Xur’value Mare, East Ouroborasia
Libercon - 300AWH
(collab between myself and Serp)
The East-Ouroborasian Capital
The heraldry of Kasabi island wade deep into the old land of Ouroborasia, a wartorn scape. Long shadowed vales and dark terrain could be seen in each direction. And with the dusk in the sky, Ouroborasia’s shadow seems only more ominous. Swallowing you in the longer you gaze. Ionut, the guide to this land too warns against the notion of looking at the dark patches within the vales for too long.
‘’For the Witch goddess lives here... Beware Her spell.’’
Though their fleet has taken the river trial that should be far removed from the front, and with little chance of stumbling across Justinian guerilla skirmishers, this does not take away the looming and ever-present sense of dread that perpetuates the Ouroborasian east.
At the bow of the ship stands the heir to the Island Empire, Synogchouta, as he has been informed that soon they are to link up with the Emperor’s Imperial Escort, before entering the waters going directly towards the pier of Xur’vale, the capital city and seat of the Emperor and his eastern government. That very city was once home to the Salt Prince himself when he walked Materia in rebellion against the gods.
‘’Hrm. How much have these lands really changed since Yitizer’s days? It was a bleak, regressive dunghill then, and it is a bleak, regressive cesspit now. O what nuance.’’
Synogchouta mutters to his uncle’s henchman, Bacanoc, who can only raise his shoulders at the very expected pessimism of his superior.
‘’It’s a little bit less of a warzone this year. The fighting is mostly concentrated in pockets to the west, as far I have heard the reports go. Though the fighting that does happen… Well, humanity itself is being lost over there.’’
‘’Ah! Look there! Xur is in sight!’’ Firstmate Tokko exclaims from the helm.
Everyone looks. A city of sharp spires stabbing into the early morning skyline, ominous shadows cast from the great towers across the hill-side city and downward, over the shadowed valley that the river they glide over cuts through.
‘’That is good news! I trust you’ve not developed sea-sickness throughout this long venture, Principe? It is your first time of traveling overwater for days on end, after all.’’ Bacanoc says with a restrained smirk, hoping he did not come across as passive-aggressive, or in any way rubbing him the wrong way. Which he did.
‘’You dare mock me?’’
‘’There there, I was only kidding, Principe.’’
As the Kasabioi ships approached, the early morning mists drifting with them over the river's surface receded… to be replaced by a yet even thicker, more poignant fog, one that clearly should not be. Hailing from lands similarly plagued by Red Pantheonist sorcery, the Uudhinite envoy could quickly tell it was magic, as the ever-so-slightly purple tinge of the fog gives away its theurgic origins. The Witch’s Miasma.
The Witch’s Miasma obscured most of what should be the docks and lower city, leaving the illusion of only a city of spires and high towers poking out from the fog below.
Only when they were dangerously close could the ship’s crew see the docks. Long platforms of wood reaching over the water, vague shapes of other ships idle besides them, bobbing slowly to the flowing river. Despite its obvious danger, it was not the fog that worried the crew, no, it was the ominous shadow of human-shaped figures. Dozens upon dozens of them, all aligned neatly in row, standing side by side on the wooden platform and stoney river-wall.
Even as the ship aligned closely to the platform, the shadowy figures did not moved. They stood almost completely still, only their faintly glowing pupils in their eyes gradually moved with the slowing ship.
When the ship finally stopped, the shadows in complete and unnatural unison stepped forward. The shadows revealed knights in blackened armour and visors covering faces obscured in total darkness - that is besides the glowing pupils. Among the shadows were courtly men and women dressed in finery, their faces and bodies locked into unnatural military attention.
Behind them even, a less organised mob of shadows had stepped forward in unnatural unison. Large men that were previously carrying cargo. Women with fish-seller smogs. Small children that were just before playing by the dockside. They too had their bodies and faces locked into unnatural attention - though their eyes darted about madly in fear and confusion.
