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Fantasy The Nations of Anan

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Soviet Panda

Red Panda Commanda.
Roleplay Type(s)
The country of Zarim was beautiful, in it's way. The desert cities of the nation, which by all accounts should have been lifeless when compared to the mainland, were bustling with life as hawkers sold and traded their goods and people hurried about their day. But the city itself was of no concern to the many important guests of the King himself. Seemingly carved entirely from marble with gold shining from every visible surface, curtains of silk and the ever present, near silent shuffling of servants with their heads bowed respectfully, and surprisingly cool. The King and his predecessors certainly liked to display their wealth, and display it they did.

Of course, those within the palace weren't there to simply admire it. They had been invited by none other than King Farzin Bina. And tonight was the night that they would all meet face to face, having been separated on the basis of keeping the peace within the palace until the time came. And that time was now. Farzin had been planning this for days, and it would be done right. He had even planned the arrival of all the heirs, in groups so as not to have any one feel outnumbered by the others. Things would go perfectly, no matter how hard they tried otherwise, Farzin would make sure of that.
 

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Elanil Y. Zanhuesa
Location: Palace in Zarim
Interaction(s): Isla ; Cedric Darkbloom Darkbloom ; Antony Soviet Panda Soviet Panda
Mention(s): N/A
Appearance Note: Braided hair updo
Soundtrack:
Dread permeated the candlelit room as Elanil stared at her somber expression in the large mirror. The hands of her servant worked carefully and tirelessly with her long, dark hair, creating intricate braids that sat on top of her head. Loose strands framed her delicate facial features, from her almond shaped eyes to her distinct, high cheekbones. Her pointed ears were not hidden that evening. They were out and decorated by beautiful earrings—glinting like warm starlight surrounded by gold whenever the setting sun shined on them—that her birth mother had left behind, and they were the only things about her appearance that currently felt like her.

Everything else—the heavy makeup, the brazen dress, and the shoes that were one size too small—were not who she was. That was Maria, otherwise known as her mother by law and the bane of her existence.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear your hair down, My Lady?” Isla, her servant, asked nervously. The woman’s fingers brushed against the tips of Elanil’s exposed ears.

Elanil smiled. “I appreciate your concern, Isla, but I want some control over what I look like. I’ve done everything else Mother has requested. At the very least, I don’t want to hide that part of me. Everyone here has been much more welcoming than those back home too, so I think everything will be alright tonight.”

Hesitance remained in the blonde woman’s posture, but she returned Elanil’s smile. “Do what you want, then. It’s not as though the Duchess is here to hound you anyway.”

As quickly as those words left, Isla covered her mouth with a hand. Her eyes scanned the room alarmingly, as if the woman in question would appear at any second. Elanil couldn’t blame her, though. Maria was notorious for her perfectly inconvenient timing. Even though it’d been nearly a week since Elanil and the servant became King Farzin’s guests, her mother’s living ghost still haunted them.

Laughing quietly, the noble brushed a hand to her lips. Red cream stained her fingertips when she looked at them. “If I really did what I wanted, I would not have chosen this color. It doesn’t compliment my skin at all. Did they really throw out my balms?”

Her mother’s employees had removed many things Isla prepared, replacing them with what they believed were more “fitting” for the occasion. It was disheartening, but it all happened too late for Elanil to try and restore.

Her eyebrow rose when she noticed Isla’s grin. “Well…” Isla began, digging through her own satchel. She pulled out a familiar, round storage container. Barely the size of two thumbs combined, Isla untwisted the cap to reveal a softer, more neutral color that Elanil procured herself. It was slightly pink, yet it still looked natural on her lips. “I knew those snakes would throw your things away, so I hid some of them beforehand. Here you go, My Lady.”

“What would I do without you, Isla?” Elanil sighed in relief, reaching for a cloth to begin wiping away the deep red on her mouth.

