Indaskian Sea.

Sangharan Roll Results:
Reorganisation of the military: 14 - Moderate Success
Pirate Pardon: 20 - Critical Success
Exploration of the Indaskian: 13 - Moderate Success
Research: 6 - Neither successful or unsuccessful, little progress made
Merchant fleet and colony ship construction: 12 - Moderate Success
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Surabhumi:

Diplomatic Actions: Surabhumi sends diplomats to Arqantay and other neighbors to the north and east, requesting a non-aggression pact while they prepare for the annexation of the western territories.
Military Actions: The Ministry of War sends out the call to arms to all registered draftees. The vast armies of Surabhumi will mobilize for the expeditions to the west, seeking to re-establish their control over Kakatuyu and seize the territories of Ditadisha permitting passage through the mountains bisecting Vehndathaya. Armies are being readied for a punitive expedition to Imasicia if the Imasicians do not comply with the Surabhuma demand for Masinissa. Preparation begins for a two-pronged invasion of Odhisa from the north and the west. With the transfer of the blueprints to Sangharan warships, feverish construction of a new Surabhuma fleet begins inland, away from prying eyes.
Economic Actions: Ministry of Finance begins negotiations with the Sangharan and Arqantayan merchants for the establishment of formal trade routes. New banknotes will be printed in celebration of the Sangharan-Surabhuma ceasefire.
Construction: The construction of new and expanded port facilities will begin on the Surabhuma coast. Vast funds will be poured into the expedited development of the coastal regions in general, many having long been left almost unpopulated in the face of Sangharan raids.

Surabhumi Rolls Results:
Mobilization: 14 - Moderate Success
Construction of New Fleet: 1 - Critical Failure
Construction of new ports: 14 - Moderate Success
Intrigue 1 19 - Great Success
Intrigue 2 7 - Neither successful or unsuccessful, little progress made
Research: 18 - Great Success
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Usharids:

Diplomatic Actions: Send envoys to Perishem and Mihajla to build stronger ties and foster more trade. Secure marriage too, the Sultan got two granddaughters of age and a relatively young widowed son. Send envoys to
Military Actions: Drill the troops.
Economic Actions: Seek more trade with our neighbors and develop our own industry/economy with public work projects
Research: Try to improve our understanding of magic by a little bit more
National Construction: Fortify the border with Arqantay

Usharid Roll Results:
Diplomatic Actions: 18 - Great Success
Economic Actions: 13 - Moderate Success
Research: 20 - Critical Success
Construction: 17 - Great Success
Intrigue: 1 - Critical Failure


An Uneasy Peace...









“This pact is a folly.”

It was Ungernazern who had broken the tranquillity between the three figures on the swaying howdah, the journey that had continued past two of the great walls of Tel-Belit, spared from interruption but for the base rumblings of the elephant and the clattering of ironclad hooves.

“Come now, my Lord Dakatha,” replied Ahassunat as she reclined languidly on plump cushions of silk and smiled at him banally, “Clearly you jest.” As she spoke she absent-mindedly she fed dates to a conclave of chirping red-coated monkeys, a gang of six which had clambered up the elephants gilded sides to squat before her inquisitively. Ungernazern turned to fix her with a scowl, and the monkeys chirped and hissed at each other over the dates, squabbling over their small feast.

“I do not.” The Prince of Tel Belit retorted, voice tinged in bitterness and brow furrowed into deep craggy lines - a feature worn in deep by the chains of his office. “The Grand Councilors of Surabhumi will not keep this agreement for long, this will only allow them an opening to rebuild their fragmented fleets into a fighting force to challenge the republic once more. We endanger our mastery of the seas, our trade monopoly, and Tel-Belit itself, for what? For backstabbing Abbot-lords chanting to a dark, blood hungry gods? a mob of obstinate mountain Sanghar who smell of goat, and cut each others throats on a whim?”

Ahassunat snorted, amused at his tone even as she fixed him with single raised pale eyebrow. Her face was of the blood of Old Sanghara; imperious, sensual and haughty, with dark red sun-kissed skin matching an strong aquiline nose, enhanced by oceanically carved and bejewelled horns. But for numerous thin scars across her jaw and cheeks - and the ruthless lilt of her tigerish orange eyes - she could have been mistaken for a sorceress priestess of Ishareth in robes of an Asurbaal, if she had not instead chosen the office and brine-stained leathers of a sea captain.

“Calm yourself Lord,” she said, attempting to sooth the rancorous old leathery Sangharan Prince. “The Surabhuma have built fleets before and what has become of them? Why, they have all burned! For a thousand years they have tried to contest our dominance of the Ebon and Indaskian, each attempt greater than the last, and every one of them has been turned to kindling within a generation by our Dragonships. What is really contested is not the sea but the land, and surely you must admit that the reconquest of our wayward subjects will ensure further stability of Tel-Belit’s position?”

“Bah!” Ungernazern waved her away, turning to brood over the dwindling edge of the city.

Ahassunat watched him as he brooded, studying the man as he looked out across enclosed rice paddies and vegetable gardens tended to by the Hazarpresh, eking an existence in this small sliver of territory that Tel-Belit governed. The haggard old Sanghar did not sit well in his purple Dakatha robes or the baubles and gems of office that fitted his fingers, and he fidgeted with them constantly. The gilded scale and leather underneath however… that, Ahassunat noticed, sat as easy on him as a second skin.

“Even if we accept that this is so,” he continued at last, “there is no assurance the war won’t just be a waste of manpower and resources. If Surabhumi chooses to challenge us, we will face the same overwhelming odds our people always have. This is not the age of Hamilkarr, there will be no saviour to leap in and change the course of destiny, no Arcana to balance the scales between us. No… this will be a war both inclement and bloody… a brutal conflict Sanghara has not seen since the first two Century Wars.”

“Preposterous!”

It was their third companion, Machezzar, the doughy faced master of the Traders Guilds who had interjected. Easy living had smoothed his features beneath layers of fat, and rich trade deals had decked him in gold and silver. Unlike Ungernazern and his discomfort with finery, these decadent gems fitted him like a silk glove, for he was a man accustomed to indulgence and leisure. His chubby fingers swept to both sides, taking in the retinue that followed them as he spoke. “Do you trust so little in the power of our armies my lord? I admit that the bovids may bring forth a unwashed horde of untrained peasants on whim, but such armies are easily broken and dispersed by nothing less than a good charge of steel clad cataphracts and elephants. Numbers mean nothing to quality, and the armies of the republic are one of the most disciplined, supplied and well armed fighting force upon Ishareth’s blessed earth!”

Ungernazern smiled drily at that, “I imagine my good guildmaster, you have seen little of war with the Surabhi? They are better trained and equipped than you realise. A direct charge by them causes fear even in the boldest of soldiers, and their numbers are only matched by their tenacity.”

“Numbers and tenacity matter only so much my lord Dakatha. It is coin that wins wars, and it is we who are mightier by far there!” Machezzar’s face practically glowed with pride, the blood of generations of Sanghar merchants shining through to glorify this supposed primal ‘truth’. “Our merchants sail to all corners of the world whilst the Surabhuma make do with poor desert caravans and the exorbitant trade tithes. They can neither challenge us navally nor compete with our merchants in any port, and would be fools beyond belief to try. It is we who control the greater wealth of Vehndathaya and its future, not them.”

“For now at least…” Ungernazern seemed to muse once more on the topic, watching the honour guard of horsemen whose iron glad hooves clattered beside the giant elephant.

He could well understand Machezzar’s trust in them. They were fine looking soldiers, veterans of a dozen fierce campaigns through enemy territory, and with the phalera’s to prove it pinned upon their silken tabards. Clad in amber cloth and fine Belitarian Bronze, their serpentine Tombaks were raised high above them with snapping white pendants that bore the gold feathered serpent of Sanghara. Glossy chestnut and milk white stallions snorted and stamped with pride beneath their riders, as sure in themselves as their own masters were. Their bodies were coated in golden tide of interlocking scales, only matched in splendour by their gilded and coloured bridles and harnesses of polished leather. Above their riders were no less magnificent; equipped in turn in crocodile leather belts and reinforced by scale and banded bronze, they stared out behind grimacing golden war masks and helms with cunning, fierce eyes. Each one bore the pelt of a snarling lion or tiger across their heads and shoulders, slain single handed in the dense jungles and dry southern forests of Shanrilaath, or the mountain wilderness of Tsang-Mah. Within their belts hung ornate Kris Blades, ready to deliver final blows, and the brutal short-bladed Golok to hack down opponents in fierce close combat. Every one had been force to prove themselves worthy of becoming Lion Guard, forced to prove themselves worthy of becoming a elite rider, and so they earned their stirrups through this token of their courage, this symbol of their brotherhood in the equestrian order.

Yes, Ungernazern mused, these were unparalleled warriors. Each one was a titan amongst their kin, a Sanghar of many virtues, and a keen bladed slayer when the time came for blood and steel.

But still…

“I apologise master guildsman, I did not mean to so greatly disrespect the fine soldiers of the republic. Truly they are without peer. But… they are not without number. Do we so easily forget the Battle of the Red Rivers? One wrong move could lose all the experience and skill of tens of thousands of warriors, and Sanghara has not the means to easily replace them.”

Machezzar shrugged, his eyes were dark and deep set in his skull, and his pate and face clean shaven. Ungernazern mused almost inexplicably, that the merchant could have almost been mistaken for a eunuch in the right light. “True enough my lord, but the territory we shall be fighting in is well known to us, Tsang-Mah was an imperial province for centuries. If the Surabhuma betray the agreement, we, not them, shall know the terrain best. Besides…” he chuckled, flicking a silver coin through the air, “there is always thousands of Drakonese sellswords willing to serve in our ranks for gold, pillage and glory.”

“Regardless to all that,” Ahassunat interjected as she shooed away her monkey familiars with a brush of her hand, “the Dakathan Senate has declared that this deal must happen. We small players cannot change the course of a nation, no matter how we might personally disagree with it. Instead we must play the part assigned to us, and look!” she gestured smiling to the final gate of Tel Belit before them, “the stage now opens up before us all, shall we not strike a pose?”

As the mahout brought the great elephant to halt before the great ebony gates, waiting on the forty guardsmen to pull the iron studded heavy doors open for them, his passengers lapsed into silence. Regardless of their personal outlooks on the issue, that was the fundamental truth of it. None of them could or would dare to oppose the motion politically, least they attract the ire of the Senate. Thus they were here in this place, marching towards an embassy just as unsettled as they upon the sandy shores before Tel-Belit, to ‘make peace’ with their nations most ancient enemy.

A peace they each knew could never last.



The personal fleet of Shridaveh Enheduana rested upon the beach, steadily disgorging their contents. Gleaming, mail encased infantry marched in a steady column from the decks of the vessels. They formed a steady column as they streamed from the ramps, seeming to melt into neat rectangular formations, each soldier holding her shield at ready and her spear by her side. Behind them marched archers, similarly armored in mail, but not nearly to the same extent, their bows were unstrung and had only just been taken from the protective wrappings that sealed them from the damaging moisture and salt of the sea. There were of course almost no cavalry with them, save for a small squad of about ten. Each rider sat astride a massive bull, almost unrecognizeable as such beneath the chainmail and segmented plates of steel that covered the beasts. These mounted shock troopers sat silently behind the persons they had been sent to escort, faces obscured by masks of bronze cast in the image of a scowling face.

Behind the soldiers flowed a thickening tide of scribes, attendants, artisans, laborers, and merchants. Heavy crates of goods, gleaming ingots of Ukkayan steel carried by burly smiths, laborers marching with lumber and canvas to erect pavilions, bundles of sugarcane, and more. Even cooks swirled among their number, barrels of both water and rum, exotic delicacies from every corner of Surabhumi. Expensive and lavish gifts and display from the empire in the north.

“It is impressive.” Noted one of the few individuals not bedecked in armor, “But I cannot help but question the reasons for bringing them. We are here to negotiate, not do battle or build a town. Surely a smaller party would have been more practical?”

