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Connolly posted 30 April 2005 in Member Written WorksConnolly by Erthaelion, Candidate

Book 1

Yanathina


Chapter 1


. . .the various potentates of the East and West initial disregard to the uprising was due in no small measure to the Yanite's storied penchant for fanaticism. For is it not in the nature of men to ginore that which is perpetually present? It was far more difficult, however, to ignore the machinations of the prophet Izanriah and his growing power through the eastern provinces of Imperial Luralius. Nevertheless, the scope of events elsewhere within the Imperium and beyond kept many ignorant to the grotesque ongoings in Yanathina. Only later, when the seeds of apocolypse were long-sewn, were they aware of the terror they had allowed unleashed. . .

Diasarus, Being a Chronicle of the First Days of Prophecy


Few men treasured time more than scholars. No resource was more treasured, no obstacle more profound. It was this that inevitably made the most gifted men the most impatient. Time, Sangaras had come to realize, was a currency simply too precious to be squandered.

The summons came without warning. The scribe sat alone, translating, as he had for the last three days, from a tablet etched with the cunieform script of ancient Gurush, when a demure cough shattered the intensity of his concentration. Sangaras glanced up, uncertain how long the young slave had stood at the door to his study. Aggravated at the intrusion, the scribe nearly allowed his impatience to overwhelm him - only the nature of his current task rescued the boy from brutality. The further he descended into the tablet's text, the clearer it had become that, to his utter disapointment, this was no hero-saga immortalized by the sages of Gurush; it seemed far more likely to be a tax-record of a routine harvest collection. It was at once a lesson in literacy and humility.

Not that he let this frustrate him. Both were lessons he had learned to endure quietly.

Thus, after his initial irritation, Sangaras had merely sighed and worked a final cautious letter over the sheet of papyrus. The room that served as his study was overrun with carelessly piled scrolls and tablets of stone - scripture written in the numerous dialects of Cataputola and beyond. An abacus worked in lapis stone's and ebony, a relic of antique Cathos, collected dust in a gloomy corner, dwarfed and oppressed by stacks of ancient literature. His desk, in contrast, was bare save for his papyrus, his Gurushian tablet, his inkhorn, and an oil lamp that provided the study its only illumination. Sangaras peered at the slave, his eyes cold and demanding.

"Many pardons, master," the boy whispered nervously, "but there is urgent news."

Sangaras frowned, both stunned and perplexed. What news could warrant an intrusion upon his studies?

"What is it?" he snapped.

"A retinue has come to speak with you, master." A pause, as if the boy's lips struggled to pronounce a foriegn utterence. "From the Royal Palace."

"From the Palace?" Sangaras dropped his reed quill, sprung hastily from his chair.

What could the Palace want with me? He pondered the implications of the thought as he followed the slave from his study.

Fear churned his bowel as he was led through the cavernous galleries beneath Arabel's sacred Teskeranti complex. Images flashed unbidden through his mind: of pained howls reverberating against soiled stone; the smell of rot and death in dark, cramped spaces; agony wrought by the most skilled hands in the trade. It was common knowledge that the Great King Hyrdaxes, like so many who bore the title before he, was an excessively cruel man. Among many Cataputolan rulers, harsh cruelty was often mistakenly equated with strength.

How could he not be terrified?

And yet he could find no reason to justify such fears. He was no enemy of the Royal House. Far from it, in fact. He was a simple scribe, an Acolyte of Berossas who showed some promise - nothing more.

His family, on the other hand. . .

Sweat in icy rivulets along his brow. Sand-dry mouth. Writhing innards. As they entered the administrative compounds that formed the heart of the holy precinct, he smoothed his simple linen robes with hands that oozed sweat. It was all he could do to keep from vomitting.

Sangaras blinked as sunlight and the immensity of the Teskeranti Courtyard engulfed them. He gazed across the expanse, attempted to conceal his terror with a raised hand to ward the sun. At the courtyard's heart, the Kamakosai Ziggurat piled concentrically into the sky, dwarfing the glazed-brick, military style parapets that framed the complex. Fountains lay nestled beneath leaning eucalyptus and date-palm trees in the courtyard's shadowy recesses; eunuchs attended to the priestesses and temple-concubines that lounged by the waters' edge. Priests and functionaries in voluminous robes stood in clots, conversing idly in gracious, measured tones. Frantically stroking his close-trimmed beard, Sangaras let his eyes linger on nothing familiar as he frantically searched for the men who inexplicably sought his company.