> Some time later… <

Elanil found her position like a statue between Cedric and Antony. Though her expression was neutral as they walked towards the ceremonial hall, her heart was thumping loudly in her ears. It was unlike her to be nervous about anything, but ever since she learned she was to be married off, sensations like nausea and anxiety had become relatively commonplace. If it weren’t for the tonic she took before meeting the two men beside her, she would’ve surely been shaking like a small dog.

“Did either of you ever discover why our betrotheds haven’t been revealed to us? Why did we have to wait until this evening to find out who we’ll be married to for the rest of our lives?” The words came out more bitter than she had intended, but the betrayal in her tone was true to her feelings. She had kept quiet for months after the news was broken, however, it seemed like the dam was finally starting to break now.
 
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Cedric has been wondering about very much the same thing as Elanil. Though he was able to take the news slightly better, having previously panicked about not being able to choose a woman because he is quite indecisive when it comes to partners.

“Did either of you ever discover why our betrotheds haven’t been revealed to us? Why did we have to wait until this evening to find out who we’ll be married to for the rest of our lives?”

He scratches his head as he walks, having no good reply. "No, afraid that hasn't been at the top of my to do list. I know you don't like this arrangement at all, but worry not. I'll be here for you if you need anything." Although not pleased with the ceremony cutting into multiple areas of his daily time, there is no complaint heard from his mouth. Even in private between family, it would be most inappropriate.

As they draw closer to the ceremonial hall, Cedric's thoughts inevitably turn to the future. He envisions the path he aims to tread – not just as a noble scion but as a leader who brings honor and prosperity to his family. The dreams of earning renown on the battlefield, fostering positive change within the realm, and steering House Lemoin towards even greater glory occupy his contemplations.

In this moment of ceremonial procession, Cedric Lemoin, the crown prince, grapples with the complexities of his role, juggling the expectations of the past, the demands of the present, and the aspirations for the future.

Soviet Panda Soviet Panda koala koala
 
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Antony Holt
Antony hadn't kept still while he had been in Zarim. He had put out feelers of his own, and laid the foundations of a spy network his father would be proud of. He would have a finger on the pulse of the greatest merchant kingdom in the known world, and he'd be able to profit off of it. That is, if whatever they were here for would allow him to continue with his business undisturbed. And while he was trying to be hopeful, he was very doubtful.

At their ordained little get together before the big meeting, Elanil finally said what they were all thinking. She tended to do that, he had figured out. She'd try to keep it in, but like a kettle set to boil she'd be saying something eventually. "If I had to guess," began Antony, after having waited patiently for Cedric to say their piece, "it is because it is some sort of power move. 'I am a king and you are not, so sit quietly and wait'. And did you not notice how quickly all the Kingdoms folded to this demand of his? If nothing less, they're reveling in their fleeting power over us all."
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Adric "Longfang" Hrothgarsson
"Absolutely not!" Adric roared from his room. Shortly after, a handful of servants scurried out, chased by some sort of thrown bowl filled with a rich lather that promptly shattered harmlessly against the far wall. "I will sooner be burned alive than make myself look presentable for those southlanders!"

"But, Lord,"
a particularly brave and elderly servant said, deciding to turn and face the outraged barbarian prince.

"If that razor gets near me again, I'll think you're trying to slit my throat."
"But..."
"This heat is nothing, I have raided the jungles of Teotl. Compared to that hellish place, this is a summer's day. I do not need to shed. That is final."


Giving a sigh of resignation, the servant bowed his head respectfully, deciding it wiser to clean up the pieces than to push the matter any further. "Of course, Lord. This misunderstanding will not happen again. But you must get ready for the feast tonight."