“You are a genius in many ways, Khalya, but I do not know why you were assigned to this. You are a blacksmith and an accountant, not a diplomat. I do not know why many of us are here, in truth - but bringing such a large escort is a show of power.” The new speaker was also unarmored, but richly dressed in luscious violet and yellow robes. “It demonstrates to Sanghara that we are not a… ‘paper tiger’ I believe is the term they use. It shows we can afford to send a party of such size and magnificence with ease, that we do not come to their meeting cowed and seeking cessation of hostilities. They know as well as we do that they cannot match us on land, and we cannot match them at sea. This is how it has been for some time, and only fools believe otherwise. This is nevertheless an opportunity to flex our muscle and let the might and wealth of Surabhumi be felt across the land, no longer hampered by mountains and marauding Sangharan pirates.”

“You are optimistic, Sujati.” Observed a third beside them. Unlike the first two, she sat astride her mount bedecked in full armor, heavy chain gleaming dully in the light of the sun, a sword and an axe at her sides. “I am hopeful that none of you are under any delusions about this meeting, yes? This is no peace treaty or commerce agreement, this is a temporary armistice. We both have our plans for expansion - Sanghara wishes to reclaim its old continental holdings, we wish to reclaim more of the old empire and to engage in broader trade with the rest of the world. These are incompatible goals in the long run. Say Sanghara conquers some of the land they seek, and we acquire a proper fleet and send trading missions abroad - it can only end in bloodshed. As we begin to cut into their profits the Sangharan lords will clamor to stop us and preserve their coin purses. As Sanghara claims more of the mainland we will have to put our foot down lest they lay eyes on Odhisa, Ditadisha, or other nations in our sphere of influence. The Sangharans know that and so does every one of those soldiers you see marching before you.”

On the other side of the small cluster of individuals, a lone Sanghar woman cleared her throat, drawing the attention of the bickering party. “It is my fleet you sailed on to reach this meeting. And it is my fleet, and the fleet of the nation at large, that we hope to gain some respite for. You speak wisely, Aasmi. The rest of you - yes, Surabhumi is vast and immeasurably powerful on land - and at sea? We have fallen far. My grandmother assembled an armada that could threaten Sanghara itself, only taken from us by cruel fate. Now, a scant eighty three years later - look at us. Sixteen warships. Sixteen warships is all that remains of a force of thousands. My southern brethren may see themselves as the rightful masters of the seas - but I say we haven’t given them enough of a challenge. We must use this… armistice for what it is - a chance to build a fleet that can stand with the mightiest in the world!” She pumped her fist to punctuate her point, the armor she wore jingling with the motion. She was dressed in a curious fusion of Sanghar and Surabhi attire, the loose flowing garments of a more Surabhi bent combined with the intricate ornamentation often worn by Sangharan nobles.

Aasmi, the armored Surabhi, turned her eye towards the impetuous Sanghar woman. “I will not speak of what happened in the past, what needed to be said has been said long ago. But you do realize, my dear - you have in your personal employ half of the shipwrights in Surabhumi capable of equalling Sanghara. The grand total would only be impressive for a middling lord among them. Rebuilding our fleet is an admirable goal - but if you think we can do it on our own, I am afraid you are sorely mistaken.”

“Enough of this.” Spoke yet another voice, its composure and cadence different from the previous. “We are here to negotiate with Sanghara, not to bicker among ourselves.” Atop the fifth mount, a normal horse in place of the bulls ridden by the others, sat Vaidihe Nijasureh Mallam, an experienced diplomat personally assigned by Raani Anushravati. “The effects of this meeting and our forward policy can be determined after we conclude our dealings with the Sangharans.” She nodded towards the procession making its way towards them. “And I believe they are here now.”



The main party of thirty riders crossed the shadow of the Third Tiger Gate without incident, and made its way along the imperial road with good time, passing by hamlets and villages that clustered around the edge of the looming tripartite walls of Tel-Belit. Behind them a trail of seventy scribes, priests, diplomats, servants and footmen kept pace with the elephant, bringing with them the assembled pleasures of the city in expertly carved and painted carts, pulled by heavy draft horses to the shores of the city. As he looked upon the wall, Ungernazern mused that the jungle that now lingered just beyond the horizon had once touched the very gates long ago. But then war had come, and steely sinewed Sanghar had cut it back further and further with each generation, leaving only a plain of farms, grasslands and villages to inherit its remains. Tel-Belit had been a tenth of its current size then, a sleepy township barely beyond constructing its first ziggurat, surrounded by walls better used to oppose bandits than armies.

The Century Wars had changed all that.

It had survived by inches to begin with, then by deliberate measures. Its defenders had staunchly held their ground against the armies of Surabhumi with stubborn tenacity, and families of wealth and power had taken note of this seemingly inconsequential speck on the tip of Vehndathaya. The city had bloomed in a matter of decades, its population swelling with thousands of new arrivals as all clamoured to become citizens of the “Vehndathayan Sapphire”. Its ports and shipyards soon burst to the seams with trade, the cities geographical position becoming useful as a major stopping point in trade both east and west; and necessitating an explosion of dock construction to support with the commercial hub it was soon to become. With prosperity and patronage came the impetus to build the mighty bastions of Tel-Belit, and it quickly rose from a single heap of cemented sandstone to three titanic red-brick walls over the course of two centuries. Infused with the magic of ancient rites and mystic alchemy, reinforced with granite and basalt, and entrenched by ditches, moats and murderholes, these massive structures towered over all but the purple ziggurats and cinnabar pagodas of the Dakatha in their immensity. Up to seventy feet high and forty feet thick, they had provided a nightmarish obstacle for any invading army, and although the Surabhuma had once overwhelmed two of them, they had never overwhelmed all three. The cost of those two alone had seem the deaths of many tens of thousands, and since then Surabhumi had attempted more guileful and patient tactics to seize Tel-Belit, the last of which had lit up the night sky in black and crimson, and turned the very seas to flame. Spreading above even the villages, walls and towers of Tel-Belit however, hung the true monument to its glory, and the staunchest reminder of Sangharan imperial power upon the continent.

The three ziggurats of House Escharaddon.

The central pyramid seemed so immense and huge that it almost cleaved the clouds, mists of vapour drifting around it like the smoking volcanoes of Shranrilaath. Each had been painted a rich non-fading purple and engraved with multicoloured bas-reliefs of festival, war, religious ritual and love-making betwixt brazen bands of shining copper which topped each tier. The sweat and toil of tens of thousands of Sanghar, Surabhi and Tu’mong labourers had ensured that no matter what came, these symbols of the Republic would never fade. With every coming dawn the three daughters of Tel-Belit were lit by the halo of the sun, which crowned them in regal, indefatigable majesty.

Ungernazern found it poetic. No matter how the republic waxed and waned in power, a new dawn would rise over the tops of these structures and signal the beginning of a new day. Dawn would always come again, and with it the resurgent glory of the Sangharan Republic.

“One wonders how much money the magisters could have saved to pay soldiers and build ships if they did not insist on building such massive gaudy palaces.”

Ungernazern shot Ahassunat a look and she smiled wryly in turn, cleaning her nails with a dagger. He knew she was baiting him and he did not rise to it. It was her way of testing the waters, of feeling out her prey and finding the right time to strike. If she ever found her ways into the Dakatha Senate, he would be loathe to give her that advantage over him.

“Much, one would imagine.” He replied in an even tone. “But would it have changed our situation for the better? Our guildsmaster here puts his faith in coin, but even coin cannot avert disaster. Regardless of the waxing and waning of the empire, the pyramids that our grandparents and forty times great grandparents still stand upon the shores of Ditadisha, Jatapu and Odisha. Crumbling though they may be, but they still stand.”

“True… true…” Machezzar cut in before Ahassunat could reply, “and they may stand still longer with the right moves in the great game.” He blinked, and peered into the distance, his jowls bunching as he scrutinised the sight, “and if I’m not mistaken that is our fine guests disembarking on the sands. We best hurry to meet them, the work of several months will not be undone by tardiness.”

As the mahout stirred the elephant to a quicker pace, their retinue spurred their horses to gallop to precipitate their arrival. The sound of trumpets erupted from the four outriders ahead of them, and brought all to a halt before the host that had gathered on the beach. The elephant was the final part of the forward embassy to arrive, its heavy feet grinding to a halt like a monolith as it rumblingly took its place behind the line of Lion Guard.

The first of their escort spurred his horse before the Surabhi and raised his mask, revealing the amber eyes and dusky complexion of a Tu’mong, staring imperiously at the assembled legions of Surabhi almost as if daring for them to challenge him. “We introduce our most esteemed excellency, lord of ships and sails, master of coin and ruler of Tel-Belit - the Sapphire of Vehndathaya, the unconquered city - his majesty lord Ungernazern of House Escharaddon. Furthermore accompanied by Lady Asurbaal Ahassumat Kesh, admiral of the twelfth fleet and victorious captain of the battle of Shamarazil Bay, and his noble eminence guildmaster Machezzar of Tel Taram-Ish who speak today for the Provincial Assembly of the Republic of Sanghara, long may it endure!”

A silence fell as the two groups squared off, examining each other with tense expectancy. It almost seemed as if they might have come to blows there and then, despite the numbers of the Surabhi, when Ahassumat swung down off the side of the elephant and took to heel the ground beneath her.

Dusting herself off, she looked up at the assembled host in amusement. “My oh my! You Surabhi do love to put on a good show, if we thought you’d bring an army with you we’d have brought extra pavilions with the carts. I do hope your soldiers are not going to stand like that all day. The midday sun ... well, it can be brutal around here.”

As Ungernazern lowered himself gracefully from the howdah, waving away servants with his hand Ahussunat eyed the ships with a look of faux-shock. “And what’s this? Sailing under the affectations and ships of the arch-traitoress herself! Tut, tut. Then again, I suppose we did burn the rest didn’t we?” Picking out Shridaveh Enheduana from amongst the assembled dignitaries she smirked viciously at her. “Now, you must be the granddaughter of the traitor I’ve been hearing about. Tell me if this is true, I’ve heard it bandied about the ports so often but I simply must know for myself. Did your grandmother, really drunkenly shit herself to death in a seedy brothel in Surabhumi? I really am desperate to know how ended the days of our most illustrious kindling provider, especially since our throat-slitters failed to find her.”

“Please, please!” It was Machezzar, the guildmaster almost tumbling off the back of the elephant - only saved from shame by the numerous straining and huffing servants beneath him - to intercede before diplomacy soured further. Now that coin and profit was on the table, he was all smiles and platitudes, but Ahassunat knew his daggers were still drawn behind all this flattery. “We are not here to trade in barbs but finalise the agreement between both nations. Shall we let petty grievance and old feuds get in the way of shared prosperity and peace? Come now, we must do better than that for our own people's sake.”

He turned to Ungernazern, bowing as graciously as his aching knees would allow “My lord Dakatha, you carry the final treaties with you of course?”

Ungernazern nodded stiffly to the assembled host, barely hiding a scowl of distaste as he did so. They’ve practically brought a war host to my city for the signing of a diplomatic treaty! Do they think to insult me with threats and sabre rattling? An aloof sigh was all he gave however to the his smouldering contempt, and he mellowed his features into something of a less grim countenance.

“All is ready to be read and for mutual parties engage in final alterations before signing.” He stated dryly, “I trust you have assembled a suitable pavilion for that purpose? Good. Then let us not waste any more time dallying. The midday sun will soon begin to roast us alive if we wait any longer. Your women can find water beyond that dune there, now let’s get this over and done with.”

“Unfortunately,” began Shridaveh, “My grandmother died in her bed at the grand age of a hundred and thirty three, her health had begun to decline. I believe she did have a little too much wine that evening and had flirted with a few servants, but beyond that she passed onto Ishareth surrounded by loving family.” She smiled, “But, my dear Ahassumat, I have to ask the same of you. Is it really true that Hamilkarr was crushed to death ‘neath the folds of fat of her favorite slave-whore? Or that she drowned in the aforementioned slave’s milk? I’ve heard conflicting tales, and am dying to know the truth of the matter. I do hope it wasn’t too fast, such an individual must not leave this plane too quickly after all.”