The Principe beholds the Ouroborasians that assembled at the pier, and is visibly unsettled by them. Instinctively he withdrew behind Bacanoc’s broad posture. Then under his breath he speaks to him in Edukar, seeing the ancient language as a sanctuary against unwanted ears. ‘’...What is with these masses? Is this normal on the continent?’’
‘’I do not know, sir. I’ve never been in the capital. Nor have I been part of such a regal procession.’’ Even he was disturbed by the ominous atmosphere that has come to embrace them since entering this hallowed domain.
Tokko is less disturbed and continues with the matters of the day. ‘’Ship to port! Prepare to unload! We have reached destination!’’
''Welcome good Prince to-'' The frozen lines of onlookers spoke together, all monotone, speaking as if in trance. Rather than finish their sentence, they suddenly held their tongues, returning to neutral expressionlessness.
Distant voices could be heard, a shrill cry of an old, tired man, followed by a woman's laugh.
''Ah, very good'' The crowd spoke, again in monotone though with strange forced smiles. ''The little Prince is finally here. It is good to finally meet my dear Cassi’s Kasaiboian sailor.''
As the voices fell silent again and their faces returned to expressionless stares, a distant and deliberately slow clap could be heard as a feminine figure walked across the wooden platform to the docked ship. The condescendingly slow clap drew closer and eventually faded as a raven haired woman in a flowing black dress approached the ship, followed slowly by a resigned looking man in finery... and what appeared to be two Uudhinite Ghouls.
The Kasabioi flag ship's gangway is lowered towards the pier of Xur’vale. The Metropolitan’s honour guard with their exotic embroidery draping from beneath their platemail, and long plumed helmets, are first on the pier to ward off the droves of potential rabble. Though, unbeknownst to them none of the townsfolk seem to act out of line as though their minds are dulled to submission. They can only guess what witchcraft is at work. Yet all the same, it seems a ceremonial purpose that they uphold their sentry. They are followed by the Doux, descending from the ship to greet formally the Imperial escort. He is also the most fluent speaker of Ouroborasian amongst them.
‘’Ah. It is good indeed to return to dry land.
I am Doux Litayyan Miamai. Now; who do I have the pleasure of addressing?’’ He looks towards the woman in black, correctly assuming her to be the orchestrator of this sinister welcome. He lifts his flamboyant hat and proceeds to make a deep bow.
Meanwhile Chouta, very hesitant to get off the ship, is caught off guard by the two Ghouls. ‘’Ghouls… What dark curse has been laid on this day. The one thing I thought to be indigenous only to Uudhin. The one thing I had hoped to not stumble upon. Have the Ouroborasians harnessed their loyalty?’’
''You may know me as the Witch, Ceremenei''.
The raven haired woman curtseyed briefly, before standing and bringing an armoured pointer finger to her chin, stroking it slowly. ‘’Which of you fine sailors is the young Synogchouta?’’
The Doux snorts, containing his disdain as he fakes another smile.
‘’The Principe, you mean? Ah, you will see him shortly, my lady.’’ He beckons to one of the plumed guards positioned nigh him. ‘’Find the Principe, will you?’’
Meanwhile Bacanoc smirks again. ‘’It seems this hag is your princess’ mother. Hrm. Good luck, Principe. Be strong.’’ He glances over his shoulder to a shaken Principe.
‘’Must I?’’ He sighs, struggling to regain his composure as he stiffens every muscle and fibre of his body. Sticking forth his chest to appear tall and confident, he marches down the bow and towards the open gangway.
He is a young man in a stuffed embellished cloak and a black tunic, a silver bejewelled ring on each of his fingers, and a regal albeit plain diadem on his forehead. This attire paired with his stiffened sinewy physique is how Synogchouta appears before the Witch, followed closely by Bacanoc to watch his back.
