The plates of shattered crimson rock rumbled from beneath like a drum as the bannermen rode out. They rode on massive almond steeds, rippling with muscle. Long ebony manes danced along their thick necks, glimmering in the sunlight. There were five bannermen in all, each clad in blood red plate armor, thin and lustrous, embedded with shards of ruby and gilded beads. Underneath the enameled steel, skinned leather breastcoats wrapped tightly around their torso’s, smooth and textured. The two bannermen in the front dashed ahead and began to circle Visir and Arstain, their long black spears arced down at them, the rippling red banners licking the steel lance.
A heavy cloud of billowing red dust palled around Visir and Arstain as the horses circled, their hooves clopping hard against the shattered plates of rock floor. The banermen slowed and the dust drifted away with the steamy, dry wind, three more knights clopping through the puffing mist. They were garbed in the same armor as the bannermen, heir steeds rearing their heads as they halted. In the center of the three, the knight spoke in the Hhadiri behind a black and red helm of arcing steel and curving horns. “Herri reago annoe maerhh hae?”
Visir calculated the words in his head, for he knew the speech of the South. He translated the words over, and apparently Arstain had too, for he replied in the Hhadiri, “We are no men from O`ean. We are from the North.”
The Dreadeen knight slid his long silver blade from its ruby incrusted sheathe, the point glinting at Arstain, “I will not be so easily swayed.” He spat, turning to his remaining two men, “Bind them. We shall take them back to the Pyramid to hear the Hhass’ council.”
Before Visir or Arstain could act, they were seized by metal hand and their arms were thrust back and bound them with fraying string, heavy and thick. Arstain tried to plea, “We are no spies, we are not your enemies!” But the Dreadeen would not listen. Instead, they grew harsher and led them onwards, pushing at their backs with long steel fingers.
The Dreadeen led them across the flat plain of rock and sand, the three astride their horses clopping alongside them like iron bars in a cell. The protection provided blades of cool shadow from the tormenting sun, reliving Arstain and Visir of their overheated limbs. Before them, the Mountains of Hhad rose in jagged shelves, the brown and tan stone weaving like the bands of color in the sky at sunset. The serrated layers of slated rock shifted upwards in stark and irregular steps, until the piercing teeth of grey stone punctured the atmosphere like a needle, slicing through cloud. Visir watched the rivers of misty sand trickled down the wending slopes, dropping in massive cascades and hissing as if clattered against the unyielding rock shelves until it settled in great heaps like hay.
The Dreadeen took them around the great rock formations that struck into the sky like spears until they had bent around the giant feet of the mountains, revealing their city of Dreados. The sun beamed directly before it, watching as Alleh down on his worshippers. The vast city of sandstone was built onto the sheer tan faces of the mountain, the rock smooth and laden with lacerations etched into the streaked face. The sandstone jutted off the face in great balconies and levels of halls and bridges. The buildings cascaded down the face and the rest of the giant city in the sand was built behind massive walls of aged sandstone, high and strong with many towers sprouting from behind like arms reaching into the sky.
In the center of the wall, the Gates of Alleh were shut to all; the ancient gilded wood glinted like molten gold in the powerful sunlight, as if melting. Behind the immense walls, Visir could scarcely see the piercing tip of the Great Pyramid of Alleh in the center of the city, where the great Hhass sat upon his throne. Dotting the ramparts, black silhouettes of guards and knights stood like stone statues, stiff and clad in armor, some with banners and some with spears.
The bannermen led them to the Gates of Alleh, where on either side long rippling banners of gilded silk draped down the faces of the wall, each emblazoned with the orange and red sun of Alleh as the sigil. The gates stirred at the commands of the lead knight and began to groan ajar, until the wood doors were completely open and the vast maze of sandstone consumed the vision. In its heart, a long and broad pathway of cleared sand cut through the buildings towards the Pyramid in the heart of the city.
The gates of the Pyramid were gilded, embedded with rubies that danced with the glaring sunlight. The guards on either side stood still as stone in their scaled armor and lances in hand on either side of the gates and bowed as the knights clopped to the threshold with Visir and Arstain tightly bound. The knights said quickly in the Hhadiri, “We have prisoners for the Hhass.”
The guards nodded and heaved open the heavy gold, revealing the majesty of the hall within. As Visir passed beneath the threshold of the Pyramid and the gates were closed, it felt as if he had walked into the sun. It was bright, not so hot, but gleaming with gold and red. The gilded ceiling tapered up to a sharp point, draped with the red banners of Dreados. The hall was silent upon their arrival, and the people all glared at them with distaste.
The people were like nothing Visir had ever seen. They had dark, brown skin that seemed to consume the streaming blades of light. Draped down their great bodies were silken robes or dresses fitted loosely for the men and tightly for the women. The cloth hugged the women’s busty curves, the silk stretching in ripples. They wore reds, gold, greens, blues, blacks, everything. Each were strung with a gilded lace down the sides.
Wrapped around their necks, some had great flat necklaces of gold incrusted with beads of sapphire or ruby or emerald and some had thick round medallions resting on their breasts. The Dreadeen’s faces were full and delicate, intricately brushed with makeup and dusted with glitter at their mahogany cheeks. Their hair was extravagant, lush and plentiful atop their heads. The ebony curls bounced on some, glinted with beads of diamond and some ran straight, shimmering the sunlight like the silk on their bodies. The men plainly were shaved and wore an elegant cloth on their head that glistered like the sea with jewels.