Another member of the delegation from Surabhumi spoke, a Surabhi priestess of Ishareth who also wore armor, though it was largely concealed beneath the loose flowing grey robes that covered most of her body. Its hood had been thrown back in favor of the kind of straw hat favored by field laborers, and a hint of a smile graced her lips. “Now now, Shridaveh.” She chided, “It is certainly enjoyable to engage in a little… wordplay, but there is time for the two of you to flirt after we have finished our business today.”

“You will find we have brought ample supplies of our own, and I and our entire party invite you to mingle and partake of the dishes and company we have brought. It is a great step we are taking, and we thought it only fitting that we take the appropriate steps to mark the occasion.”



The dusk of the evening gave way to the dim glow of candles and lanterns, and the murmur of instruments as Sanghar and Surabhi musicians filled the coming night air with song and revelry. Tu’mong dancers - with their graceful limbs of burnt copper, flickering through the haze of brazier smoke and incense like wraiths - caught the stare of many an onlooker in their passionate, focused gaze. Before them on a low table a banquet prepared by both dignitaries lay spread, steaming and filling the air with perfumed, spiced and exotic aromas.

On each wing, both sides soothed centuries of tension for a moment, choosing to enjoy the experience. Laughter and conversation rippled melodically through the assembled mass as they feasted, sang and drank, giving the meeting an air of festival which would have surprised folk of other nations. Only a small oasis of tranquility remained, cloistered between the notables of both nations as they hunched in and listened above the celebrations of their courtiers, surrounded by keen eyed scribes who listened to every word they said.

Ungernazern skewered a piece of curried duck with a two pronged fork and brought it to his lips as he eyed his counterparts. Now no longer bound to the conventions of reception, he and the others had shifted to something more civilian and functional. A bluegreen robe of patterned silk, featuring colourful dancing birds of Shanrilaath, lay loose down his shoulders and in great folds around his arms. His chest was bared, opals, sapphires, gold and silver amulets and medallions of service across scarlet skin. He was still well built for a man of his age and it showed, easy life had yet to mellow the hardened lines of his limbs. Then again, as the Dakatha of Tel-Belit, there was little ease in his position.

“So… six thousand bolts of patterned silk from the groves of Tel-Hanat and Tel-Kathit, along with three thousand unpatterned bolts from Tel-Eshtak in exchange for twenty thousand ingots of pure Ukkayan steel. Both merchants will have the right to examine the quality of the goods prior to exportation I assume?

Across the table sat the head of finance for Surabhumi, Aaliyu Navamaba Mallayeh, bedecked in finery, and scarcely touching the sumptuous feast arrayed before her. “Naturally.” She replied in an even tone, “A thousand talents of the finest Ukkayan steel in twenty thousand ingots. Your merchants will be able to examine every ingot personally if they wish.”

Beside her sat the priestess from earlier, still wearing chainmail underneath her plain robes. She seemed wholly uninterested in the mercantile proceedings, instead eagerly eating her fill of the feast arrayed before the assembled delegates. The keen observer would note that her ears remained perked up even as she seemed to gorge herself upon spiced duck and curried fish. Vast dishes of seasoned rice, vegetables in thick curries of spices from both empires. Turning to Aasmi, the similarly armored commander, she gushed effusively. “My dear, you simply must try this - it has been far too long since we received a shipment. I had forgotten how well the two spices complement each other. This dish alone would be worth a thousand treaties.”

Aasmi demurred. She did, of course, partake of the feast - but kept a reserved and aloof air as she observed the proceedings. “Please, Sujati.” She whispered to the priestess, “You do realize we are here to negotiate, not to eat ourselves silly?”

In response, Sujati merely smiled, “No, my dear - it is you and the others who are here to discuss. I am merely a scholar and priestess who was assigned to officiate any rituals and oaths we might make. Besides - how often do we have the chance to enjoy such fine dining in the presence of such esteemed guests?” She held aloft a spoon, vegetables swimming in a heady cocktail of spices alongside mouthwateringly tender slices of crocodile meat. “Humor me and taste this, at least.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Machezzar gushed, eyes glinting at the very thought of counting through such high quality steel. “I’m sure you will honour the agreement as willingly as our silk merchants shall, a gesture of good faith between both our peoples. Truly it has been a long time since such quality steel passed through the ports some of our cities.”

Ungernazern nodded, signalling to the scribes to write down the adjustment to the agreement, only to be interrupted from his elbow as Ahassunat snorted, a mouth full of sweet potato and succulent lamb reducing her chuckles to a mild cough.
“For now at least.” She retorted, clearing her throat and giving a cheerful smile to Shridaveh across the table. “Our smiths continue to explore the deeper alchemy of metals and the forging of bronze and iron-craft, for now Surabhumi holds supremacy in steel, but for how long I wonder?”

Looking up from her meal, Sujati quirked an eyebrow, a broad grin creeping across her face as, further down the table, Khalya’s head jerked sharply in Ahassunat’s direction. “Excuse me, but I must have misheard you.” She called over, frowning. “But I could have sworn you claimed that you would surpass the smiths of Surabhumi in metalworking techniques? Please forgive me, but I find this assertion preposterous. Sanghara may have the edge in the sophistication of magical technique, but to claim a Sangharan smith could outdo those of Surabhumi is akin to claiming I could build a better warship than your finest shipwright. I am afraid, my lady, that you sorely overestimate your capabilities. It is somewhat amusing, in truth.”

Sujati frowned, “Now now, my dear. We cannot fault Ahassunat for what she does not know. Do not be too harsh.”

Ahassunat shrugged, “times change. What has been may come again, and what will be can disappear as quickly as it appears. The world is not a static, stagnant thing. Who knows what the future holds? Certainly not you or I. Perhaps you water-shy Surabhi will learn the craft of shipwrighting rather than flounder, perhaps we shall discover the secrets of steel.” She smiled at that, “perhaps we shall supercede you in both? One decision can change the entire course of history.”

“Irrelevant.” Ungernazern interjected, a scowl across his face as he shot Ahassunat a searching glance, “We are here to discuss tangible realities, not scry futures like two-penny street magicians.”

Ahassunat rolled her eyes and turned back to the food, picking up a rib of paprika and chilli dusted Komodo and gnawing on it voraciously. Ungernazern, satisfied that Ahassunat would not interrupt further, turned again to Aaliyu, eyeing her evenly. “Naturally there are other topics to consider; the flow of sugar and spices between both nations being one, I assume our financiers can discuss the minutiae of such things. One matter that has doubtless been of some concern will be the flow of coffee from the southern nations of Vehndathaya, Tsang-Mah and Nam Leng in particular. I believe this has been discussed prior, but a settled agreement in economic terms has not yet been decided upon. I propose that in return for a… generous price drop in expenses of coffee exportation, both nations agree to mutually declare for the recognition of Nam Leng’s neutrality for the extent of the pact.”

Machezzar nodded agreeably, “that would benefit both empires, with the subduing of rogue provinces and the formation of more natural natural borders, doubtless tensions might potentially arise that we do not yet foresee. Respecting Nam Leng as a neutral nation - with the consent of their divine emperor of course - would allow us a far less politically charged environment to maintain this mutually beneficial peace.”

A barking laugh came from Machezzar’s elbow, followed by coarse, drunkenly slurred mockery. “Peace? Pah! Who is anyone at this table kidding? No sooner than we agree to terms than they’ll be at our throats, taking advantage of every bit of leeway we give them. Peace is an illusion, there can be no peace between us and heterodox heathens who barely share the same goddess as us. The Great Children preserve us, Ishareth worship polluted with half a billion black hearted pagan bovids has taught them nothing but trickery and deceit! I’d sooner make a peace treaty with a tiger, it at least would be more honest with its intentions.”

A dead silence descended upon the assembled diners, and it was Sujati who first broke it. “Excuse me,” she said, smiling sweetly as she stood. “Pardon me, Aasmi, I have something to attend to.”

Slowly, she made her way around the table, the armor underneath her robe clinking in the still air. “Now, my dear.” She asked, approaching the Sangharan who had spoken, “Could you please repeat to me what you just said? I’m afraid there was a bit of a din, and I don’t think I heard you correctly. But it sounded as if you claimed I, and all Surabhi, are heathens and ‘black hearted pagan demons’ who besmirch the worship of our Mother?”

The Sangharan snorted. “Prove me wrong! we’ve had nothing but trouble with Surabhi for over a thousand years, with their fantasies of putting us back in our place in ‘their’ empire. Your obsession with enforcing rustic superstition and farcical irredentist heathenry can be called nothing less than black ignorant savagery. It’s amazing you haven’t totally drowned out the goddesses scripture with peasant totems and retrograde customs, especially with those bands of prancing conniving crones you call priestesses!”

Sujati’s face darkened at his words, her eyebrows furrowing into an expression of loathing. “You ignorant, loudmouthed, shrieking eunuch of a man.” She hissed at him, drawing in close and jabbing a finger hard into his chest. “You know nothing! Nothing!" Her eyes narrowed into slits, centimeters from his own. "Every word that spills from your mouth reeks of centuries of societal decay. You call the order of priestesses a band of crones, yet you profane the name of our Mother with revolting orgiastic frenzies. Maelstroms of wanton excess and decadent carnality! Our customs hail from centuri- no, millenia of history, from the inception of the old empire onwards - and you dare insinuate I and my sisters are the ones who corrupt the scriptures while you slake an unholy thirst for vulgar excess and profane Ishareth’s name by saying it is in devotion to her. My dear inbred noble scion of the bleakest womb, every word that falls from your mouth is utter rot, the same rot that affects what small vestiges of a mind you still cling to.”

As Ungernazern watched the spiralling chaos unfold, he began rubbing his eyes with frustration, shooting the Surabhi emissaries a look of askance before signalling to the Sangharan Lion Guard to bring this farce to a halt. Quickly the armoured soldiers marched forward like lockstepped automatons, Goloks pulled an inch from their sheath as they warded off the irate priestess from further advances.

“We are here to complete a peace treaty, not rip each others throats out over doctrinal differences.” He growled irritably, shooting a look that could kill at Sujati and the drunken Sangharan, “Leave theology to those goddess-mad black-pyramid scholars to argue for an eternity, it won’t make a lick of difference.”

“Like hell I will after what that blasted cow just said!” The drunk roared, trying to pull his Kris blade from its sheath but only getting more tangled up in his scabbard, “I challenge you to a duel you withered old whore! Prove your courage or be called a coward as well as a heretic!”

Sujati’s eyes widened for a moment as he made for his sword, then narrowed, a spark of righteous indignation and excitement burning in them. “I accept.” She called to him, turning her back to him and marching away. “Please inform your next of kin of your last wills.” She taunted over her shoulder, exiting the pavilion.

Ungernazern’s face darkened, eyes practically burning holes in the back of the drunks head as he tottered about. Quietly, very deliberately he spoke, each word measured and controlled in a voice that dripped with potential violence.

“Our guest is wearied, Captain Ekurzakir, escort him to his tent.”

The drunk still hadn’t realised the situation and stammered incoherently, confused by the turn events as he gaped open mouthed and bleary eyed at his master. “B-b-but my lord!”

“Leave. Now.”

Ungernazern’s voice was uncompromising, and at last the drunk seemed to realise the ramifications of his situation. He made one last attempt to convince Ungernazern, stumbling towards him to plead his case. The Lion Guard stopped him before he even took four steps, clamping gold gauntleted hands on his shoulders as they took him away. As he stumbled off muttering silence quickly fell across the table, until Ungernazern turned once again to the Surabhumi emissaries.

“Now…” he spoke evenly, hardly even acknowledging the prior interruption, “I believe we were discussing trade and diplomatic recognition in the southern half of Vehndathaya?”