Or my death.

His breath was stolen when he glimpsed the retinue loitering by the arched gate of the courtyard. Struck suddenly by the futile urge to flee, he reached out a hand to still the already advancing slave. But it was too late - he too had been recognized.

Four men in long, patterened robes stood in a disciplined line before a litter carried on the back of massive, bare-chested slaves. The robed men carried spears, stood with a martial tautness that made the nearby priests seem effeminate. A fifth man, similarly garbed but unarmed, stood by the silk-and-gauze shrouded litter. He took a ceremonius step forward when he saw the scribe, his eyes narrowed with frank appraisal. Sangaras felt a child before his father's wrath, and found himself lowering his eyes to avoid the man's scrutiny. The young slave paused before the unarmed man - a palace courtier, Sangaras guessed from his dress and demeanour - then bowed and discreetly withdrew from the imminent confrontation.

The courtier took a stiff, straight-backed step past the unflinching guards. "You are Sangaras cas-Lobel, are you not?"

"I am." Sangaras was stunned at the steadiness of his own voice.

The courtier nodded. "You are to come with me." The man's hawkish features were blank with contemplation. A heartbeat later he strode forward, bending at the waist to speak into the scribe's ear. Sangaras caught the scent of date-wine mixed with the perfumed oils the man undoubtedly used to sculpt the intricate ringlets of his beard.

"You must cooperate with me, scribe," the courtier whispered, "if you wish to see the sunset."

Panicked, Sangaras glanced involuntarily up at the man's face, but the courtier had already turned away. The elegantly garbed man gave a simple hand motion, and the four slaves bearing the litter fell to their knees with effortless percision. Moving hesitantly, he passed the line of rigid, armed men, then watched the courtier sweep open the shimmering silk shroud. Sangaras suppressed the urge to glance over his shoulder. He imagined there to be far simpler ways to dispose of him than spears in the back with countless witnesses present. Not that it mattered. If the armed men were, as he'd immediately presumed, Sacred Kinsmen, then they were above things as petty as laws and witnesses.

Sangaras glanced pensively at the courtier, who smiled with feigned amiability and motioned for him to enter the litter's shaded, cushioned interior. Despite the litter's opulent interior, he crawled tensly across the silk pillows, wary of any sort of trap. He swallowed, released a strangled breath. Had their been malice in his eyes? Sangaras wondered, or am I merely a coward?

A moment later, he felt the litter being raised gently onto broad shoulders, then the rolling sensation of moving beyond the gate of the Teskeranti complex.

The clamour of Arabel erupted around the litter. The centrally situated and perpetually swarming bazaars of the Cataputolan city had for centuries seen the finest goods from the farthest reaches of society pass through their vast exapnses. The scream of the mercantile horde was occasionally drowned by the cries of burdened beasts, the metallic clang of a nearby coppersmith. Smells wafted through the litter's shroud: the robust aroma of cooking meats; the stench of beasts, mud, and feces; smoke from countless hearth-fires, and the pungent aroma of a thousand unwashed bodies.

Sangaras did all he could to silence the roar of the multitude, to still the hammering in his chest. The litter moved painstakingly through the masses, forced to halt often by the press of surrounding multitudes. Sangaras tried to question, to reason away the circumstances that had brought him to this elegant litter, but contemplation brought no comfort. Not when it offered nothing but more uncertainties.

Long minutes passed before the thundering crowd faded behind him, replaced by the ambient sound of rushing water, the distant smell of incense. The River Gynadaras. Nearly there. His heart resumed its frantic pace.

Moments later the litter slowed, then stopped. He felt it being smoothly lowered, then the shroud was again brushed aside.

"Hurry, scribe." The courtier's tone was sharp, devoid of the congenial grace it had possessed earlier.

Sangaras climbed from the litter to find himself immersed in what could only be the Royal Gardens. The courtier was already some distance ahead, moving along a walkway of immaculate grass. Sangaras was led through collunades of tamarisk and hibiscus, interceded by trimmed holly and lotus bushes. Canals latticed the the gardens, flowing with the lazy wash of man-made waterways. He heard music in the distance, the lazy, droning tune of a harp, Sangaras thought. The air smelled of vibrance. In his periphery he glimpsed harem concubines lolling with court officials, lolling beneath parasols and fanned by broad peacock feathers. In the distance, the hypostyle audience halls and treasuries soared above the greenery, its monumental staircases lurching against them like massive waves hewn from earth.