"Then I best get started."
And with that, Adric shut the door in the servant's face. Sounding much like a pair of deflating bellows, the elderly servant sighed once more, bowed to the closed door, and swiftly turned on his heels and left to delegate cleaning up the shattered bowl and mop up their failed attempt at a shave. Next time he's asked to shave one of those Varangians, he'll know to tie them down in their sleep before even broaching the topic to them.
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Adric was the first of the Varangians to arrive. However, he noticed he was not the first, that particular honor was earned by the Lemoin delegation. Of course, he was quickly redirected to separate chambers. King Farzin was clearly trying his best to keep them all separate, which he couldn't see the reasoning for. He could be as polite as any other, as long as it was returned in kind. Though he very much doubted that. Those Lemoin and Guo did sure love to look down their noses at everybody.
 

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Aesir Bjarneson
"Stormchaser"
Location: Palace in Zarim
Interaction(s): Unknown GhastlySquash GhastlySquash ; Adric Soviet Panda Soviet Panda
Mention(s): N/A
Soundtrack:
The sun had already set when Aesir stirred awake. Slowly, his eyes blinked away the blurriness of exhaustion as he turned his head. A woman with dark, unruly hair was still fast asleep on his arm, which had numbed from the weight and lack of blood flow. His thoughts were met with the sound of gusting wind when he tried to recall her name. All he knew was she was tasked with readying him for the night's event, though he'd mischievously brought her into his bed instead.

"Wake up." The warrior grunted and shook her gently, earning a wave of mumbles and whines in return.

The woman jumped up like a wild horse. Her brown eyes were half-crazed as she looked at the window. Darkness had blanketed the room, besides a few dying candles and the lights from the city. She shot her head at him and frowned, tears on the brink of exploding before she quickly gathered her clothes. "We need to get you ready. Quickly. I can't believe this..."

"Do not expect me to wear those hideous garments you've prepared. I will wear Varangian leather or I will wear nothing at all." Even though his tone was light, his words were laced with seriousness as he glowered down at her. She seemed to understand where her place was as she shrunk into the shadows of the room, and his easy-going smile appeared. "Good. Thank you for keeping my bed warm, Nazia."

"It's Maz-" She began to correct him, but he was pushing her towards the door and it quickly shut in her face.

> Some time later... <

Aesir's arms reached for the sky as he let out a long yawn. He grinned wolfishly at those passing by, nodding at a few faces he even became familiar with during his stay in the palace. Surtr, his wolf dog companion, was glued to his side in a protective, yet casual stance. The man's ink cladded hand ran through his companion's soft coat, which had shed quite a bit since they entered the warm country of Zarim.

“The sand is bad for your coat too, hm Surtr?”

As if the wolf dog could understand Aesir, he barked in response, tail swishing from side to side. Aesir couldn’t help the small smile that spread across his face, even as dread gnawed at his bones the closer they got to the ceremonial hall.

Rounding a corner, Aesir felt the soft impact of a body bumping into his. Foreign ornaments poked into him as familiar, tropical colors greeted his eyes. The clothes were clearly from Teotl, from their various greens and oranges that mimicked the vibrant jungles themselves.

They looked peculiar, but what stood out the most to him was lack of exposed skin. There wasn’t a face for him to study because a strange mask was hiding them.

He wondered if they were an envoy.

“Are you so ugly you must hide behind a mask?” Aesir asked. Not caring for a response, he walked by the short foreigner and made his way towards the Varangian sitting area where only Adric awaited.

“Longfang… Did you anger the god of mischief?” Aesir asked as he noted the uneven beard. Laughter tickled his throat as he found a comfortable spot beside the man with Surtr. His arms spread out against the wide chair’s back and his eyes scanned the room, falling on the Lemoin delegation. “Let us pray you don’t marry one of those Lemoin or Guo women. Unless you want to look like a new born babe.”
 
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The Turquoise Serpent tossed and writhed in her bed. She dreamed of home. The humid jungles. The echo of busy streets. Anger and laughter. The dust and dirt sticking to her robes. In some ways, Zarim was similar to her home. But Teotl's seat of power...that was only her last home wasn't it?

Visions of tuquoise water and white sand beaches. The gentle roll of waves against the jungle peninsula. The gentle crackle of a well-made fire. The whistling of an old fisherman.