‘’I am here, lady…
I have come to your lands to uphold the bargain made with my uncle, the Metropolitan Baltaogliac of Daveithai, Despot of the isle of Kasabi.’’ The Principe exclaims defiantly to his mother-in-law-to-be, trying his best to hide his fear under a layer of swagger and toughtalk.
‘’So may I presume to-..uh. Presume.. that you are the Princesses’ mother? Of the Witch named Ceremenei, I have otherwise not been briefed.’’
‘’Oh yesss, My dear Cassi I am sure will tell you all about me. I do apologize for interrupting this fine procession, I am sure Illija could have handled it, but I just had to know which sailor you were. I am sure Cassiopeia will be glad to know how strong you are.’’
‘’I am no---..’’
Completely ignoring any attempt by Synogchouta to respond, the witch turned around and without even saying goodbye walked back towards the stone dockside.
‘’Ilija dear, go help the boy’’ The witch said in passing and back turned to Chouta, referring to the tired man in finery who was apparently walking in a strange hunched position. The man quite visibly groaned in response. Without a second thought, the witch snapped her fingers, and suddenly his body was propelled forward, his legs out straight and angled in front of his body, as if pulling the rest of his body forward as his feet slid and scraped across the wood.
As the other ships comprising the Kasabioi fleet enter the harbour, the Kasabioi on the pier, not least the Principe himself, are mute by the alien spectacle they bear witness to. Out of fear of offending the Lady Witch, they can merely watch, and cautiously wait on their turn to make a move to the Palace.
The Doux is the first to speak.
‘’Pardon me -- we have come for an audience with the Emperor. Could you be so kind to show the way through the magnificent city of Xur?’’
The man the witch called Illija, still recovering from having his body hijacked and magically dragged across the platform, cursed lightly between heavy breaths. The Doux was almost certain he heard ‘damn fucking witch’ from the man as he agonisingly stood up straight.
A few moments of uncomfortable silence, and suddenly the wispy mustache and goatee adorned, finery-wearing man took a regal, solemn stance and expression - as if nothing improper had happened at all.
‘’I, Illija Cvijić the Imperial Herald of his Majesty, Emperor Vasilius the First of the noble House of Dragcumir and sole and rightful ruler of the Empire of Ouroborasia, do hereby welcome our most distinguished guests to the sovereign borders of his emperor’s domain.’’ The herald bowed to Synogchouta, who is stunned to silence standing behind Litayyan, who promptly steps out of the way way that the crowd of onlookers may observe Princess Cassiopeia’s betrothed. As the herald bowed, so too did the rows of knights and servants. The crowd of fishermen, sailors and other dockworkers did not, now free from the witches whimsical control, instead looking around in confusion yet frozen and silent with fear.
“If the honoured guests would please follow, I will lead the way to the coaches...”
‘’That would be appreciated.’’ The Doux now smiles sincerely, looking towards the Principe reassuringly. ‘’Come now, lord Daveithai. This is only a warm-up to Ouroborasia.’’
The herald once off the platform seemed to become more cautious again, clearly hiding nerves and anxiety. He gestured towards the waiting carriage, painted, gilded carved in royal extravagance. Immediately besides the coach was a purple palanquin, gilded rods and silk covered in occult symbols, only then being lifted by the two ghouls.
The Metropolitan’s retinue and guardsmen follow, marching in ranks 2 wide and 10 deep, carrying ornamental scythes over their shoulders to accompany the carriages. Particularly the first one, which was reserved exclusively for the Principe. The Doux and other prominent Kasabioi from the Metropolitan fleet were escorted towards an array of other carriage coaches close behind, while a number of shipmen and guardsmen walk on foot besides them from both left and right. The procession soon takes off, heading through narrow lantern-lit streets with rows of small houses carved from smooth monolithic stone, flanking steep path and stairways heading up and further up, towards the Imperial residence at the highest point of the City. The spires of the Palace up on high loom far over the city and into the murky skies, lurid...
the Amaranthine Hall, Seat of the Emperor
The throne room, usually filled with light bouncing off the white walls and gilded lining was now dark, save for the slight flickering of unnatural purple light coming from a few torches. The throne sat empty - a grotesque chair with the likeness of monsters, human faces and dragons built into it. Margraf Ostorius Raceanur though knew, the Palace at Xur’value Mare had always been macabre even before the civil war.
