Posted by: lordkyler | February 13, 2016

Short Story – Two Nations (Part Two)

Last week I posted part one of Two Nations, a novella/short story released with Lithra III. You should probably read that before you read this.

Commentary on this section can be found at the bottom of the post.


The heavens burned orange and purple as the sun sank dying into the black hills. Towering clouds caught the evening light on their fringes, looming overhead like mountains of dark wool.

A flicker of lightning peeked through the clouds, followed by a clap of thunder. Nemia jumped, startled by the unfamiliar noise. She looked around to make sure nobody had seen her move. Nobody had.

She let out a sigh of relief. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, of course, but she did not want to call attention to herself. She almost hadn’t come at all, but something had driven her to make one last effort to reach out to Sennius before he left. To give him a chance to fix things before… before what she might have to do.

Sennius’s company was just a stone’s throw away, camped at the very hill they had climbed when first entering the valley. The Karod had agreed to send an ambassador to meet with the Emperor, a lanky, thoughtful Amavoi named Hanach. His tent was an elaborate affair in the very center of the camp, with Sennius’s and Dhomian’s lesser ones on either side. They were the only ones that Hanach would deal with, but he had been greatly revered. Nemia still had her doubts, but she had smiled and bowed politely.

Thunder rumbled again, and Nemia felt raindrops splatter on her head. It was time to go. The rain would help her remain anonymous and unbothered, although the ride back to town would be miserable.

Nemia pulled up the hood of her cloak and headed into the camp. She had borrowed the armor from one of her guards, and with her cloak covering her, nobody would question her proximity to Sennius’s tent. The rain was beginning to pour now, beating down with enough force to drum audibly on the taut canvas of the tents, and men were scurrying to get inside them. No one paid any attention to her.

The ground began to grow muddy beneath her feet, and she soon had to step carefully to avoid puddles. Despite the seriousness of her situation, she still paused a moment to look up in wonder. She had grown up in Akrhe du Tsindhe, the heart of the dry lands, where water was precious. Even in the savannah, rain was scarce, but here it fell as if there were an ocean above them instead of sky.

She soon reached Sennius’s tent. There were two guards, one guarding each entrance. She stepped up to the nearest guard and raised her hood, just enough for him to see her face. He looked surprised, but she put a finger to his lips to silence him. He stepped aside without a word and held open the flap of the tent for her.

It was dark inside. Sennius was gone, likely making sure Hanach was satisfied with his accommodations. The flap closed, slapping wetly against the muddy ground, and Nemia was alone. Lanterns shone dimly through the canvas, silhouetting the sparse furniture within the tent. The air was cool, and the incessant patter of the rain was soothing. Nemia might have fallen asleep if she were not so nervous.

She waited for a long time, staring blankly and trying not to think, but the worry came as constantly as the rain, with grim premonitions flickering in her mind like the lightning that flashed from time to time.

After what seemed both a lifetime and a dream, her troubled vigil was interrupted by voices, barely audible above the storm, which had not abated during her wait. A lantern painted a yellow spot on the wall of the tent, circling from the Karod’s pavilion around to the door of Sennius’s quarters. A moment later, Sennius himself entered, hair plastered against his scalp and cloak streaked with water. He wore a faded grin, as if smiling at the memory of a joke, but his eyes were tired and red.

He did not seem to notice Nemia, as he was intent on hanging up the lantern and getting his cloak off. Nemia waited until he had finished, but gave a small cough before he could remove his jerkin.

He spun around, hand leaping for his dagger, but Nemia threw back the hood of her cloak and stepped closer to the lantern light with her hands raised. “It’s me, Sennius. Your sister Nemia.”

Sennius studied her for a moment, as if he didn’t believe her at first, but then relaxed and exhaled. Setting his knife down next to the lantern, he rubbed his eyes and groaned. “You nearly frightened me half to death,” he said. “I was ready to go to bed, and I thought you might be some sort of assassin…”

“Who would assassinate you?” Nemia asked, surprised.

“I don’t know. Perhaps one of the lesser houses, or a disgruntled colonist. You know how so many prophets end up.” Sennius stepped wearily to his cot and sat down heavily. “Why are you here, Nemia?”

“Can’t a sister say one last goodbye to her brother?” Nemia asked, more lightly than she felt. Sennius stared blankly, the attempt at humor withering in the chill. Once it would have been enough, but things had changed.