"I apologize," the courtier called over his shoulder, "that we are forced to conduct this business in such a manner. Even the palace is forced to be . . . abrupt at times, eh?" Forced laughter. The courtier paused, brought a hand to his intricately braided goatee. Sangaras thought he saw confusion in the features of his profile - confusion, or an uneasy curiousity. Turning to face Sangaras, he finally said, "You can trust in this, scribe: Unless you are a complete fool, you'll not be harmed today." Then he whirled and continued through the garden.

Heartened by his surroundings and the courtier's sudden candor, Sangaras followed breathlessly after him. "Why is it I'm here?"

The tall courtier froze, turning his head to regard Sangaras over his shoulder. "I don't understand why, scribe, but Cerseva has summoned you to meet with him."

Panic returned in lunatic dimensions.

Cerseva. The name belonging to the most feared man in all of Arabel, perhaps even all of Cataputola. Cerseva was the Great King's Lord-of-Spies, and, the rumors claimed, an assassin of extraordinary cunning.

A flicker of a smile passed over the courtier's face. "You know the name, then," he said with unnerving pleasantness. Apparently Sangaras had let his expression involuntarily betray his rejuvenated terror. The courtier lowered his eyes, bowed his head. There was no humor in the smile he wore as he spoke: "You needn't worry, scribe. If Cerseva wanted you dead, the Gods know you would be."

It was small consolation.

The courtier moved in a direction vaguely towards the soaring heights of the palace, then turned towards a raised, collunaded courtyard with neither a roof or walls. Its stone columns were covered in intricate bas-reliefs; two towering winged bulls bracketed the short stair to its platform. The courtier's walk was stiff now, formal in the way of those about to stand before their betters.











****

Miles away, Yanathina thronged with rapture.

Bathed in moonlight, the broad esplanade of the Great Temple of Yanathina was flooded with revellers flushed from the word of their visionary, Izanriah. Crowds swarmed about the Temple's gilded Eternal Altar, basking in the glow of its flames, savouring the warmth of wine and mutual ecstacy. The staircases that climbed the acropolis of the Great Temple were choked with fanatics. The avenues and thoroughfares beneath the temple's porticoes hosted celebrations of a more subdued nature, but wine spilled freely throughout Yanathina's Holy precincts tonight. Hymns were joined by the melodic drone of harps, the metallic clash of cymbals.

Battallions of the Imperial Phalanx marched in their disciplined formations, their hobnailed


****

Beneath the granduer of her monumental structures, Yanathina was a welter of crumbling and haphazardly strewn mud-brick hovels. Daraxes stepped through cramped, fetid alleys, anxious to avoid celebrations and overzealous eyes. Though dawn loomed, the boisterous


Chapter 2

If men measure atrocities with the blood of innocents, can miracles then be measured








Book 2

The Campaign



Chapter 4

Was this what our ancestor's intended? To make the blood of our people into a form of currency exchanged within Luralius for your own petty causes, Senators? How much longer should I, an Imperial High Officer, honor my position if I am to watch my men die for reasons which none can offer?

But who am I to trade such words with you, good Senators? Am I not simply another of your tools?

High Tribune Calladorus Senacis, letter to the Senate

The hereditary priests of Helatas have a saying so ancient it has come to define their transcend their people's understanding of the natural world. It simply states:


Quintus Sartias, Truth, Water, and Sun


No measure of martial strength can conquer elements.

The sun bled irridescence across the desert sky. Incessant, high-pitched screeches drew Erthaelion's eyes instinctively skyward. Above, the vultures that perpetually haunted the Fifteenth Phalanx circled and reeled, ominously close, dark shadows framed by darkening sky. Although the heat of the Cantussi Desert would inevitably relent with the falling sun, he could still feel the matted claminess of the tunic beneath his cuirass, the sweat dripping beneath his arms. Reigning in his caparisoned black, Erthaelion lowered his gaze to peer across the distant ranks of marching infantry. Helms perched on the ends of upraised pikes. Backs bent under the burden of camp gear. Soldiers staggering, falling to gritty sands. The heat, Erthaelion had noted, would confound the disciplined ranks more and more as day wore into night in this place. After twelve hours beneath the relentless sun, the Fifteenth Phalanx of Luralius appeared more like a migration of immigrants than an army of hardened veterans.

That a place could defeat an army! he thought incredulously.