Vaidihe nodded, steepling her fingers. “I will speak with the priestess after we conclude meetings. Your proposal is fair, Dakatha. We will, of course, discuss minutiae after. I endorse the suggestion of formal with Nam Leng, but I propose an addendum - should Nam Leng come under assault, both empires will contribute militarily to assure the independence of the supply of coffee you enjoy so much.” She smiled slightly, adding with a hint of playfulness, “And, I suppose, the nation itself too.”

“Done. I assume both parties will also curtail any piratical or privateering activity in the region? Doubtless Sangharan and Tu’mong ships can assist in that capacity and ensure the trade lanes are opened properly once again. Golgossar shall be tricky, but despite what the pirate lords claim they are still small men squabbling over their small world. I shall inform the diplomatic embassy being sent there when I am next able. Besides…” he smiled thinly at her, but beneath it there was a hint of mirth. “you act as if you haven’t been missing a proper supply Tsang-Mahan and Lengi coffee, but you can’t fool me. I heard the administrators of both nations wail across the ocean in terror the last time shipments were sporadic.”

A small chuckle escaped her, “Yes, I believe I heard tell at least one general threatening to go to war if her administrators did not receive the coffee they apparently required to function.” Shaking her head, she sighed. “Well, the details can be sorted later, Dakatha. For the time being there is a great feast before us, we would not want to disappoint the cooks would we? Tell your retinue they are free to partake of it if they wish, we have brought enough to feed twice our number and yours combined.”

Ungernazern nodded and signalled to his men, turning back to Vaidihe he smiled, “my gratitude, one can always appreciate the bounty of Surabhumi, although perhaps you should not have brought so much. The wastage of such an abundance of quality food would be quite a shame.”

Her smile broadened into a genuine one, “Clearly you underestimate the appetite of the average soldier. Whatever they do not finish now will surely be gone by tomorrow morn.” She raised a ladle full of a rich curry, spices exclusive to Surabhumi and Sanghara flavoring its contents, “Besides, who could refuse an extra serving of something this good?”

“Perhaps...” Ungernazern mused, accepting the proffered ladle onto his own plate, “I should enjoy it while it lasts shouldn’t I? As oafish as our missing companion was not long ago, he was right about one thing. This peace does not feel meaningful, if anything it is more a calm before a mighty hurricane. I very much doubt it will be many years before the politicians of both our nations are baying for each others blood, no matter how economical the peace is. This pact …” he looked saddened, his stern demeanor crumbling slightly, “I lost four brothers to the last war. How many of my kinsmen will I lose in this one?”

He was silent for a moment before breaking from his ruminations with a start, taking a heap of fresh curry on his plate with naan bread and saffron coloured rice. “Yes… we should enjoy it while we can Vaidihe, true peace may come in some new and distant age, but I cannot see it being so in our lifetime. For now, let’s enjoy what little small luxuries we can gather from this antebellum.”

Grimly, Vaidihe nodded. “I understand. I too lost loved ones in the last war, and I do not relish the possibility of another. Sadly, the wheels of politics grind away, and I doubt our masters will stand the sight of the other growing stronger. But…” she trailed off, before a small smile crept back, “Let us enjoy this peace while it lasts, and the curry that comes with it.”



The light of the new dawn peeked over the horizon, lighting up a dozen figures that stood on the sandy shoreline of the beach, the fluttering of banners and red sails providing a harmonious ambiance to the scene. Ahassunat blinked, bleary-eyed in the sunlight from the the nights hard drinking and covered her eyes as she rubbed them, trying to clear the film that had clouded her vision. Before both delegations a ornate teak table stood, its mother-of-pearl embellishments and claw-footed legs somewhat out of place on a barely occupied beach, which rarely if ever even saw the disembarkation of fishing boats let alone the pride and glory of two great nations, once unified, now divided.

A length of parchment lay before them, worked in beautiful calligraphy and scrollwork, and displaying in detailed intensity the terms of the pact. Beneath, tens of dozens of seals flapped, each with the symbol of a major house of the Sangharan state to officiate the agreement, and numerous of the Surabhumi political elites following suite in their own manner.

Last night had been enlightening for Ahassunat, both in probing the pacts preexistent tensions, as well as the access it allowed her to explore a foreign culture, its traditions, and its leaders weaknesses. Ahassunat felt she had learned a lot amidst the feasting, drinking and debauchery... perhaps some of which might even prove useful later.

As the mist of the hangover began to ease off, she watched the scribes of both nations scamper around the agreement, combing it for any errors or loopholes in its structures that they might oppose before its signing. When both sides looked up and nodded to their respective dignitaries, she let out a sigh of relief.

At last I can get my toes back on ship planks again…

“My Lords and ladies!”

It was Machezzar, looking far less worse for wear than most of the other emissaries in his loose cloaked tunic of teal and gold trim. Ahassunat scowled at that, clearly she’d underestimated the fat little penny-pinching worm, he’d drank as heartily as the rest of them - or at least had seemed to do so - but he’d been keen eyed all throughout the festivities and was just as much today.

“What we complete this morning begins a new epoch in Sanghar and Surabhi history, a new age of growth and prosperity between both nations. We must each ensure that this pact becomes a foundation stone from which future and meaningful peace will arise from, and abide by the word of its law. May it ensure a greater future for both the high halls of Surabhumi, as it does for glorious pyramids of Sanghara, and ensure eternal cooperation between both nations from this moment into all perpetuity!”

With that, the short Sanghar took a step back and bowed to Ungernazern and Vaidihe. Ungernazern worked a shoulder uncomfortably in his robes of state and ceremonial armour, the shifting of his weight resulting in a clinking sound of the golden scales across hippopotamus leather buckles and straps, even as his cinnabar and tyrian robes fluttered in the wind. A snarling tiger skin strapped to his right shoulder and silver kris blade in the other completed the effect, giving him an almost regal aspect. He turned to Vaidihe, and for a moment it almost seemed as if all the weight of his office has flowed from his shoulders, leaving behind a younger, less haggard man. It lasted only a few seconds before it returned with a stern nod, his face contorting into a look he almost constantly had of grim cynicism, but for a moment, the Sanghar had looked almost relieved at the completion of the treaty.

“Do you wish to do the honours first?” he asked her, genuinely deferential to her compared to Machezzar’s flattery and Ahassunat’s mockery.

Vaidihe frowned, considering his offer for a moment, then shook her head. “It was Sanghara that first reached out to begin these dealings. It should be the Sangharan representative to sign the treaty first. It is only fair.” She inclined her head, stepping back half a pace and gesturing for him. She could feel the robes of her office weighing heavily on her - even a lifetime of service as a diplomat could not erase the sheer weight of responsibility placed on her. Even with the immunity granted to her - a centuries old law protecting diplomats such as her from prosecution should the treaty end poorly - she could feel the responsibility for potentially hundreds of thousands or millions of lives resting on her. She silently prayed that she had made the right choices.

A slight blink of surprise was all that Ungernazern gave in reply, a silent moment of understanding passing between them as they shared each other’s gaze. Then he turned, striding towards the table and taking an ornate phoenix-bird quill from one of scribes who hovered around the parchment. With a flourish he wrote his name, the more organic advanced cuneiform of Old Sangharan coming back to him from lessons neared with his old tutors half a century ago. With a final mark and dot he finished, and another scribe followed with hot red wax in a pourer placing it before him.

Taking his time, he found the central fray in the bottom of the parchment and poured, the quickly beginning to cool as he watched. With one age worn hand he pulled on his finger, taking from it a signet ring of his personal sigil and pressed it into the semi-hot wax, before pulling it back after a time, leaving behind the symbol of Esharaddon upon the now hardening liquid. Shifting pose, he made room for his counterpart as she advanced in turn, allowing the Surabhumi emissary ample room to make her mark. Vaidihe in the manner of the Surabhumi completed her own mark, looking on it with relieved finality.

“The pact has been completed!” called out Machezzar, raising his hands in the air at the assembled crowd of both emissaries, “The decades long conflict between the Sangharan Grand Republic and the Realm of Surabhumi is at an end. Long may it endure!”

As both sides erupted into appreciative roars of celebration, Ungernazern clapped armed together as a final sign of respect between the both nations.

“Long may it last, Vaidhe.” Ungernazern smiled, both relieved and thankful that their diplomatic efforts had been successful. Still… a small aspect of it wormed away inside him, and he knew that for his counterpart it was the same.

Long might the peace last… but for just how long?
Evenin' peeps, both Mono and I have made some critiques of the sheets we have so far. So, in order of submission:

@bloonewb

Mono: Right, it looks pretty good! But there are a few issues to resolve:

“Old Empire temporarily subjugates the kingdom of Imasicia. Imasicia rebels. The imperial legio style of warfare is harmonized with the existing method. Imasicia proves itself incredibly capable in combat, and throws off Old Empire rule. New family rises up to declare themselves king.”


Mono: The Vehndathayan Empire (or Old Empire) never stretched that far and there would have been little effort to extend their influence to an area so distant from their home turf. It could be easily rectified by changing this to a client state seeking protection from them?

Eldy: I'm in agreement with Mono here, The Vehndy Empire was pretty much struggling for much of its history to control its historic boundaries after it ate the sub-continent that was later named after it. Expanding so far north territorially would simply not be part of any conceivable plan. Having said that, their involvement doesn't need to be snipped, I could well see a Chinaesque like invasion force being expended to bring an enduring thorn in their side to heel, which then raised up a client dynasty to keep things quiet and then promptly marched home. The rebellion could then topple this client state whilst it struggled to bring Vehndy forces to its aid, thus separating from the Vehndy sphere again and reasserting its political if not territorial independence.

“The horsemen fielded by Imasicia are not heavy, but are no less tough. Even the young nobles are quickly informed of the importance of discipline, as harshly as is necessary. The horsemen are armored in lamellar and armed with both arrows and spathae, and thus serve diverse roles as harassment, flanking, and pursuit.”


Mono: It should be noted lamellar is largely equivalent to chainmail and it hardly a light armor - historically light cavalry would not have been armored with heavy metal protection much, if at all. It is more likely they would have used padded cloth armor - or even none at all. This is not really a major issue, just something I felt like pointing out~

Eldy: Seconded there, I can understand the confusion however given most modern fantasy and medieval settings tend to make that inaccurate definition tho.

Mono: …Though I will say a spada de lato in combination with shock trooper tactics and berserker soldiers is a bit of a strange combination.

Eldy: Personally I think that kind of highly advanced swordcraft is a little out of place for the setting. Might be an idea to go for a more advanced version of something of the more 1st-8th Century range, given the Surabhi at this point aren't even manufacturing zweihanders or claymores at this point, and are instead utilising a more period accurate advanced falx.

Mono: Finally - your traits are fine, but I'm uncertain what effects they confer to your nation. Please make sure to specify in your sheet. Second - where are your tech trees?

Eldy: Agreed, the traits add humorous and cultural flavour but it's a bit hard to tell their exact purpose in national terms. Tree's will also need filled, but beyond what we've listed everything seems in good order.

@Loo Tenant

Mono: Right! What you have so far is looking pretty good! There's just... well, an issue. It's very very obviously Catholicism in all but name - and while there is nothing wrong in the slightest with taking inspiration from real life cultures (I don't know if there ever was an NRP nation that didn't) many characters even have the same, or extremely similar, names to their real life historical counterparts. Even the empire founding sons being raised by a wolf myth is there. I wouldn't dream of asking you to completely scrap it - but I would request you edit the names and a few other details to give it some of your own original thoughts and influences!

Eldy: I am in agreement with Mono, I feel the connections are too obvious and too direct, which makes immersing oneself in your nation difficult as you're constantly aware of where the source material is coming from. I'd recommend developing your nations concept further so it stands by itself as a realised culture rather than leaning to heavily on the source material. Rome and Catholicism are good inspirations, don't get me wrong, but I want more of YOU in this rather a close tread with a historical comparable, let those creative juices flow, this is fantasy after all.