The hall was wide and massive at the base, with giant pillars of gold, ribbed with ruby running down the length. Between each, was a great gilded brazier, flickering with licking flame. In the center of the hall ran a silken carpet, stitched with images of the sun and of Alleh, leading to the back where the Hhass perched atop his throne. The dais rose with ruby stairs and on it rested the Red Throne, hone from pure ruby, nothing else. Upon either side, guards in great ebony plate armor and gilded scales stared down the hall, hands on the pommel of their swords.
In the throne, sat the Sun King, the great Hhass of Dreados, Arredion, garbed with massive golden robes banded with ruby red cuffs and ebony lace. He shone like the sun as his robes snatched the sunlight through the great glass pane before the front wall of the hall, the bloated sun wreathed gilded flames. Atop the ebony black skin of Arredion, stiff and stony, there gleamed a crown unlike any. It was pure diamond, the entire thing, with liquid gold swimming inside of the crystal. Over the throne still, dangling from the ceiling the great banner of Dreados, emblazoned with the sun fell down in ripples, mirroring the real sun just outside.
In the great blade of sunlight, the Hhass’ ebony face seemed to shine and glint a silvery black, with glints of powdery red. He inclined his head, speaking loudly in the Hhadiri, “Who are thee you bring? What is your purpose with these men bound before us?”
The lead knight knelt, his back bending low and bowed his head, “We found them in the Vastness, Your Grace. They are men from O`ean sent as spies.”
“Bring them forth,” Said Arredion. “Search them before me.”
Visir felt a sharp push at his back as he was thrust forward before the king, his arms still bound behind his back. He saw Arstain too, straining a bit. The guards took their weapons, and Arstain’s Rune Dial along with many other frivolous provisions. They clattered to the hard ground and they were forced on their knees before their king who observed.
“Are you so naive to think you would pass by unseen?” Asked the Hhass. “Two O`ean soldiers in my realm?”
Arstain coughed dryly and answered in the Hhadiri, “We are no men from the island of O`ean. We mean no harm.”
“You think me to take you word?” Asked Arredion. “I am not blind.”
“Blind to the truth.” Said Arstain. “Blind to what is right before your eyes.”
“Do not insult me before Alleh, in my hall!” Shouted Arredion.
“I meant no insult,” Said Arstain, “Only truth and clarification that we are not from O`ean.”
“Why else would you be here? Captured?” Asked the Hhass.
Visir stepped forward. “You must listen, we are no men of O`ean. We are men from the North, from the realm in shadow, the realm of Runir.”
The King faltered, as whispered something, then rose from his throne, “This is folly!” He declared. “Folly beyond the likes my ears have ever heard.”
“This is not folly, it is truth.” Said Arstain. “We have passed through the Divide and journeyed here for guidance.”
“What proof do you have that you are from the Northrealm?” Asked the King.
Visir, still bound said, “I would show you my sword, great hhass, but my hands are bound before my back.”
“Is that a threat?” Shouted the King. “I’ll have his head on a spike!”
“It was no threat.” Said one of the guards, the blade in his hands, examining the steel and the hilt. “This is of no O`ean make, nor even that of the south lands of Hhad, Erediath, or even Qethos. I know this make, for I have studied the masters of the forge and this is a true blade of the North, from the realm of Sheon in Runir, Your Grace.”
“Hand it here.” Said Arredion. He took it in his hand and slid it out with a scratch of steel. “Indeed, how very true you are Master Reida.” He sheathed the sword. “Unbind these men, for they are no men of O`ean, but from Runir.”
Visir felt the bands around his wrists rip, then snap and his hands fell to the ground, the pain straightening.
“I am aggrieved for my harshness, northerners,” Said Arredion, “Though these times we live in here are very dangerous and hostile. We can take no chances, for the war is at large.”
“What war?” Asked Visir.
“O`ean has taken claim over the deserts of Hhad and have bombarded
into our realm.” Explained Arredion. “They have no such claim, and so forth we fight to keep our lands against them. The war has been lingering for near ten years, with the cities of ours along the coast under the rule of O`ean. We could take no chances with you, for having O`ean men in our hall would be utterly terrible.”
“We have come not to fight in this war.” Said Arstain, “but to journey seek aid, in our own war.”
“So this is why you have come.” Said the hhass. “I see now your reasoning, but I’m afraid the city of Dreados and all its men are in no fit state to help you, for we are fighting a war of our own.”
“Then we will look to the Qetheen for aid, for I have heard of wondrous armies they possess.”
The hall went silent and Arredion began to laugh, the entire hall booming like the inside of a drum with the laughter. Amidst his chuckles, the hhass said, “You will never find aid with the Qetheen. They serve no one, hardly even themselves. They are slavers and traders and merchants, the wealthiest yes in all the world, but stubborn beyond compare. And they too are in war, war against the west, and the city of Norr.”
Visir was fuming, “In the name of the Ancient Ones, is there anyone who will not aid us?”
The Hall fell silent at his words, Arredion rising again from his throne, his ebony face aghast. “You dare insult me. You dare insult Alleh. You dare insult us!”
Visir stood, knowing what he did. Arstain cursed next to him as if spitting fire.
“Take these men away!” Declared Arredion. “Take them to the cells, then we shall see their heads on a spike for treachery. For all those who enter the holy city of Dreados will see the Sun!”
"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."