And then it was dark. The crackling of a fire set in a damp room. The pounding of drums. Her visage placed in front of her. Tenoch stood above, his face contorted by shadows cast by the flame.

"You are no longer her. You are Xiuhcoatl, the Turquoise Serpent. Assume your new form and ascend to the highest echelon."

Xiuhcoatl woke with a start, her eyes scanning the bed for intruders. Dreams were the trap that allowed one to be caught off guard.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she laid back down. Small rays of sunlight tried to peak through the heavy curtains. Had she slept in? Cualli and Coco would certainly find a small laugh in that fact. They'd arrived to this place to meet a partner. But the identity of these matches were still a mystery. Xiuhcoatl had little care of partners. Even among her servants, she refused to show her face. Tenoch's rule was her morality.

Never be seen and her visage would be her form. A powerful serpent. A mighty god.

She quietly began to tend to her self, bathing and preparing her visage. A small knock at the door. Most likely her servants eager to finish the rest of her dress.

Taking one last sigh, she slipped on the mask, letting the world and her vision fade.

-------------------------------

The servants were quick to dress her. Ceremonial robes and dress. Coverings and gloves. The snake had slipped back into its skin. Ironic, considering how snakes would rather shed their skin than compress back into an old form.

"Where are the others?" She spoke.

"I assume they are having breakfast and will join you." The servant bowed.

With that, she departed her room in the palace to find Coco and Cualli.

She was pondering her options. The obvious issue with any so-called betrothed was her own identity. Only a handful of individuals even knew what she looked like. And none of them were of Lemoin, Guo, or even Varangian. Why the High Priestess would allow this could only mean one thing.

In her own way, she wanted them to know. Wanted them to see her. A test of strength or resolve? Or perhaps a threat of power. Coco and Cualli would never try to assume the throne by any wicked means. But Xiuhcoatl? The mystery was an advantage.

As she pondered the possible motivations, she felt the solid impact of leather against her robes. Turning, she saw it was one of the Varangians, with a rather sizeable dog by his side.

“Are you so ugly you must hide behind a mask?”

The insolence. If he'd been anyone else, she'd consider scorching him for such insult. Regardless, it didn't seem like he was waiting for her response. Typical barbarian. There were some rumors that Teotl mages were as savage if not more cruel than the raiders of the north. But Teotl was an empire and one that could build vast temples to rival whatever primitive wood huts that north used to brace the blizzard.

Scoffing under her mask, she continued on her way, searching for Coco and Cualli.
 
Gunhild stood in front of the lit brazier saying her prayers. Behind the brazier the tall statues of the Varangian gods looked down on her but with expectant and critical eyes of the Varangian gods. The roaring flames, giving the statues an ire supernatural quality. Varangian gods, unlike others, are very much like their human subjects: vain, petty and greedy, they do not give the guidance or gifts lightly and can be capricious. It was her job as high priestess to keep them on side, for her people and her king. An important role, full of influence, one like her could exploit to right the perceived wrongs of her past. It was not her intent, but the temptation was there and one she almost fell several times since taking on the role. It was what scared her about herself, to be like her grandfather and bring the death he brought.

Regardless, right now, she was working for her liege. A great summit of the nations were meeting in the desert, and she had to besiege the gods to guide them to the best for all. Prayers would not be enough, for guidance sacrifices needed to be made. She indicated for an attendant to bring the sacrificial goat which the attended obeys, guiding the goat in front of Gunhild and placed a bowl by it. Saying the last lines of her prayer, she drew a dagger from her belt and presented it to the gods before kneeling down slitting the goat throat in one quick movement. She let the blood fall on the bowl. Once the bowl was filled she presented the bowl to the statues before taking some of the blood in her fingers and marking her face with it before draining the contents on the fire, causing it hiss. It was not long until the rest of the goat followed it into the fire.