Both: Also - your trees!

@Perihelion

Mono: First of all - excellent overly long royal title. A+ on that. And a beautifully written CS!

There are some issues though:

“3.) Cinnamon Isles - Exotic and engaging, a tourist destination right across the world – to quote a tourist advertisement ‘The dusky and enigmatic Cinnamon Isles, where natives the colour of rich chocolate cavort on the orange sands and wine-dark seas lap the shores under a nacarine sky.’ The Cinnamon Isles are found to the south and west of the Home Duchies. The mainstay of the Cinnamon Isles’ economy these days is tourism, unsurprisingly, given its great natural beauty and the aesthetic sense the Dominion’s rulers have preserved ever since the Isles fell under Imperial rule.”


Mono: While we aren't your typical high fantasy medieval stasis land, we still aren't in the age of large scale foreign tourism, and especially not enough to fund a tourist economy. We still get to places with horses and wooden ships.

Which leads me on...

“The City of Light is well-named indeed. One of the largest and certainly grandest of all cities, it sprawls in a great valley that covers most of the capital island of the Empire, filling it with a blaze of multi-coloured light that can be seen for many, many miles, an earthbound sun challenging the celestial one. Great towers spear the skies in stately array, fantastically-decorated and faced with iridescent filaments that make them glow brilliantly in the dark. The wide boulevards with their trees and fountains and ornate streetlamps are always thronged with the best and brightest of the empire, and high overhead a constant silver stream of airships goes to and from the highest docks while trains shoot back and forth and the river – insofar as is still navigable – is thronged with barges and pleasure craft.”


Mono: Same goes for the above - the huge towers are fine, heaven knows I can't throw stones there - but when you say filaments do you mean some sort of magical light or electrical tungsten filaments? Similarly - we don't have trains or airships at all, as much fun as they are. If this is something you simply copied from a previous sheet and forgot to remove that is fine, but, well - do make sure to remove it.

“here merchantier princes and the lesser nobility keep their winter residences”


Mono: Smaller nitpick - but there isn't really a 'winter' in the tropics to be entirely honest. You'll have small seasonal fluctuations, but winter in the tropics means "Oh, it's only 70F outside instead of 90F!"

“The taverns here are raucous and friendly, a haven for students and sailors alike, a far cry from the refined restaurants of the upmarket areas of town.”


Mono: I suppose this is also something of a nitpick, but we _are_ still somewhat before the time of restaurants, and the closest thing would most likely be the local tavern. The nobility has their slaves household servants do the cooking for them, generally.

“Being the largest trading city of the entire Empire, Xantal’s transport system and marinas are concomitantly enormous; the largest train hub yet constructed has just been completed to allow hundreds of trains to disburse megatons of goods all across the home provinces and to take in the enormous harvests from the bountiful island, while the shipyards work ceaselessly to produce more and more trading ships of both aerial and nautical kinds to keep the Empire together.”


Mono: Ach! Trains and airships again!

“The beating industrial heart of the Home Duchies, Coronne is the centrepiece of Monrutaine island. It is not a tourist destination in the least; Monrutaine in any case is harsh and inhospitable, with sheer cliffs of granite, volcanic mountains and jagged reefs surrounding much of it. The island is split in two by the Charys range, the source of a great deal of raw materials for Coronne’s industrial combine. Mines honeycomb the foothills and cut into the volcanic mountains themselves, bringing forth a wealth of gold, gems and metal, as well as a great deal of fine masonry stone. This mineral tribute is then barged down the river to Coronne city and the vast foundries and forges of the League of Iron then turn this into almost any sort of good imaginable. Ars Technica, the premier engineering institute in all the Empire is located on the outskirts of Coronne, close to the manufactoria for the mass-production of alloys for the Imperial Armada that have played a large part in ruining Monrutaine more or less completely. The island can be seen for leagues by the glow of the furnaces, drifting up from the enormous manufacturing plants that have killed nearly every scrap of vegetation on the island, warring with the red blazes from the mines further inland that have wrecked the rest of it.


The Dukes of Monrutaine still maintain their ancestral residence amid the smokestacks of the industrial giant, a cyclopean fortress of obdurate granite, polluted and blasted by industrial effluents. In practice, though, the family resides in Joyeuse, remaining as far from the belching chimneys as they can. While they care for their duchy and the people in it as much as they can – they spend the most per head of any duchy on public health and other works, they nevertheless don’t choose to live themselves amongst all the pollution.”


Mono: This section highlights a broader problem both of us have and that is the aesthetic and technological element of your sheet. It's more in aesthetically for a steampunk RP than our anachronistic 'late antiquity' feel we've been pushing for.

That said, and this is me personally speaking here - I absolutely adore this sheet and I want to ask you, personally, to hold on to this version. It's beautifully written, evocative, and it's giving me loads of ideas. If I ever run an RP with steampunk RP (and tbh that's very likely, as steam/dieselpunk is a genre I love) I want this sheet there and I want it badly. I implore you to keep this version saved somewhere because, while it doesn't fit the aesthetics of this version of Takanis - later iterations of it (or other settings!) will certainly be the perfect home for it and its airshipyards.

And I thank you for filling out your trees~

Eldy: Mono pretty much covered my main issues with the profile so I'll be a bit more brief. I definitely share her enthusiasm for your profile but as she said, it's more in tune with a 16th-18th Century steampunk world than it is in a Late Antiquity period world. Like her I would definitely suggest keeping the profile for later use, as Mono is definitely eager to do some delicious Napoleonic period Takanis, but right now there is jarring tonal issues with using it in the current setting. Still beautifully written however.~

Also, I believe you may have forgotten to put up your naval tree, as I didn't see it amidst the existing ones, but that's only a small issue.

@The Wyrm

Mono: Last to post (so far) but nobody here is the least!

Your sheet doesn't have much written and I know you're reworking it so we in turn can't write much - but the only issue I can see at the moment is that your population looks a bit high to me. A kingdom that purposefully avoids intensive agriculture and seeks only to produce what they need would have a smaller population in my view - and even if that will no longer apply, with your rolls I would suggest toning the population down a bit. Other than that, I hope the reworking goes well and look forward to whatever you come up with!

Eldy: Mono covered the majority of the issues, but much like her I'm holding off on the critique due to your statement that you're redoing your nation. I have some aspects that I would normally cover in more detail that Mono hasn't, but I'll let them lie for now and wait for your new nation idea to formulate.`


Please please please tell me this is still open.


Yes it is, feel free to come join us on Discord to discuss more.




An Uneasy Peace...









“This pact is a folly.”

It was Ungernazern who had broken the tranquillity between the three figures on the swaying howdah, the journey that had continued past two of the great walls of Tel-Belit, spared from interruption but for the base rumblings of the elephant and the clattering of ironclad hooves.

“Come now, my Lord Dakatha,” replied Ahassunat as she reclined languidly on plump cushions of silk and smiling at him banally, “Clearly you jest.” As she spoke she absent-mindedly she fed dates to a conclave of chirping red-coated monkeys, a gang of six which had clambered up the elephants gilded sides to squat before her inquisitively. Ungernazern turned to fix her with a scowl, and the monkeys chirped and hissed at each other over the dates, squabbling over their small feast.

“I do not.” The Prince of Tel Belit retorted, voice tinged in bitterness and brow furrowed into deep craggy lines - a feature worn in deep by the chains of his office. “The matriarchs of Surabhumi will not keep this agreement for long, this will only allow them an opening to rebuild their fragmented fleets into a fighting force to challenge the republic once more. We endanger our mastery of the seas, our trade monopoly and Tel-Belit itself for what? For backstabbing Abbot-lords chanting to a dark, blood hungry gods? a mob of obstinate mountain men who smell of goat, and cut each others throats on a whim?”

Ahassunat snorted, amused at his tone even as she fixed him with single raised pale eyebrow. Her face was of the blood of Old Sanghara; imperious, sensual and haughty, with dark red sun-kissed skin matching an strong aquiline nose, enhanced by oceanically carved and bejewelled horns. But for numerous thin scars across her jaw and cheeks - and the ruthless lilt of her tigerish orange eyes - she could have been mistaken for a sorceress priestess of Ishareth in robes of an Asurbaal, if she had not instead chosen the office and brine-stained leathers of a sea captain.

“Calm yourself Lord,” she said, attempting to sooth the rancorous old leathery Sangharan Prince. “The Surabhuma have built fleets before and what has become of them? Why, they have all burned! For a thousand years they have tried to contest our dominance of the Ebon, each attempt greater than the last, and every one of them has been turned to kindling within a generation by our Dragonships. What is really contested is not the sea but the land, and surely you must admit that the reconquest of our wayward subjects will ensure further stability of Tel-Belit’s position?”

“Bah!” Ungernazern waved her away, turning to stare across the dwindling edge of the city.

Ahassunat watched him as he brooded, studying the man as he looked out across enclosed rice paddies and vegetable gardens tended to by the Hazarpresh, eking an existence in this small sliver of territory that Tel-Belit governed. The haggard old Sanghar did not sit well in his purple Dakatha robes or the baubles and gems of office that fitted his fingers, and he fidgeted with them constantly. The gilded scale and leather underneath however… that, Ahassunat noticed, sat as easy on him as a second skin.

“Even if we accept that this is so,” he continued at last, “there is no assurance the war won’t just be a waste of manpower and resources. If Surabhumi chooses to challenge us, we will face the same overwhelming odds our people always have. This is not the age of Hamilkarr, there will be no saviour to leap in and change the course of destiny, no Arcana to balance the scales between us, no… this will be a war both inclement and bloody… a brutal conflict Sanghara has not seen since the first two Century Wars.”

“Preposterous!”

It was their third companion, the doughy Machezzar of the Guilds of Trade who had interjected. Easy living had smoothed his features beneath layers of fat, and rich trade deals had decked him in gold and silver. Unlike Ungernazern and his discomfort with finery, these decadent gems fitted him like a silk glove, for he was a man accustomed to indulgence and leisure. His chubby fingers swept to both sides, taking in the retinue that followed them as he spoke. “Do you trust so little in the power of our armies my lord? I admit that the bovids may bring forth a unwashed horde of untrained peasants on whim, but such armies are easily broken and dispersed by nothing less than a good charge of steel clad cataphracts and elephants. Numbers mean nothing to quality, and the armies of the republic are the most disciplined, supplied and well armed fighting force upon Ishareth’s blessed earth!”

Ungernazern smiled drily at that, “I imagine my good guildmaster, you have seen little of war with the Surabhi? They are better trained and equipped than you realise. A direct charge by them causes fear even in the boldest of soldiers, and their numbers are only matched by their tenacity.”

“Numbers and tenacity matter only so much my lord Dakatha. It is coin that wins wars, and it is we who are mightier by far there!” Machezzar’s face practically glowed with pride, the blood of generations of Sanghar merchants shining through to glorify this supposed primal ‘truth’. “Our merchants sail to all corners of the world whilst the Surabhuma make do with poor desert caravans and the exorbitant trade tithes. They can neither challenge us navally nor compete with our merchants in any port, and would be fools beyond belief to try. It is we who control the greater wealth of Vehndathaya and its future, not them.”

“For now at least…” Ungernazern seemed to muse once more on the topic, watching the honour guard of horsemen whose steel glad hooves clattered beside the giant elephant.

He could well understand Machezzar’s trust in them. They were fine looking soldiers, veterans of a dozen fierce campaigns through enemy territory, and with the phalera’s to prove it pinned upon their tabards. Clad in amber cloth and fine steel, their proud lances were raised high above them with snapping orange pendants that bore the feathered serpent of Sanghara. Glossy chestnut and milk white stallions snorted and stamped with pride beneath their riders, as sure in themselves as their own masters were. Their bodies were coated in silvery tide of interlocking scales, only matched in splendour by their gilded and coloured bridles and harnesses of polished leather. Above their riders were no less magnificent; equipped in turn in crocodile leather pteruges and reinforced by scale and banded steel, they stared out behind grimacing silver war masks and helms with cunning, fierce eyes. Each one bore the pelt of a snarling lion or tiger across their heads and shoulders, slain single handed in the dense jungles and dry southern forests of Shanrilaath, or the mountain wilderness of Tsang-Mah. Each one had had to prove themselves worthy of becoming Lion Guard, prove themselves worthy of becoming a elite rider, and so they earned such status through this token of their courage, this symbol of their brotherhood in the equestrian order.