Much like himself. Much like everyone in this room and everyone and everything in Ouroborasia too in fact.
He had only just arrived into the throne room and immediately approached the assembled group of men murmuring in the corner of the throne room, the only living beings in this room, the rest of the vast space empty of any audience or crowd. His shadow, that annoying servitor woman finally had disappeared - even that inhuman Turquoise thing would not interrupt this.
As Raceanur stopped walking and stood at attention, the other men’s voices went silent, and they all turned to face him. Some he respected, old soldiers and veterans like himself, weary and weathered down by decades of war with Eudaz, Lamash and now themselves. Some he despised, like that bastard Cosmin, the emperor’s younger brother that was already sneering at him. Others he did not even know why in Ashmedairus were here. That flamboyant Kasabioi admiral for example. By Justinian he annoyed him.
The emperor however, was also present. The man looked older by the day, even though he was only in his fifties, the man looked somehow older than himself. He was also the man Raceanur had sworn allegiance to and served so dutifully for so many years, so he knew even in the presence of these degenerates and madmen, he would be respectful.
“Hail majesty, I have returned from the front bearing word”. He spoke with as strong and clear voice as he could - though it still came out as a dry, and raspy drowl. His old and greasy dark hair obscured his deep wrinkles and scars, his great beard obscured his thin permanently etched frown. All the men knew; even those who despised the old marshal in turn, that this man was the very heart of the Imperial Army of the East.
“Rise, Margraf and speak” The Emperor said.
“Your majesty, it is as the witch said“ Ostorius replied, hesitant to confirm the predictions of that woman. “The Ghouls of Uudhin have made to take the coast of West Ouroborasia. Their advance had been curbed at Iviragne, yet as I speak, they assault the communes in the area east of there.''
“And the result of this, what is your counsel in how this will affect my empire’s west?”
“Your majesty, I am of the opinion that the Ghouls care not for your legal rule or the sanctity of our lands. The lands lost will be made barren, either by the Ghouls or by the fleeing Istvanites”.
“So then the land they take is lost to us?”
“Yes, for now your majesty.” Ostorius told his liege with a degree of resignation and frustration. For Ostorius had always despised the Yitizite Ghouls, and throughout his long career had not only crusaded against Eudaz and Gushawar, but also defended Ouroborasia from Uudhin. It caused Ostorius great and terrible resentment, knowing that the Ghoulish monsters were invading and he could do nothing to stop them, for they were now his ‘allies’.
By the clearly solemn frown and darkened eyes from the emperor, it was clear that the emperor too felt this.
“If those lands should be lost, then so be it. I would be correct to assume that the Ghoulish host will divide the Istvanites attention?”
“Yes your majesty, their numbers are believed in the hundreds of thousands. Though they are stalled after a great battle at Iviragne, it is my opinion, and one I believe you share, that now is the time to strike. The west cannot possibly mobilise its whole army against us when it is being attacked by such a large and destructive force from the south. The ghouls will not merely occupy land but actively destroy it and the people. The Istanvites will have to respond - and so comes our opportunity to destroy them when they are divided.”
“Then make it so. Margraf Raceanur, I order you to rally my armies to seize my Empire”.
As soon as the Emperor gave Raceanur the order, he bowed again before turning to walk away. Raceanur knew that this meeting had a larger purpose than merely him reporting what the witch had already said, but he had no desire to attend the first meeting of Cosmin’s son-in-law to be.