He blinked at the sweat that rolled into his eyes, wiped at the oily hair beneath the lip of his helm. Feeling stragely curiously detetched, he glimpsed





a
Chapter 5


A people possessed of one ruler and many hands to do his bidding are like a man with many fabulous and well-bred horses. But when a people possess more rulers than hands, then they have been doomed by their own venal hungers.

For what man with the heart of warrior would bow to a harem of whorish kings?

Al-Sharad, The Oasis of Souls


The Imperial Senate Hall was designed to resemble the intimate amphitheatre of Luralian antiquity. Rising opposite to its tiered gallery was the dais where the Emperor's of Luralius had traditionally sat to address the body of the Senate for centuries. The gilded likeness of a diadem-crowned lion, the symbol of imperial majesty and power since time immemorial, rested on a broad pillar beyond the dais' lone bench. Lustrous marble columns etched with scenes from legend ringed the circular hall, interceded now and again by billowing censers.

Today the gallery was overflowing with members of Luralius' patrician Houses, but the only sounds were uneasy whispers and the nervous susurration of cloth.

Sweeping his gaze across the assembly, Emperor Mithratus I Kallikos could sense the anxiousness present in the room, could feel it hanging as tangibly as the sweet-scented smoke that clouded the recesses above. It was, he knew, eminently justified: in his forty years as emperor, he had never once called an emergency senatorial council.

Until now. He fussed with the embroidered hem of his sleeve, adjusted the plain gold band that rested on his brow - the Diadem of Luralius, the crown worn by none but the most powerful man in the world. How it chafed him today.

Every day, it seems.

Drawing then releasing a deep, troubled breath, he began: "King Saladuecon has sent a missive to inform me that he has ceased to allow our ships access to the River Siyanal for the remainder of the Fifteenth's Campaign in Helatas."

A consumptive gasp of disbelief resonated beneath glistening marble vaults .

"To those of you who do not understand this," Mithratus continued, "the Fifteenth has been abandoned somewhere along the Siyanal, perhaps still in ransacked Sar-armul, and, presuming their still alive, have not seen provisions in two weeks. They have undoubtedly been forced to resort to banditry. And there is no help on the way." The emperor paused, allowing his words sufficient time to sink in to the assembly. Each present spoke in hushed, incredulous tones, outrage soon following mutual disbelief.

The emperor leaned forward on his perch. "I have called you here today to insure that action is taken."

Rumbling approval. Mithratus watched as a man rose to his feet from the lower galleries, his balding head and pronounced limp discrepant with his hulking shoulders and massive chest. A sumptuous purple robe was draped across his physique. Despite his limp- the remnant of a wound sustained during phalanx service in Sapatarania, if Mithratus recalled correctly- the man moved with candid rage down the stairs and towards the emperor's dais.

"He's damned them!" the senator exclaimed. "He would dare to blatantly disobey the Accord he signed?" The well-proportioned senator stopped at the foot of the dais' stair. His strong, clean-shaven chin trembled; his fat hands clenched into fists.

Mithratus nodded sagely. "It would seem so, Paranius," he replied flatly. He had, of course, predicted the man's livid and theatrical reaction. Senator Paranius Calerus had led the delegation Mithratus had sent to Galeapolis during the Helatasi campaign's infancy. Their charge had been to force Saladuecon XIX Teiros to sign the Imperial Accord that would thereby allow the triremes and merchantmen of the Empire to carry supplies to the Fifteenth as they marched towards the Helatasi capitol, Avar-efer. Paranius had returned to Luralius - a year before a single imperial soldier had set foot on lush Helatasi soil - and proclaimed: "By Saladuecon's hand, we have been assured victory."

What Mithratus hadn't predicted was such a bold and thoughtless betrayal. Now the Accord was broken, and the Fifteenth was starving on the muddy banks of the Siyanal, or, far worse as far as he was concerned, pillaging like barbarians. And only the debauched King of Galeapolis was left to be blamed.

Paranius stared up at him indignantly, neither blinking nor flinching.

Should I not be as outraged as he? Mithratus wondered. Saladuecon has made a fool of both of us. Made a fool of Luralius.

But he could summon the youthful wrath that had once filled him no more than he could summon the old strength to weathered, creaky limbs.

Paranius was another matter. Excessively proud men, Mithratus understood, did not tolerate embarrassment with good humour.

"But you know the man, Paranius," he said calmly. "How could it surprise you that he has deceived us?"

