Post by Nessa Arandur on Jan 22, 2018 3:03:59 GMT -6
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ASC: The Risen Empire
City-States of Wadjit
City-States of Wadjit
The delegation bowed.
From behind the King practical throne, Ashayt surveyed the stately Bhuketans with a critical eye.
Decked in heavy plate armour, the pale Bhuketan knights were tall and muscular, their tabards and bannermen proudly displaying the sigils of three Bhuket demesnes. She was familiar with the distinctive ear tufts of the eagle-owl that signified the Lord of Baki. He sported an immense red moustache to match his flaming head of hair, and wore a great-axe slung upon his back.
The Lord bearing a wild boar over running water she thought was the Lord of Wukari. A smaller, leaner man, he was clean-shaven and had a nose hooked like a beak. His eyes darted everywhere. No less than two daggers were tucked into his belt, alongside a serviceable short sword. Ashayt spotted another dagger in his boot and was sure there would be more secreted on his person.
The Lord wearing the leaping fish on a field of blue and a short sword at his hip was the Lord of Silet. A man with a close-cropped brown beard and an air of easy-going competence, Lord Silet regarded King Attalos steadily as the King motioned for the delegation to rise.
King Attalos studied them. “I hope your quarters were to your liking. You have journeyed a long way, and such a noble retinue! Do you come to pay me homage?” A small smile played about his mouth as the three lords stiffened in affront.
“Your majesty.” Lord Baki stepped a pace forward of the other Lords and bowed stiffly. “We are sent as authorised representatives by the Council of Lords to discuss the situation in the West. As your majesty has surely heard, a month ago the Empress Naunet conquered Khemet. Our border Lords report that Iunet warriors have been seen in the Forest of Emeralds, though none have crossed the border rivers to our lands. On our journey here through Khemeti lands, our party was dogged by unknown pursuers, even to your city walls. The covert talents of Iunet mages are well known. It is possible they watch your city even now, or that Iunet spies have penetrated your city in preparation for an attack. This is a highly defensible valley. Your city is the key to the south. With the strength of the States behind you, and the right allies at your side, you could hold true against the might of the Empire.”
He paused, and silence rushed to fill the space between his words.
“The Council of Bhuket wishes to discuss an alliance against the Empire with your great city-states, majesty.” Lord Baki bowed and stepped back.
Ashayt watched the other Lords and their attendants closely, noting the way their eyes flickered to the side and hands tightened and released. The Knights of Bhuket were proud. They felt abashed, weak, that this was a course they must pursue. Their need was great. And despite their two lands being successful trading partners for centuries; these lords demonstrated a significant misunderstanding about the nature of rulership in Wadjit. She frowned. Such a random selection of Lords to send.
She stepped to the side of the throne and glanced at the king. He met her eyes and flicked a hand vaguely towards the delegation. “This is my advisor, the Lady Ashayt Rashidi of Akh-Isut.” He settled back in his throne.
She stood beside the throne, hands clasped simply before her. “My lords,” she said. “Your land is well known for the quality of your cavalry and the workmanship of your armament. Exactly what sort of alliance do you seek?”
Lord Baki glanced to the side and Lord Silet stepped forward. “My Lady. You are no doubt aware of the Great Chasm in the north, and the magical goods that the Empire has fashioned from the ethera mined within. Since the fall of Khemet, we have dealt with a flood of refugees fleeing subjugation. The monarchy is gone, murdered to the last heir. Those who survived the conquest speak of spelled weapons of such great power that their warriors could not stand against them, and a level of covert attrition and attack that troubled even their war mages to detect and counter. Our cavalry is superb, it is true. Our war mages; excellent. However, the Great Chasm gives the Empire an unmatched advantage. Their land has become saturated with magic. It has leeched into everything they do. I’ve never seen so much, and everywhere!” He shook his head. “It will take more than superb cavalry and our war mages to defeat an Empire so steeped in magic that its mages’ eyes glow and its warriors heal even while they’re being cut down.”
Realising his voice had grown impassioned, Lord Silet took a deep breath. “Lady, we will need the combined might of Imut to ensure the Empire does not subjugate us all.” He bowed and stepped back.