Yes, Ungernazern mused, these were unparalleled warriors. Each one was a titan amongst their kin, a Sanghar of many virtues, and a keen bladed slayer when the time came for blood and steel.

But still…

“I apologise master guildsman, I did not mean to so greatly disrespect the fine soldiers of the republic. Truly they are without peer. But… they are not without number. Do we so easily forget the Battle of the Red Rivers? One wrong move could lose all the nobilitas and skill of tens of thousands of warriors, and Sanghara has not the means to easily replace them.”

Machezzar shrugged, his eyes were dark and deep set in his skull, and his pate and face clean shaven. Ungernazern mused almost inexplicably, that the merchant could have almost been mistaken for a eunuch in the right light. “True enough my lord, but the territory we shall be fighting in is well known to us, Tsang-Mah was an imperial province for centuries. If the Surabhuma betray the agreement, we, not them, shall know the terrain best. Besides…” he chuckled, flicking a silver coin through the air, “there is always thousands of sellswords willing to serve in our ranks for gold, pillage and glory.”

“Regardless to all that,” Ahassunat interjected as she shooed away her monkey familiars with a brush of her hand, “the Dakathan Senate has declared that this deal must happen. We small players cannot change the course of a nation, no matter how we might personally disagree with it. Instead we must play the part assigned to us, and look!” she gestured smiling to the final gate of Tel Belit before them, “the stage now opens up before us all, shall we not strike a pose?”

As the mahout brought the great elephant to halt before the great ebony gates, waiting on the forty guardsmen to pull the iron studded heavy doors open for them, his passengers lapsed into silence. Regardless of their personal outlooks on the issue, that was the fundamental truth of it. None of them could or would dare to oppose the motion politically, least they attract the ire of the Senate. Thus they were here in this place, marching towards an embassy just as unsettled as they upon the sandy shores before Tel-Belit, to ‘make peace’ with their nations most ancient enemy.

A peace they each knew could never last.



The personal fleet of Shridaveh Enheduana rested upon the beach, steadily disgorging their contents. Gleaming, mail encased infantry marched in a steady column from the decks of the vessels. They formed a steady column as they streamed from the ramps, seeming to melt into neat rectangular formations, each soldier holding her shield at ready and her spear by her side. Behind them marched archers, similarly armored in mail, but not nearly to the same extent, their bows were unstrung and had only just been taken from the protective wrappings that sealed them from the damaging moisture and salt of the sea. There were of course almost no cavalry with them, save for a small squad of about ten. Each rider sat astride a massive bull, almost unrecognizeable as such beneath the chainmail and segmented plates of steel that covered the beasts. These mounted shock troopers sat silently behind the persons they had been sent to escort, faces obscured by masks of bronze cast in the image of a scowling face.

Behind the soldiers flowed a thickening tide of scribes, attendants, artisans, laborers, and merchants. Heavy crates of goods, gleaming ingots of Ukkayan steel carried by burly smiths, laborers marching with lumber and canvas to erect pavilions, bundles of sugarcane, and more. Even cooks swirled among their number, barrels of both water and rum, exotic delicacies from every corner of Surabhumi. Expensive and lavish gifts and display from the empire in the north.

“It is impressive.” Noted one of the few individuals not bedecked in armor, “But I cannot help but question the reasons for bringing them. We are here to negotiate, not do battle or build a town. Surely a smaller party would have been more practical?”

“You are a genius in many ways, Khalya, but I do not know why you were assigned to this. You are a blacksmith and an accountant, not a diplomat. I do not know why many of us are here, in truth - but bringing such a large escort is a show of power.” The new speaker was also unarmored, but richly dressed in luscious violet and yellow robes. “It demonstrates to Sanghara that we are not a… ‘paper tiger’ I believe is the term they use. It shows we can afford to send a party of such size and magnificence with ease, that we do not come to their meeting cowed and seeking cessation of hostilities. They know as well as we do that they cannot match us on land, and we cannot match them at sea. This is how it has been for some time, and only fools believe otherwise. This is nevertheless an opportunity to flex our muscle and let the might and wealth of Surabhumi be felt across the land, no longer hampered by mountains and marauding Sangharan pirates.”

“You are optimistic, Sujati.” Observed a third beside them. Unlike the first two, she sat astride her mount bedecked in full armor, heavy chain gleaming dully in the light of the sun, a sword and an axe at her sides. “I am hopeful that none of you are under any delusions about this meeting, yes? This is no peace treaty or commerce agreement, this is a temporary armistice. We both have our plans for expansion - Sanghara wishes to reclaim its old continental holdings, we wish to reclaim more of the old empire and to engage in broader trade with the rest of the world. These are incompatible goals in the long run. Say Sanghara conquers some of the land they seek, and we acquire a proper fleet and send trading missions abroad - it can only end in bloodshed. As we begin to cut into their profits the Sangharan lords will clamor to stop us and preserve their coin purses. As Sanghara claims more of the mainland we will have to put our foot down lest they lay eyes on Odhisa, Ditadisha, or other nations in our sphere of influence. The Sangharans know that and so does every one of those soldiers you see marching before you.”

On the other side of the small cluster of individuals, a lone Sanghar woman cleared her throat, drawing the attention of the bickering party. “It is my fleet you sailed on to reach this meeting. And it is my fleet, and the fleet of the nation at large, that we hope to gain some respite for. You speak wisely, Aasmi. The rest of you - yes, Surabhumi is vast and immeasurably powerful on land - and at sea? We have fallen far. My grandmother assembled an armada that could threaten Sanghara itself, only taken from us by cruel fate. Now, a scant eighty three years later - look at us. Sixteen warships. Sixteen warships is all that remains of a force of thousands. My southern brethren may see themselves as the rightful masters of the seas - but I say we haven’t given them enough of a challenge. We must use this… armistice for what it is - a chance to build a fleet that can stand with the mightiest in the world!” She pumped her fist to punctuate her point, the armor she wore jingling with the motion. She was dressed in a curious fusion of Sanghar and Surabhi attire, the loose flowing garments of a more Surabhi bent combined with the intricate ornamentation often worn by Sangharan nobles.

Aasmi, the armored Surabhi, turned her eye towards the impetuous Sanghar woman. “I will not speak of what happened in the past, what needed to be said has been said long ago. But you do realize, my dear - you have in your personal employ half of the shipwrights in Surabhumi capable of equalling Sanghara. The grand total would only be impressive for a middling lord among them. Rebuilding our fleet is an admirable goal - but if you think we can do it on our own, I am afraid you are sorely mistaken.”

“Enough of this.” Spoke yet another voice, its composure and cadence different from the previous. “We are here to negotiate with Sanghara, not to bicker among ourselves.” Atop the fifth mount, a normal horse in place of the bulls ridden by the others, sat Vaidihe Nijasureh Mallam, an experienced diplomat personally assigned by Raani Anushravati. “The effects of this meeting and our forward policy can be determined after we conclude our dealings with the Sangharans.” She nodded towards the procession making its way towards them. “And I believe they are here now.”



The main party of thirty riders crossed the shadow of the Third Tiger Gate without incident, and made its way along the imperial road with good time, passing by hamlets and villages that clustered around the edge of the looming tripartite walls of Tel-Belit. Behind them a trail of seventy scribes, priests, diplomats, servants and footsmen kept pace with the elephant, bringing with them the assembled pleasures of the city in expertly carved and painted carts, pulled by heavy draft horses to the shores of Tel-Belit. As he looked upon the wall, Ungernazern mused that the jungle that now lingered just beyond the horizon had once touched the very gates long ago. But then war had come, and steely sinewed Sanghar had cut it back further and further with each generation, leaving only a plain of farms, grasslands and villages to inherit its remains. Tel-Belit had been a tenth of its current size then, a sleepy township barely beyond constructing its first ziggurat, surrounded by walls better used to oppose bandits than armies.

The Century Wars had changed all that.

It had survived by inches to begin with, then by deliberate measures. Its defenders had staunchly held their ground against the armies of Surabhumi with stubborn tenacity, and families of wealth and power had taken note of this seemingly inconsequential speck on the tip of Vehndathaya. The city had bloomed in a matter of decades, its population swelling with thousands of new arrivals as all clamoured to become citizens of the “Sapphire of Vehndathaya”. Its ports and shipyards soon burst to the seams with trade, the cities geographical position becoming useful as a major stopping point in trade both east and west; and necessitating an explosion of dock construction to support with the commercial hub it was soon to become. With prosperity and patronage came the impetus to build the mighty bastions of Tel-Belit, and it quickly rose from a single heap of cemented sandstone to three titanic red-brick walls over the course of two centuries. Infused with the magic of ancient rites and mystic alchemy, reinforced with granite and basalt, and entrenched by ditches, moats and murderholes, these massive structures towered over all but the purple ziggurats and cinnabar pagodas of the Dakatha in their immensity. Up to seventy feet high and forty feet thick, they had provided a nightmarish obstacle for any invading army, and although the Surabhuma had once overwhelmed two of them, they had never overwhelmed all three. The cost of those two alone had seem the deaths of many tens of thousands, and since then Surabhumi had attempted more guileful and patient tactics to seize Tel-Belit, the last of which had lit up the night sky in black and crimson, and turned the very seas to flame. Spreading above even the villages, walls and towers of Tel-Belit however, hung the true monument to its glory, and the staunchest reminder of Sangharan imperial power upon the continent.

The three ziggurats of House Escharaddon.

The central pyramid seemed so immense and huge that it almost cleaved the clouds, mists of vapour drifting around it like the smoking volcanoes of Shranrilaath. Each had been painted a rich non-fading purple and engraved with multicoloured bas-reliefs of festival, war, religious ritual and love-making betwixt brazen bands of shining copper which topped each tier. The sweat and toil of tens of thousands of Sanghar, Surabhi and Tu’mong labourers had ensured that no matter what came, these symbols of the Republic would never fade. With every coming dawn the three daughters of Tel-Belit were lit by the halo of the sun, which crowned them in regal, indefatigable majesty.

Ungernazern found it poetic. No matter how the republic waxed and waned in power, a new dawn would rise over the tops of these structures and signal the beginning of a new day. Dawn would always come again, and with it the resurgent glory of the Sangharan Republic.

“One wonders how much money the magisters could have saved to pay soldiers and build ships if they did not insist on building such massive gaudy palaces.”

Ungernazern shot Ahassunat a look and she smiled wryly in turn, cleaning her nails with a dagger. He knew she was baiting him and he did not rise to it. It was her way of testing the waters, of feeling out her prey and finding the right time to strike. If she ever found her ways into the Dakatha Senate, he would be loathe to give her that advantage over him.

“Much, one would imagine.” He replied in an even tone. “But would it have changed our situation for the better? Our guildsmaster here puts his faith in coin, but even coin cannot avert disaster. Regardless of the waxing and waning of the empire, the pyramids that our grandparents and forty times great grandparents still stand upon the shores of Ditadisha, Jatapu and Odisha. Crumbling though they may be, but they still stand.”

“True… true…” Machezzar cut in before Ahassunat could reply, “and they may stand still longer with the right moves in the great game.” He blinked, and peered into the distance, his jowls bunching as he scrutinised the sight, “and if I’m not mistaken that is our fine guests disembarking on the sands. We best hurry to meet them, the work of several months will not be undone by tardiness.”