Nemia turned away and stared at the quivering ceiling of the tent. She couldn’t bear to look at that face. “I did want to say goodbye,” she said, in a smaller, sadder voice. “It will be years before you return.” If you ever do, she thought. “Things have been difficult between us, with everything that’s happened, and I didn’t want to let you leave with ill feelings.”

Sennius said nothing, so she continued. “I also… I wanted to give you a warning. About- about the Karod.”

“There is nothing to fear,” Sennius said, with a harsh undercurrent to his words. “How could Eitra’s own servants work against Eitra’s chosen people?”

“Why do Eitra’s own servants need our supplies?” Nemia countered, spinning back to face her brother. “Why do they hold themselves aloof from us? Where are the miracles and wisdom they are supposed to dispense to the pious? Why do they carry axes if they are protectors of-” She cut herself off suddenly. She had been speaking louder and louder, and her temper was rising dangerously fast.

Tension hung heavy in the humid air. Sennius’s fists were knotted. and he was breathing heavily. Nemia took several deep breaths to calm herself. “I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I did not intend to say all of that. Maybe the Karod are divine. Maybe they are not. All I know is that Eitra intends for our people to flourish. We were not meant to be vassals or slaves, but to stand strong and independent. Many great heroes defied the fate appointed them by the gods, and were blessed for their courage and audacity.”

Sennius looked troubled, staring at his feet. Tentatively, as if approaching a lion, she sat down next to him and slowly reached an arm around his shoulder. He looked over at her but did not met her eyes.

“All I ask is that you do not allow yourself to be blinded by the Amavoi, whether they are divine or not. We may not be equals with gods or their like, but they can be made to respect us.” Nemia thought she saw him shake his head, almost imperceptibly.

“Please?” She slid off the cot onto her knees, both begging him and forcing him to meet her eyes. “It is all I ask.”

Sennius’s eyes looked hollow and listless. Nemia took his hand and gripped it fervently, and he stirred slightly. “I will… try,” he said at last. But Nemia could see the truth in his eyes, revealed by the dwindling light of the lantern. The decision obviously pained him, but if he were forced to choose between his people and his calling, he would side with the Amavoi. With his influence, the Empire would likely follow his lead, and with an unequal alliance setting the precedent, who knew what they might have to sacrifice before all was said and done?

Nemia felt empty, devoid of feeling. Smiling blandly, she stood up and gave Sennius a kiss on the cheek. She may as well have been kissing statue; Sennius felt just as lifeless, and she felt no connection to him.

“Thank you,” she said generically. “Valtarra san Eitra, my brother.”

She left without looking back, stepping into the rain without bothering to put on her hood. As she passed the guard, he looked at her questioningly. Nemia sighed as if feeling her soul fade away, and nodded solemnly. The guard nodded back, seeming to stand with a little more weight on his shoulders.

By the time Nemia reached her horse, she was shivering, soaked clear to the skin. It seemed appropriate. Thunder cracked and rumbled from the empty void of the heavens, but she paid it no heed.

•••

Sennius stared intensely at the curtain strung across the archway. The desert sun glowed brilliantly at the edges of the cloth, seeming to beckon him. The dull roar of the masses waited expectantly, eager to see what they had waited for so long. Nevinia awaited them.

Sennius looked over at Hanach, who was seated on a lavish throne, awaiting his moment. The Amavoi nodded, and Sennius took a deep breath. Then he stepped outside.

The roar of legions washed over him, drowning them in cheers and adoration. Sennius stepped forward, basking in the praise, and for a moment the sun itself seemed to be shining just for him.

The grand thoroughfare of Vassra was filled with people. Nobles and priests filled the streets, while merchants thronged the balconies and peasants climbed to the roofs, fighting to get a look. Some of those gathered had followed them across half the south. Word of their return had swept ahead of them, fueled by rumors and legends of Amavoi. Hanach had not shown himself publicly, but that had not stopped hopeful pilgrims from accompanying them in their trek to the capital, where Hanach would finally reveal himself. At the seat of Emperor and Oracle.

At the very front of the crowd, Emperor Caicephus himself sat atop a palanquin, the Oracle at his one hand and his vizier at his other. They waited with all dignity, but Sennius could see the excitement hidden behind their regal facades. This was a historic occasion. Perhaps more historic than they knew.

Sennius stepped to the edge of the platform that had been provided, and raised his hands. The cry of the crowd settled, though the murmur of low conversation still simmered throughout the thoroughfare, ready to explode again at any provocation.

“Nevinia, I have returned!” Sennius called triumphantly. His words echoed as criers repeated his words down the streets. The crowd burst into applause again, and Sennius smiled. It was good to know that House Mitherias was still popular. That would make his plans easier.