A strange sensation followed and she closed her eyes. A vision followed and as frustratingly usual it was anything but clear. Images flashed in front of her mind and she was barely given a chance to make sense of it before the past. She only had one impression from them though, a sense of danger. There was going to be trouble ahead to the summit. The images passed, and she opened her eyes before looking up at the statues. "Could you guys not be any clearer!?" She shouted in frustration before walking off to her quarters to prepare.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The heat was sweltering, Gunhild was not made for warm climates, let along hot ones due to growing up in the tundra. Why would anyone make a home in such heat was beyond her. One could not escape it, even in freezing cold, a fire was enough to keep it at by but heat... One could stand naked in the cool breeze but the heat would still be there. That was the only thing that was bothering her, the vision she had several days ago was still bothering and as she wondered on it every night since having yet achieved little. This hot and bothered things was not her, she needed something to get her mind on off their troubled as they neared the meeting point.

"Hey, cousin..." She reached out to her travelling companion, Princess Kelda. "A little birdie told me one, the king suggested prince Adric should shave. She said, smiling slyly at the though of the burly beast of a man clean-shaven. "You know anything about that?" She asked fishing for the gossip, though she wasn't sure she wanted to know, something are best left as a surprise.

Caffeinated Joy Caffeinated Joy
 
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Kelda “Valkyrie” Hrothgarsdottir

"Girl, look at me." Kelda growled in a low voice, "I could hoist you and 2 of your friends without breaking a sweat. I put up with the braids. I wear braids all the time, so no big deal, even if you took longer to do my hair than it takes me to get out of bed, wash, do my own hair and get dressed. But that," she pointed at the makeup brush trembling in the servant's hand, "and that," she stabbed her finger at the draping, embroidered blue and silver silk gown laying across another servant's arms, "I draw the line at."

"Lady, please, we have been told to make you presentable."
The girl with the dress said in a soft, shaking voice. She was tiny and delicate, with large, doe-like eyes. She lifted her arms, allowing the silk she was carrying to spill down until she was holding up the gown, displaying it like a jewel. “His Majesty has gone through great expense to ensure you have a suitable gown to fit y-.”

“Oh, I’m to be grateful your king made someone toil for hours on end embroidering such great lengths of silk to make a gown I won’t wear?”
Kelda laughed, “I am no one’s painted doll to parade around court, though I’m sure my mother would applaud his efforts. His Majesty and the rest of his pampered court will accept me as I am or not at all.” She stood and looked down her nose at them, “You can go.”

The servant with the makeup brush cleared her throat, “But -.”

Kelda smiled, “How much are you willing to gamble that I’m more like my good-natured brother Aesir, and less like my brother Adric? Test me further and find out.”

They bowed their heads and slowly backed out, but not before one of them draped the gown over the back of a gilt chair, as if it might tempt her to change her mind. She sneered and finished getting dressed in her own clothing before leaving her room and striding down the hall in search of Gunhild. She found her, looking uncomfortable in the desert heat. Kelda couldn’t say she was much of a fan of it either, but she was slightly more used to it than her cousin was. If she thought this was warm, Teotl would make her melt. They fell into step together and continued down the hall. Kelda was acutely aware of her intricately braided hair, the coils twisting and pinned in place around her head before spilling down her back, held in place at her neck with a fine clasp. If she had let them dress her in that gown, she’d have looked ridiculous.

She looked at Gunhild when she spoke and laughed, clapping her cousin on the shoulder, “They could try, Gun. They’d have better luck shaving a wild boar. You should have seen what they thought they could make me wear.”

She strode into the hall, ignoring the looks cast her way by staff who expected to see her in silk, and allowed herself to be redirected to separate chambers where her brothers were. “Adric! You look as if you were attacked by a drunken barber!” She laughed, “And Aesir, you brought your better-looking and better-groomed partner, I see.”

She sat and stretched her legs out, crossing them at the ankles. “Did the gods have anything useful to say today, Gun?”