As the mahout stirred the elephant to a quicker pace, their retinue spurred their horses to gallop to precipitate their arrival. The sound of trumpets erupted from the four outriders ahead of them, and brought all to a halt before the host that had gathered on the beach. The elephant was the final part of the forward embassy to arrive, its heavy feet grinding to a halt like a monolith as it rumblingly took its place behind the line of Lion Guard.

The first of their escort spurred his horse before the Surabhi and raised his mask, revealing the amber eyes and dusky complexion of a Tu’mong, staring imperiously at the assembled legions of Surabhi almost as if daring for them to challenge him. “We introduce our most esteemed excellency, lord of ships and sails, master of coin and ruler of Tel-Belit - the Sapphire of Vehndathaya, the unconquered city - his majesty lord Ungernazern of House Escharaddon. Furthermore accompanied by Lady Asurbaal Ahassumat Kesh, admiral of the twelfth fleet and victorious captain of the battle of Shamarazil Bay, and his noble eminence guildmaster Machezzar of Tel Taram-Ish who speak today for the Provincial Assembly of the Republic of Sanghara, long may it endure!”

A silence fell as the two groups squared off, examining each other with tense expectancy. It almost seemed as if they might have come to blows there and then, despite the numbers of the Surabhi, when Ahassumat swung down off the side of the elephant and took to heel the ground beneath her.

Dusting herself off, she looked up at the assembled host in amusement. “My oh my! You Surabhi do love to put on a good show, if we thought you’d bring an army with you we’d have brought extra pavilions with the carts. I do hope your soldiers are not going to stand like that all day. The midday sun ... well, it can be brutal around here.”

As Ungernazern lowered himself gracefully from the howdah, waving away servants with his hand Ahussunat eyed the ships with a look of faux-shock. “And what’s this? Sailing under the affectations and ships of the arch-traitoress herself! Tut, tut. Then again, I suppose we did burn the rest didn’t we?” Picking out Shridaveh Enheduana from amongst the assembled dignitaries she smirked viciously at her. “Now, you must be the granddaughter of the traitor I’ve been hearing about. Tell me if this is true, I’ve heard it bandied about the ports so often but I simply must know for myself. Did your grandmother, really drunkenly shit herself to death in a seedy brothel in Surabhumi? I really am desperate to know how ended the days of our most illustrious kindling provider, especially since our throat-slitters failed to find her.”

“Please, please!” It was Machezzar, the guildmaster almost tumbling off the back of the elephant - only saved from shame by the numerous straining and huffing servants beneath him - to intercede before diplomacy soured further, face flush with embarrassed. Now that coin and profit was on the table, he was all smiles and platitudes, but Ahassunat knew his daggers were still drawn behind all this flattery. “We are not here to trade in barbs but finalise the agreement between both nations. Shall we let petty grievance and old feuds get in the way of shared prosperity and peace? Come now, we must do better than that for our own people's sake.”

He turned to Ungernazern, bowing as graciously as his aching knees would allow “My lord Dakatha, you carry the final treaties with you of course?”

Ungernazern nodded stiffly to the assembled host, barely hiding a scowl of distaste as he did so. They’ve practically brought a war host to my city for the signing of a diplomatic treaty! Do they think to insult me with threats and sabre rattling? An aloof sigh was all he gave however to the his smouldering contempt, and he mellowed his features into something of a less grim countainence.

“All is ready to be read and for mutual parties engage in final alterations before signing.” He stated dryly, “I trust you have assembled a suitable pavilion for that purpose? Good. Then let us not waste any more time dallying. The midday sun will soon begin to roast us alive if we wait any longer. Your women can find water beyond that dune there, now let’s get this over and done with.”

“Unfortunately,” began Shridaveh, “My grandmother died in her bed at the grand age of a hundred and thirty three, her health had begun to decline. I believe she did have a little too much wine that evening and had flirted with a few servants, but beyond that she passed onto Ishareth surrounded by loving family.” She smiled, “But, my dear Ahassumat, I have to ask the same of you. Is it really true that Hamilkarr was crushed to death ‘neath the folds of fat of her favorite slave-whore? Or that she drowned in the aforementioned slave’s milk? I’ve heard conflicting tales, and am dying to know the truth of the matter. I do hope it wasn’t too fast, such an individual must not leave this plane too quickly after all.”

Another member of the delegation from Surabhumi spoke, a Surabhi priestess of Ishareth who also wore armor, though it was largely concealed beneath the loose flowing grey robes that covered most of her body. Its hood had been thrown back in favor of the kind of straw hat favored by field laborers, and a hint of a smile graced her lips. “Now now, Shridaveh.” She chided, “It is certainly enjoyable to engage in a little… wordplay, but there is time for the two of you to flirt after we have finished our business today.”

“You will find we have brought ample supplies of our own, and I and our entire party invite you to mingle and partake of the dishes and company we have brought. It is a great step we are taking, and we thought it only fitting that we take the appropriate steps to mark the occasion.”



The dusk of the evening gave way to the dim glow of candles and lanterns, and the murmur of instruments as Sanghar and Surabhi musicians filled the coming night air with song and revelry. Tu’mong dancers - their graceful agile limbs flickering through the haze of brazier smoke and incense like wraiths - caught the stare of many an onlooker in their passionate, focused gaze. Before them on a low table a banquet prepared by both dignitaries lay spread, steaming and filling the air with perfumed, spiced and exotic aromas.

On each wing, both sides soothed centuries of tension for a moment, choosing to enjoy the experience. Laughter and conversation rippled melodically through the assembled mass as they feasted, sang and drank, giving the meeting an air of festival which would have surprised folk of other nations. Only a small oasis of tranquility remained, cloistered between the notables of both nations as they hunched in and listened above the celebrations of their courtiers, surrounded by keen eyed scribes who listened to every word they said.

Ungernazern skewered a piece of curried duck with a two pronged fork and brought it to his lips as he eyed his counterparts. Now no longer bound to the conventions of reception, he and the others had shifted to something more civilian and functional. A bluegreen robe of patterned silk, featuring colourful dancing birds of Shanrilaath, lay loose down his shoulders and in great folds around his arms. His chest was bared, opals, sapphires, gold and silver amulets and medallions of service across scarlet skin. He was still well built for a man of his age and it showed, easy life had yet to mellow the hardened lines of his limbs. Then again, as the Dakatha of Tel-Belit, there was little ease in his position.

“So… six thousand bolts of patterned silk from the groves of Tel-Hanat and Tel-Kathit, along with three thousand unpatterned bolts from Tel-Eshtak in exchange for twenty thousand ingots of pure Ukkayan steel. Both merchants will have the right to examine the quality of the goods prior to exportation I assume?

Across the table sat the head of finance for Surabhumi, Aaliyu Navamaba Mallayeh, bedecked in finery, and scarcely touching the sumptuous feast arrayed before her. “Naturally.” She replied in an even tone, “A thousand talents of the finest Ukkayan steel in twenty thousand ingots. Your merchants will be able to examine every ingot personally if they wish.”

Beside her sat the priestess from earlier, still wearing chainmail underneath her plain robes. She seemed wholly uninterested in the mercantile proceedings, instead eagerly eating her fill of the feast arrayed before the assembled delegates. The keen observer would note that her ears remained perked up even as she seemed to gorge herself upon spiced duck and curried fish. Vast dishes of seasoned rice, vegetables in thick curries of spices from both empires. Turning to Aasmi, the similarly armored commander, she gushed effusively. “My dear, you simply must try this - it has been far too long since we received a shipment. I had forgotten how well the two spices complement each other. This dish alone would be worth a thousand treaties.”

Aasmi demurred. She did, of course, partake of the feast - but kept a reserved and aloof air as she observed the proceedings. “Please, Sujati.” She whispered to the priestess, “You do realize we are here to negotiate, not to eat ourselves silly?”

In response, Sujati merely smiled, “No, my dear - it is you and the others who are here to discuss. I am merely a scholar and priestess who was assigned to officiate any rituals and oaths we might make. Besides - how often do we have the chance to enjoy such fine dining in the presence of such esteemed guests?” She held aloft a spoon, vegetables swimming in a heady cocktail of spices alongside mouthwateringly tender slices of crocodile meat. “Humor me and taste this, at least.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Machezzar gushed, eyes glinting at the very thought of counting through such high quality steel. “I’m sure you will honour the agreement as willingly as our silk merchants shall, a gesture of good faith between both our peoples. Truly it has been a long time since such quality steel passed through the ports some of our cities.”

Ungernazern nodded, signalling to the scribes to write down the adjustment to the agreement, only to be interrupted from his elbow as Ahassunat snorted, a mouth full of sweet potato and succulent lamb reducing her chuckles to a mild cough.
“For now at least.” She retorted, clearing her throat and giving a cheerful smile to Shridaveh across the table. “Our smiths continue to explore the deeper alchemy of metals and the forging of steel, for now Surabhumi holds supremacy in such matters, but for how long I wonder?”

Looking up from her meal, Sujati quirked an eyebrow, a broad grin creeping across her face as, further down the table, Khalya’s head jerked sharply in Ahassunat’s direction. “Excuse me, but I must have misheard you.” She called over, frowning. “But I could have sworn you claimed that you would surpass the smiths of Surabhumi in metalworking techniques? Please forgive me, but I find this assertion preposterous. Sanghara may have the edge in the sophistication of magical technique, but to claim a Sangharan smith could outdo those of Surabhumi is akin to claiming I could build a better warship than your finest shipwright. I am afraid, my lady, that you sorely overestimate your capabilities. It is somewhat amusing, in truth.”

Sujati frowned, “Now now, my dear. We cannot fault Ahassunat for what she does not know. Do not be too harsh.”

Ahassunat shrugged, “Times change. What has been may come again, and what will be can disappear as quickly as it appears. The world is not a static, stagnant thing. Who knows what the future holds? Certainly not you or I. Perhaps you water-shy Surabhi will learn the craft of shipwrighting, perhaps we shall discover the secrets of steel.” She smiled at that, “perhaps we shall supercede you in both? One decision can change the entire course of history.”

“Irrelevant.” Ungernazern interjected, a scowl across his face as he shot Ahassunat a searching glance, “We are here to discuss tangible realities, not scry futures like two-penny street magicians.”

Ahassunat rolled her eyes and turned back to the food, picking up a rib of paprika and chilli dusted beef and gnawing on it voraciously. Ungernazern, satisfied that Ahassunat would not interrupt further, turned again to Aaliyu, eyeing her evenly. “Naturally there are other topics to consider; the flow of sugar and spices between both nations being one, I assume our financiers can discuss the minutiae of such things. One matter that has doubtless been of some concern will be the flow of coffee from the southern nations of Vehndathaya, Tsang-Mah and Nam Leng in particular. I believe this has been discussed prior, but a settled agreement in economic terms has not yet been decided upon. I propose that in return for a… generous price drop in expenses of coffee exportation, both nations agree to mutually declare for the recognition of Nam Leng’s neutrality for the extent of the pact.”

Machezzar nodded agreeably, “that would benefit both empires, with the subduing of rogue provinces and the formation of more natural natural borders, doubtless tensions might potentially arise that we do not yet foresee. Respecting Nam Leng as a neutral nation - with the consent of their emperor of course - would allow us a far less politically charged environment to maintain this mutually beneficial peace.”

A barking laugh came from Machezzar’s elbow, followed by coarse, drunkenly slurred mockery. “Peace? Pah! Who is anyone at this table kidding? No sooner than we agree to terms than they’ll be at our throats, taking advantage of every bit of leeway we give them. Peace is an illusion, there can be no peace between us and heterodox heathens who barely share the same goddess as us. The Great Children preserve us, Ishareth worship polluted with half a billion black hearted pagan demons has taught them nothing but trickery and deceit! I’d sooner make a peace treaty with a tiger, it at least would be more honest with its intentions.”

A dead silence descended upon the assembled diners, and it was Sujati who first broke it. “Excuse me,” she said, smiling sweetly as she stood. “Pardon me, Aasmi, I have something to attend to.”