“And Raceanur.” The Emperor said, drawing his attention as he slowed his walk away. “I will soon follow, it would only be proper that Istvan be reminded of what he really is”.
Raceanur nodded and walked on, glad that the emperor knew he wished to leave before the ‘pleasantries’ begun and allowed him to do so. Upon Raceanur opening the door to leave, the palace herald approached to open the door from the other side.
As Raceanur walked out, he briefly glanced towards the Kasabioi delegation, and who he assumed to be their prince standing in the centre, cloaked and regally embellished.
He looked like a runt.
Raceanur continued, walking down the hall. When he heard the herald declare the runt’s arrival to the palace, Raceanur could only be thankful he avoided more of Cosmin’s politicking.
''Your majesty, the Prince of Kasabi Republic, Synogchouta Daveithai, has arrived'' The Imperial Herald Cvijić declared as he performed a deep bow.
There was a moment of silence.
‘’Bring him in’’. Spoke the Emperor, a deep and tired voice of an old man.
The Palace guards gestured to the Principe to enter the Amaranthine Hall, as they cleared from the carpet leading towards the throne. Synogchouta had to walk in the front of his retinue that the Ouroborasian Emperor may distinguish him. He could, sadly, no longer hide behind his henchman. Taking a deep breath, he trod into the Hall as all eyes were fixed on him. Synogchouta stiffened and stared blankly towards the end of the carpet where the throne was. His face was locked in an unamused frown to maintain a semblance of stoicism and integrity. Though actually it was to hide his anxiety… He was certainly not used being placed in a situation as dire as this. An audience with one of the key players of Materia’s global theatre. Chouta knew and remembered full well that the Emperor is the most powerful Red Pantheonist ruler of our time -- save from only the Gods themselves.
The Principe wanted to speak, but by a lump in his throat he could not. All the while the Emperor was awaiting a response from his foreign guests. As though reading the atmosphere, it was the Doux’s voice to ring through the stone fundaments first -- it was directed at a clerk at the entrance -- loud enough for everyone in the Emperor’s olden hall to overhear.
‘’My compliments to the fair lady Ceremenei for her gracious welcome. Her eagerness to meet us at the instance of portage has been noted . Be sure to send her our blessing.’’
The man spoke with an innocent smile, a very cheeky one. Synogchouta did not pay attention, walking the carpet with small steps until he felt he reached an acceptable proximity to the Emperor, not making eye contact but rather fixing his gaze at the embroidered purple-rose heraldry on the Emperor’s mantle. He abruptly ceases movement and falls to his left knee, lowering his head.
‘’Your majesty...’’ The Principe splutters. Having memorized and hammered on the correct Ouroborasian words, pronunciation and mannerism for months beforehand. ‘’I have come bringing good tidings on behalf of the Metropolitan and all my noble family, your most steadfast, committed allies...’’
The Principe speaks no more. Keeping his head down while he senses the Emperor’s eyes leering into him.
Meanwhile the Kasabioi men and eunuchs in the Principe’s retinue, as befitting of Edukeshan courtesy, carry boxes and embellished chests loaded with gifts of exotic spices, fineries and jewelry, talismans and ornamental weaponry from the mercantile Empire’s connections all across Materia. These items and trinkets together are certainly worth a great stack of gold, the Metropolitan is being very, very generous to the Emperor. He had best appreciate it, Synogchouta thinks.
‘’Rise.’’ Spoke the Emperor finally, seeing that the Principe is not speaking further.
‘’I see you have brought me gifts.’’ The old Emperor speaks, his sullen voice booming in his great hall. But Synogchouta thinks he can sense mild pleasure -- though it is hard to tell with the Emperor’s general grim stoicism. Perhaps the Emperor is trying his best not to smile at the marvelous gesture.
Standing up, the Principe patiently replies. ‘’The gifts are not mine alone, but from all great families of Göl Kasabi. I am ever subservient to my people, o Emperor.’’