ThatGuyWithSouvlaki ThatGuyWithSouvlaki Soviet Panda Soviet Panda koala koala
 
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Eztli
Location: Palace in Zarim
Interactions: GhastlySquash GhastlySquash
[Xihuacoatl]
Mentions:
koala koala [northman]
Soviet Panda Soviet Panda
Zarim, a realm draped in the elegance of glittering golds and the luxurious embrace of fine silks, entrenched by an ocean of sand. An opulent display; a show of power. The surfaces, smooth to the touch, denied her fingertips any sense of texture as she traversed the marbled halls. Eztli marched to her room, it was decorated much the same as the great halls. A frustratingly beautiful facsimile of every corner of the palace adorned her room, a place where the decor mirrored the grandiosity of the great halls.

Carefree, Eztli undid the knots in her robe, letting it spill to the floor in a tangled heap of drapery. The middling warmth that brushed against her skin neither inspired nor repelled, leaving her in a peculiar state of ambivalence. From her sack, she retrieved a piece of knapped obsidian—a curious gem with nine sides, forming a zenith in the middle. Ripples of fractured light bounced and twisted as she turned it in the soft glow, carefully observing in preparation for her next steps.

Parting the drapes, Eztli found the right spot. Where the sun beamed its rays to reflect a great image off of the obsidian tablet. This was a cleanse—a ritual to ready herself for communion with the higher world. If there were answers to be sought, or a fate to be changed, it would unfold within this sacred space.

With bated breath, Eztli yearned for a sign, a divine indication of her path. Yet, the tablet remained silent, revealing naught but an anguished face reflected in its magnificence.

“Cihuacoatl?” One knock, followed by another, and then a third. The ensuing silence hung in the air until a fourth knock was delivered.

Eztli breathed a sigh of relief, allowing herself to ease her worries. “You may come in.” Safety was of great concern in this foreign land, and Eztli, prudent and cautious, had ensured her retinue understood the gravity of addressing such concerns. “You have kept me in wait.”

“My dearest apologies, Cihuacoatl, but I fear that we may already be late.” Her attendant bore a look of worry about her. One that quickened the heart and hastened her step.

“Where would I be without you?”

The attendant appeared puzzled at first, only to resume the adornment of her master, stating, “I believe you would be right where you are now, Cihuacoatl.”

“Yes, I suppose that's right.”

> Some time later... <

Dressed in the finest of her nation's craftsmanship, Eztli felt burdened by the weight of opulence. The ceremonial garment, woven with vibrant feathers from exotic beasts, shimmered in iridescent hues of jade, ruby, and gold. The fluidity she so cherished in her movements was stifled, ensnared by the shackles of centuries-old traditions. Her earrings cascaded with such weight that they felt as though they could wretch her ears off. A golden necklace wreathed her neck, accentuated by the delicate curve of her collarbone. The embedded gems and jewels, though exquisite, bore down on her stamina, as if she carried the world's burdens. Nonetheless, the dazzling ensemble was as regal as it was tiresome.

Her raised sandals marked each step with a resounding echo as she marched toward her impending betrothal. Eztli, however, bore no qualms about the arrangement. Love had never held a place in her heart. For someone as contented as she, it seemed an unnecessary intrusion. Marriage, in her eyes, was an act of bondage. Tying two souls together. As long as her own freedom was not trampled on, her views would not change.

On a warpath to her engagement, Eztli bore witness to a grave transgression unfolding before her. The Turquoise Serpent, an enigma even to their closest confidants, had been scorned for the vestments that covered her face. A northman had done the deed, and from her vantage point, Eztli could sense the fury her superior had quelled.

Astonishment gripped her, acutely aware of the events that had transpired. The former priestess would vehemently deny any trace of amusement, yet a subtle glimmer of it flickered in that fleeting moment.

“Xihuacoatl,” the utterance carried with it both respect and deference, the currency of their hierarchical order. “Are we late? It would be lamentable to strain relations so soon. Might we hurry to join the others?”
 