Slowly, she made her way around the table, the armor underneath her robe clinking in the still air. “Now, my dear.” She asked, approaching the Sangharan who had spoken, “Could you please repeat to me what you just said? I’m afraid there was a bit of a din, and I don’t think I heard you correctly. But it sounded as if you claimed I, and all Surabhi, are heathens and ‘black hearted pagan demons’ who besmirch the worship of our Mother?”

The Sangharan snorted. “Prove me wrong! we’ve had nothing but trouble with Surabhi for over a thousand years, with their fantasies of putting us back in our place in ‘their’ empire. Your obsession with enforcing rustic superstition and farcical irredentist heathenry can be called nothing less than black ignorant savagery. It’s amazing you haven’t totally drowned out the goddesses scripture with peasant totems and retrograde customs, especially with those bands of prancing conniving crones you call priestesses!”

Sujati’s faced darkened, her eyebrows furrowing into an expression full of hatred. “You ignorant, loudmouthed, shrieking eunuch of a man.” She snarled at him, drawing in close and jabbing a finger hard into his chest. “You know nothing! Nothing! Every word that spills from your mouth reeks of centuries of societal decay! You call the order of priestesses a band of crones, yet you profane the name of our Mother with revolting orgiastic frenzies! Maelstroms of wanton excess and decadent carnality! Our customs hail from centuri- no, millenia of history, from the inception of the old empire onwards - and you dare insinuate I and my sisters are the ones who corrupt the scriptures while you slake an unholy thirst for vulgar excess and profane Ishareth’s name by saying it is in devotion to her!”

As Ungernazern watched the spiralling chaos unfold, he began rubbing his eyes with frustration, shooting the Surabhi emissaries a look of askance before signalling to the Sangharan Lion Guard to bring this farce to a halt. Quickly the armoured soldiers marched forward like lockstepped automatons, swords pulled an inch from their sheath as they warded off the irate priestess from further advances.

“We are here to complete a peace treaty, not rip each others throats out over doctrinal differences.” He growled irritably, shooting a look that could kill at Sujati and the drunken Sangharan, “Leave theology to those goddess-mad black-pyramid scholars to argue for an eternity, it won’t make a lick of difference.”

“Like hell I will after what that blasted cow just said!” The drunk roared, trying to pull his blade from its sheath but only getting more tangled up in his scabbard, “I challenge you to a duel you withered old whore! Prove your courage or be called a coward as well as a heretic!”

Sujati’s eyes widened for a moment as he made for his sword, then narrowed, a spark of righteous indignation and excitement burning in them. “I accept.” She called to him, turning her back to him and marching away. “Please inform your next of kin of your last wills.” She taunted over her shoulder, exiting the pavilion.

Ungernazern’s face darkened, eyes practically burning holes in the back of the drunks head as he tottered about. Quietly, very deliberately he spoke, each word measured and controlled in a voice that dripped with potential violence.

“Our guest is wearied, Captain Ekurzakir, escort him to his tent.”

The drunk still hadn’t realised the situation and stammered incoherently, confused by the turn events as he gaped open mouthed and bleary eyed at his master. “B-b-but my lord!”

“Leave. Now.”

Ungernazern’s voice was uncompromising, and at last the drunk seemed to realise the ramifications of his situation. He made one last attempt to convince Ungernazern, stumbling towards him to plead his case. The Lion Guard stopped him before he even took four steps, clamping gauntleted hands on his shoulders as they took him away. As he stumbled off muttering silence quickly fell across the table, until Ungernazern turned once again to the Surabhumi emissaries.

“Now…” he spoke evenly, hardly even acknowledging the prior interruption, “I believe we were discussing trade and diplomatic recognition in the southern half of Vehndathaya?”

Vaidihe nodded, steepling her fingers. “I will speak with the priestess after we conclude meetings. Your proposal is fair, Dakatha. We will, of course, discuss minutiae after. I endorse the suggestion of formal with Nam Leng, but I propose an addendum - should Nam Leng come under assault, both empires will contribute militarily to assure the independence of the supply of coffee you enjoy so much.” She smiled slightly, adding with a hint of playfulness, “And, I suppose, the nation itself too.”

“Done. I assume both parties will also curtail any piratical or privateering activity in the region? Doubtless Sangharan and Tu’mong ships can assist in that capacity and ensure the trade lanes are opened properly once again. I shall inform the diplomatic embassy being sent there when I am next able. Besides…” he smiled thinly at her, but beneath it there was a hint of mirth. “you act as if you haven’t been missing a proper supply Tsang-Mahan and Lengi coffee, but you can’t fool me. I heard the administrators of both nations wail across the ocean in terror the last time shipments were sporadic.”

A small chuckle escaped her, “Yes, I believe I heard tell at least one general threatening to go to war if her administrators did not receive the coffee they apparently required to function.” Shaking her head, she sighed. “Well, the details can be sorted later, Dakatha. For the time being there is a great feast before us, we would not want to disappoint the cooks would we? Tell your retinue they are free to partake of it if they wish, we have brought enough to feed twice our number and yours combined.”

Ungernazern nodded and signalled to his men, turning back to Vaidihe he smiled, “my gratitude, one can always appreciate the bounty of Surabhumi, although perhaps you should not have brought so much. The wastage of such an abundance of quality food would be quite a shame.”

Her smile broadened into a genuine one, “Clearly you underestimate the appetite of the average soldier. Whatever they do not finish now will surely be gone by tomorrow morn.” She raised a ladle full of a rich curry, spices exclusive to Surabhumi and Sanghara flavoring its contents, “Besides, who could refuse an extra serving of something this good?”

“Perhaps...” Ungernazern mused, accepting the proffered ladle onto his own plate, “I should enjoy it while it lasts shouldn’t I? As oafish as our missing companion was not long ago, he was right about one thing. This peace does not feel meaningful, if anything it is more a calm before a great storm. I very much doubt it will be many years before the politicians of both our nations are baying for each others blood, no matter how economical the peace is. This pact …” he looked saddened, his stern demeanor crumbling slightly, “I lost four brothers to the last war. How many of my kinsmen will I lose in this one?”

He was silent for a moment before breaking from his ruminations with a start, taking a heap of fresh curry on his plate with naan bread and saffron coloured rice. “Yes… we should enjoy it while we can Vaidihe, true peace may come in some new and distant age, but I cannot see it being so in our lifetime. For now, let’s enjoy what little small luxuries we can gather from this antebellum.”

Grimly, Vaidihe nodded. “I understand. I too lost loved ones in the last war, and I do not relish the possibility of another. Sadly, the wheels of politics grind away, and I doubt our masters will stand the sight of the other growing stronger. But…” she trailed off, before a small smile crept back, “Let us enjoy this peace while it lasts, and the curry that comes with it.”



The light of the new dawn peeked over the horizon, lighting up a dozen figures that stood on the sandy shoreline of the beach, the fluttering of banners and red sails providing a harmonious ambiance to the scene. Ahassunat blinked, bleary-eyed in the sunlight from the the nights hard drinking and covered her eyes as she rubbed them, trying to clear the film that had clouded her vision. Before both delegations a ornate teak table stood, its mother-of-pearl embellishments and claw-footed legs somewhat out of place on a barely occupied beach, which rarely if ever even saw the disembarkation of fishing boats let alone the pride and glory of two great nations, once unified, now divided.

A length of parchment lay before them, worked in beautiful calligraphy and scrollwork, and displaying in detailed intensity the terms of the pact. Beneath, tens of dozens of seals flapped, each with the symbol of a major house of the Sangharan state to officiate the agreement, and numerous of the Surabhumi political elites following suite in their own manner.

Last night had been enlightening for Ahassunat, both in probing the pacts preexistent tensions, as well as the access it allowed her to explore a foreign culture, its traditions, and its leaders weaknesses. Ahassunat felt she had learned a lot amidst the feasting, drinking and debauchery... perhaps some of which might even prove useful later.

As the mist of the hangover began to ease off, she watched the scribes of both nations scamper around the agreement, combing it for any errors or loopholes in its structures that they might oppose before its signing. When both sides looked up and nodded to their respective dignitaries, she let out a sigh of relief.

At last I can get my toes back on ship planks again…

“My Lords and ladies!”

It was Machezzar, looking far less worse for wear than most of the other emissaries in his loose cloaked tunic of teal and gold trim. Ahassunat scowled at that, clearly she’d underestimated the fat little penny-pinching worm, he’d drank as heartily as the rest of them - or at least had seemed to do so - but he’d been keen eyed all throughout the festivities and was just as much today.

“What we complete this morning begins a new epoch in Sanghar and Surabhi history, a new age of growth and prosperity between both nations. We must each ensure that this pact becomes a foundation stone from which future and meaningful peace will arise from, and abide by the word of its law. May it ensure a greater future for both the high halls of Surabhumi, as it does for glorious pyramids of Sanghara, and ensure eternal cooperation between both nations from this moment into all perpetuity!”

With that, the short Sanghar took a step back and bowed to Ungernazern and Vaidihe. Ungernazern worked a shoulder uncomfortably in his robes of state and ceremonial armour, the shifting of his weight resulting in a clinking sound of the golden scales across hippopotamus leather buckles and straps, even as his cinnabar and tyrian robes fluttered in the wind. A snarling tiger skin strapped to his right shoulder and silver warhammer in the other completed the effect, giving him an almost regal aspect. He turned to Vaidihe, and for a moment it almost seemed as if all the weight of his office has flowed from his shoulders, leaving behind a younger, less haggard man. It lasted only a few seconds before it returned with a stern nod, his face contorting into a look he almost constantly had of grim cynicism, but for a moment, the Sanghar had looked almost relieved at the completion of the treaty.

“Do you wish to do the honours first?” he asked her, genuinely deferential to her compared to Machezzar’s flattery and Ahassunat’s mockery.

Vaidihe frowned, considering his offer for a moment, then shook her head. “It was Sanghara that first reached out to begin these dealings. It should be the Sangharan representative to sign the treaty first. It is only fair.” She inclined her head, stepping back half a pace and gesturing for him. She could feel the robes of her office weighing heavily on her - even a lifetime of service as a diplomat could not erase the sheer weight of responsibility placed on her. Even with the immunity granted to her - a centuries old law protecting diplomats such as her from prosecution should the treaty end poorly - she could feel the responsibility for potentially hundreds of thousands or millions of lives resting on her. She silently prayed that she had made the right choices.

A slight blink of surprise was all that Ungernazern gave in reply, a silent moment of understanding passing between them as they shared each other’s gaze. Then he turned, striding towards the table and taking an ornate phoenix-bird quill from one of scribes who hovered around the parchment. With a flourish he wrote his name, the more organic advanced cuneiform of Old Sangharan coming back to him from lessons neared with his old tutors half a century ago. With a final mark and dot he finished, and another scribe followed with hot red wax in a pourer placing it before him.

Taking his time, he found the central fray in the bottom of the parchment and poured, the quickly beginning to cool as he watched. With one age worn hand he pulled on his finger, taking from it a signet ring of his personal sigil and pressed it into the semi-hot wax, before pulling it back after a time, leaving behind the symbol of Esharaddon upon the now hardening liquid. Shifting pose, he made room for his counterpart as she advanced in turn, allowing the Surabhumi emissary ample room to make her mark. Vaidihe in the manner of the Surabhumi completed her own mark, looking on it with relieved finality.

“The pact has been completed!” called out Machezzar, raising his hands in the air at the assembled crowd of both emissaries, “The decades long conflict between the Sangharan Grand Republic and the Realm of Surabhumi is at an end. Long may it endure!”

As both sides erupted into appreciative roars of celebration, Ungernazern clapped armed together as a final sign of respect between the both nations.

“Long may it last, Vaidhe.” Ungernazern smiled, both relieved and thankful that their diplomatic efforts had been successful. Still… a small aspect of it wormed away inside him, and he knew that for his counterpart it was the same.

Long might the peace last… but for just how long?
*snip* (To be edited later.)
© 2007-2017
BBCode Cheatsheet