"That pig-faced-" Paranius bit off his words, inhaled to compose his thoughts. "He would risk Luralius' wrath?"

"Ahh," Mithratus began, a tutor whose student is perched on the brink of revelation, "but Luralius' wrath is not there to be risked - we are across the Valasian, with our closest army dead or dying. The 'Divine King, '" he spat the name, as he always did, with no small degree of mockery, "and his Ksamarites, however, are only a week away on the back of the Siyanal."

"So he would save his neck from the Fifteenth," Paranius roared, "and in turn betray the whole of the Empire? Surely he cannot think he will not pay for this treachery?"

If not genuinely disturbed by the situation himself, Mithratus may have chuckled at the man's impotent rage.

"I wish I had knew what occurs in that man's mind, Paranius, but I do not. It seems clear that Ses'atre-akhet offered him protection of some sort from our Phalanxes, and any imperial retaliation."

"Probably offered him one of his pretty son's, too!" pealed from somewhere in the upper galleries, inciting a chorus of laughter.

Mithratus smirked. "Whatever happened, it seems we have been taught a lesson for underestimating those who we mistook fools. We have underestimated the Saladuecon's for too long, and now they have tried to make us pay for it."

"I did not believe the man capable of such indiscretion," Paranius said airily, visibly perplexed. Probably the only form of concession that could be exacted from Paranius, Mithratus supposed.

"Nor did I. But one cannot underestimate the Divine King of Helatas in this affair. Obviously the man was able to play on Saladuecon's fears: 'How long could Galeapolis stay sovereign if Helatos falls to the Empire?' Saladuecon has made his wager. He has chosen the promises of Avar-efer over the threat of our Phalanxes. Perhaps he thinks we are unconcerned with a mere six thousand men. But I am most certainly concerned."

"What of the Thirteenth?" Paranius asked, frowning.

At this, the whispers in the gallery rose to a dull and continuous roar. Stationed in Yanathina, the Thirteenth had been the subject of rumor since word of the upheaval had reached the Capitol.

Mithratus had hoped to avoid any talk of them today.

"Genarius is forced to remain in Yanathina," he began, surprised at the certainty in his voice. "As you all know, much has happened there."

"What of the rumors of a new Yanite prophet?" from an implacable voice in the lower tiers.

The emperor scowled. "Exaggerations, surely, as most rumors are." He paused and raised a hand to quiet the tumult. "What matters, great Houses, is that some of the Luralian Army's best men are as we speak starving in a foreign land. The Gods take me if Galeapolis doesn't see our banners in their harbor in less than two weeks."

Cries of enthusiastic approval rang through the Hall of the Imperial Senate. Paranius Calerus grinned cold, vicious approval.

"I am to presume you will interested in overseeing the proceedings in Galeapolis, Senator Paranius?" Mithratus asked with an air of arrogant certainty.

"I would be honored," he replied. "My son would surely be interested to see the city of the Conqueror, as well, emperor."

Mithratus suppressed the urge to cackle, struggled to maintain a look serene indifference. His plan was proceeding as he’d hoped.

Paranius' son, the great Tertadonus Calerus, was the linchpin of all his plans; the boy who most of Luralius assumed would next wear the diadem. Although he had, in months past, heard more of the precocious teen than he could sanely suffer, Mithratus saw now the value of such a talent. He would be a fool to not make use of such a prodigious tool.

Tertadonus was the product of his father's endless affection and boundless ambition. Paranius had nearly impoverished his House funding an education that consisted of the finest tutors of literature and oratory the Imperium had to offer. The young man had traveled across the eastern provinces, had been educated in statecraft in Cathos, warfare in Sapatarna, and the history of the Imperium everywhere in between. Since becoming a High Officer of the Imperial Phalanx, had been stationed along the River Cenari for the past year, serving as general of the illustrious Eighth Phalanx.

Now, after his year campaigning on the brink of civilization, the boy had returned to Luralius to take what most believed to be his destiny. The name 'Tertadonus Calerus' had become synonymous with 'future' among those who dared discuss their emperor's advanced age. Each day, the intense pressure upon Mithratus grew. . .

"Yes, I'm sure he would quite enjoy it." Rumor had informed Mithratus that the youth had idolized Attolon III for some time, and had fashioned himself as something of a 'second coming.' The comparison was inevitable, and the boy had likely done little to squelch it. Accolades were narcotics to young men: the more frequently received, the more necessary they became to their existence. view post


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