“Or perhaps the Empress will be content with the North,” King Attalos said. After Lord Silet’s impassioned plea, the king’s measured baritone struck like a misplayed chord. Several delegates flinched.
Lord Baki made to step forward, but Lord Wukari got there first. “You would sit by and let this Empire overwhelm the North on the chance that it might not venture south?” he spat. “Your only hope is to ally with us now, while there is still hope!”
Lord Baki glared at Lord Wukari until, red-faced, the latter stepped back.
Ashayt matched him stare for stare. “Or we risk antagonising a powerful neighbour for no reason. It is well known that Khemet was the last bastion of those lands surrounding the Great Chasm. We, too, have received refugees. But one does not consolidate and subdue an entire land quickly, even an Empire as mighty as the Iunet. Now that the Empire controls the Chasm, what evidence have you that it intends to march south?”
“It is not only a matter of the Empire, Lady.” Lord Baki motioned, and Lord Silet signalled for two bearers, who brought forth a large wooden chest. Lord Silet leaned down and threw open the lid, tipping the chest on its side.
Out spilled the corpse of what looked like a wolf, but it was mutated almost beyond recognition. Ashayt approached for a closer look. More immense than the native grey wolves of the north, the inanimate head of the huge grey-and-white mottled creature lolled as Lord Silet gripped the scruff on its neck and turned it to face the king. Its fangs bared in a visage of death. The king rested his bearded chin one hand, fascinated.
The creature passingly resembled a wolf, but its fangs were twice the size of a normal wolf. Everything about its features was coarser, lumpier. Beneath the strange mottling of its coarse fur, large growths like tumours speckled its corpse. Its claws were longer, its ears and muzzle larger. Massive footpads the size of Ashayt’s face sprawled beneath it.
Lord Silet’s dark eyes darted up to meet hers. “This, and more like it, have been found prowling the lands of my demesne, at the base of Ineb-Zafar.”
“What is it?” the King asked.
“My mages have assured me that it is – it was – a regular grey wolf.” Lord Silet let the head drop, and it hit the flagstoned floor with a dull thump. He stood, wiping his hands on his tabard. “The ethera spewing from that Chasm is soaking into the soil, into the water. It’s affecting the plants, the trees, and the animals in the surrounding lands. It’s like a poison, slowly killing the land. Our crops have begun to mutate. People are afraid to eat, but we must eat or we die. The mountain villages have been run out by mutant bears and other creatures such as this.” He nudged the corpse with his foot. “You may notice how fresh this corpse is. This creature was killed in the Forest of Emeralds… yesterday.”
“So you see,” Lord Baki said, gesturing at the corpse, “the Empire is not the only problem… for any of us.”
Ashayt and the King exchanged a look.
The King stood. “We will think on your proposal. Please, enjoy our hospitality until you are summoned.” The delegates bowed, and Ashayt followed King Attalos out of the Hall. Her mind whirred. The presence of the creature changed everything.
When the delegation had first arrived, the king had had no intention of agreeing to an outright alliance with Bhuket. The Iunet Empire had not appeared interested in doing more than completing its conquest of the area around the Great Chasm. Ashayt’s little birds had confirmed this, and the king was already building subtle alliances in the south in case circumstances changed in the north. King Attalos could not be too overt with his alliances, otherwise the city-states would fear he was massing large forces to march on his neighbours, which would certainly lead to war. King Attalos had reigned for over a decade, and his position was one of the most secure in all the city-states. An open alliance with Bhuket would be like a declaration that he feared the Empire to the north, which would be seen as weakness and invite attack from the southern city-states. However, the corpse of the mutant wolf indicated there was a greater threat to the lands, one that could not be kept busy by its invasion of a nation.
Ashayt frowned, watching the king’s broad back as he paced the hallway towards his council chambers. The wolf was not the first creature they had seen polluted by ethera, but it was the biggest, and most severe. Whatever King Attalos did, the threat of magically mutated creatures would feature heavily in his decision. She would have to send word to her contacts within the mage world: more than just political trouble was brewing in the north.