‘’Hrm. Your good will to my Court has been noted.’’ Spoke the Ruler of Ouroborasia. A number of Imperial clerks came forward to investigate the many crates and chests, who are elaborate enough that they could well be gifts in and by themselves. Meanwhile the Kasabioi plumed guardsmen and eunuchs that carried the gifts retreat back to the Amaranthine Hall’s grand opening, leaving the Principe all alone as though awaiting a God’s judgement.
The Emperor, clearly indifferent or even chafed by pleasantries and formalities, yells towards a collection of servants that gathered behind the columns of the hall’s left wing.
‘’Where is the girl? Send her in, immediately.’’
The servants gave prompt and frightened reply, and looked around to find the Duchess-In-Waiting who was supposed to present herself in vicinity right about now...
The hushed voices of handmaidens are heard behind the columns, and the creaking opening of a door on the far back of the hall, presumably attached to a distant corridor. A group of young women walk in on the summon of the Emperor. Delicately they stream by the columns in Ouroborasian fashion, each of them very pale, almost sickly so, and dressed in dark and elaborate black garments. They look regal enough as though they could each well be princesses. But only one in their midsts truly stands out, a nubile girl dressed in an elaborate mantle covering her regal clothes with various shades of purple, pink and blue, sharply contrasting the unmantled darkness of her servants. That must be the ‘girl’, Cassiopeia.
The group of young women walk in orderly fashion towards the front of the throne. Each of the women makes a quick bow to the Emperor. Than speeding off to make way for the Duchess-in-Waiting. When she presents herself, she makes her bow to the Emperor. ‘’Your majesty.’’ She speaks with a kind and modulated tone. Than she turns to the Principe who is standing from the throne’s opposite. Her funneled sleeves reach out to her dress, tilting them to make curtsey greeting; bending her knee and bowing her head to the Principe. ''It is my pleasure to finally meet you, good Prince.'' She spoke with a smile and again in the same modulated voice. It was then that it strikes Chouta that this is their first meeting. Synogchouta and Cassiopeia finally standing opposite to one another after many months, years even, of correspondence. He is so struck that he completely forgot to respond, locked in the same frown as before -- which only serves to unsettle her. The Doux Litayyan gives Synogchouta a prod and a soft hiss. ‘’Don’t forget your manners.’’
The Principe proceeds to only briefly tilt his regal diadem from his forehead, and a quick nod at the Princess, though without saying anything. Now it is Cassiopeia’s turn to frown at such a poor show of courtly manners. ‘’...Tsk.’’ She quickly turns away and withdraws to her retinue of handmaidens. A bad first impression on the Principe’s part.
‘’There she is.’’ So thunders the Emperor’s voice through the hall. ‘’This would be my niece, Cassiopeia. See to it that you get well acquainted.’’
‘’Yes, your majesty.’’ Speaks Synogchouta, who seems more smitten with the Emperor than with the fair and graceful princess.
‘’I hereby bless your union. Not merely as two souls, but as the binding link betwixt two factions. My Empire and your Island.’’ The Emperor raises his scepter and coldly proclaims: ''So shall it be.''
He spoke these words with as little pomp and flair as he is humanly able. It is almost impressive how much indifference a man can show. Yet by his status as Emperor alone, an elevation making him worthy of Gods, his approval carries immense weight.
A feeling of relief encompasses the Kasabioi delegation. The Principe sighs graciously, yet has mixed feelings. For one it means he has done good his part serving his faction, but for another, it means he is now bound to a woman he doesn’t know and probably will not like.
‘’On behalf of all Göl Kasabi and its overseas possessions, we thank you one and all, O Emperor. And shall continue to be your steadfast compatriots.’’
‘’And I would expect no different, Prince.’’ Grunts the ruler. ‘’Guards; show the visitors of Kasabi to their quarters. They are to be our guests for the night, and doubtlessly must rest from their journey here...’’
The Emperor Vasilius