“I have ventured far to the north, as decreed by our Oracle and our great Emperor Caicephus.” More applause. “I have found a land rich beyond dreams and as fertile as the garden of Natelya!” The crowd fell nearly silent, imagining such a place. “A land of the gods! A land… of angels!”

He stepped aside, bowing, and Hanach emerged.

He wore robes of the purest white silk, and chains of silver and diamonds were draped about him like glittering stars. Yet, beneath his finery, he still retained his wildness, his ferocity. His hair was long and unkempt, and his dark furs and skin stood in stark contrast to his ivory robes. If there had ever been any doubt that he was a true Amavoi, there could be none now.

You could have heard a mouse squeak in the silence. Ten thousand eyes stared widely. Hanach surveyed the crowd with all the bearing of a conqueror, and raised his arms to the skies, fingers curled like talons grasping the attention of the crowd. He spoke, slowly but clearly. “I… am… Amavoi!”

Still only the utmost silence accompanied this pronouncement. The Emperor rose slowly to his feet, standing firm on the unsteady palanquin. He was a tall, powerful man, with a stern jaw and penetrating eyes, and he fixed the angel with a cool, calculating stare. Then he sank to one knee and bowed his head.

The Oracle followed his example immediately, followed by the vizier and the nobility. Then the crowd, too, began to kneel to the earth, a great wave rushing through the assembly as if an earthquake had passed through and caused them to stumble.

Dhomian began to kneel as well, but Sennius shook his head subtly, and they both remained standing. They were chosen by the angels themselves. That should not be forgotten. Not when so much rested on their relationship to the angels.

It was a moment frozen in time, one that would surely be immortalized on a hundred tapestries, a thousand scrolls. Hanach already looked like an illustration from some storied tome of lore, his tall, muscular form seemingly sculpted by Aenin himself.

The emperor arose again, turning to address the assembly. “I hereby declare this day a holy day, to be honored each year henceforth.” The crowd began to murmur again as the word was passed on by the criers. “And in special honor of our guest, I declare a fortnight of festivals, beginning tonight!”

At this, the crowd exploded, leaping to their feet in a frenzy to rival any battlefield. Ten thousand voices shouted themselves hoarse. There had not been such a festival since the founding of the empire, more than thirty years ago.

Hanach quickly retreated inside. Sennius knew he was not fond of the heat, being used to colder climes, and he did not wish to be overwhelmed by fanatics. Dhomian escorted the angel to their quarters, where he would prepare for the feasts and councils that would fill the next few weeks.

Sennius listened to the crowd with satisfaction, but he found his pleasure tainted by guilt. Nemia had begged him not to let the Karod gain an unfair advantage over them, and now he was practically whipping the crowds into a frenzy over Hanach.

I cannot betray my position, Nemia, but neither can I let our people suffer. There was only one way he could help both the Karod and the colonists at the same time, and that required him to wield as much power as possible. I only hope she can forgive me.

Sennius ducked into a side hallway, emerging where the Emperor and his advisers were escaping the riotous revelers, surrounded by guards.

“Your Excellence,” Sennius called. The soldiers halted, and Caicephus turned expectantly. “My liege, I need to speak to you about the position of the colonies in your empire.”

“Of course, Amavori,” Caicephus said, nodding in respect, and in that instant, Sennius knew that the Emperor would give him everything he asked.


Section One Notes: I thought it was important to have a section where Nemia at least makes an attempt to reach out to her brother, before everything goes downhill.

This section doesn’t really do anything to advance the plot, but it’s an important moment for the characters. Ideally, a scene should do both, but I don’t think it’s bad to have a scene that’s one or the other, so long as it does its job well, and I think this scene does well enough.

I know rain = sad is a tired trope, but you’re going to have to deal, okay?

Second Section Notes: In case it wasn’t clear, this section takes place back down in the Nevinian Empire. (This fact will be more obvious to those that have read Lithra III, which takes place in the same lands.)

These sections are a little shorter, but where the first few were pretty long, I though it would be good to make these a bit briefer. Making them much longer would just be a stretching them out needlessly.

There was a slight note of hope in the last section, some hope for reconciliation, but Sennius dashes it here in support of his scheme. This is a very important event in the history of this world, but story-wise, it’s also the crux of the story, where everything turns. Sennius has played his scheme. Next week, see Nemia’s response.

As always, feel free to comment with your own thoughts or questions. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to talk with anyone interested.

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