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Guo Qian (Shenyue)
Prince of Guo
Location: Royal Palace, Kingdom of Zarim
Tags: Soviet Panda Soviet Panda


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Guo Yaling
Eldest Princess of Guo

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Guo Guizhong
Princess of Guo



Tianshui Imperial Palace: Fledglings Uncaged

“Her Imperial Majesty summons all Statesmen and Generals to court!”

The attendant’s resounding voice beckoned the rising of the Empress’s subjects. The frigid morning called forth the awakening of scholars and warriors, as their servants helped them into their robes and armors. Sashaying past the long corridors of the magnificent capital city, they ascended the steps of the Tianshui, curious of the master’s summons. For centuries, the halls of Tianshui has been kept in shape by the deeds of the imperial Guo family and their Sky Lords Commission. Every stone and tile marked the cooperative effort of the realm. But among those that honored the traditions of old that defined the Guos’ very way of life, there are those that are compelled to act upon the winds of change. Was it truly the way to be born into nobility and neglecting the sacrifices made by the destitute? This question was refined into a personality that defied the Sky Lords Commission’s purpose, taking on the name of Guo Qian, styled Shenyue - son of Mu Qiao and Guo Yan.

Cladded in fine robes, Guo Qian’s unarmored apparatus were lenient on the eyes of his oppositions - dissuading them from their criticism. Well-versed in battle as they are with the indignations of the court, he understood their peeves well enough to wear his armor for a court summon - knowing full well that he was under the watchful eyes of his rivals. His dark hair, tainted by a few strands of silvery-white streaks, flowed past his shoulders. Under the morning breeze, the young General remained calm amidst the murmuring of judging statesmen and politicians. But even the bravest of warriors could not withstand the accumulation of dust particles. A loud sneeze finally escaped him upon his entry of the main chamber, causing many to recoil back, neither by surprise or unsuspected disturbance but fear. Shenyue’s golden eyes shifted back and forth, studying the gestures posed by those around him. It was then, he finally understood just how much he had taken hostage with his presence, despite the absence of his personal troops. Surely, his deeds would be known by oral passovers, but he did not expect it to be this severe in Tianshui. The very reason that he returned to Tianshui alone was to make sure his rivals remained unalarmed and civil. But it seems that his sneeze alone had already made a few enemies.

The main chamber was then split into two sides, with the center of the room kept open. The left, facing the Empress, was occupied by the marshals and knights. On the right, were civil attendants and internal statesmen. Brushing past the others and taking his spot among the marshals, Shenyue took notice of his siblings, of whom were made present with the entry of the Empress. It has been many years since he last saw Yaling and Guizhong. His hasty return to the capital brought little thoughts for the two, particularly souvenirs. What a horrible brother he was, the man sighed to himself in silence, as he got down on his knees alongside the others to pay their respect to Empress Guo Dai.

“All hail Her Imperial Majesty. Long may you reign!”

When the matter of the letter from Zarim was brought forth, it did not take long for words to weigh anchor.
“Your Imperial Majesty, it has not been long since General Guo returned from his long campaign against the Varangians.” Sky Lord Ma Xin urged. “Not to mention, he is the great general that brought peace to the western marches. Perhaps this is a ruse to snatch our precious defender from us?”

“I appreciate your consideration for my well-being, Lord Ma. Alas, if all are willing to participate, would it not be prudent to show our willingness to participate?” Shenyue replied confidently, having already expected some opposition to his departure.

“Who is to say that this is not some elaborate trap to capture you and the Empress’s daughters, wise Shenyue? We can simply say no and take a defensive stance instead. Zarim is not a threat to us.“

“You underestimate our partner. Must I remind you, Lord Xiahou, that our realm is reliant on Zarim’s ironworks and supplies? Or have you forgotten the Twenty-Thousand Bushels deal we struck with them from eons past? We have failed to protect their caravans, and you would expect them to not leave us to the barbarians at our gates!”

“What would you propose, General Guo? Enlighten us, if you are so inclined to leave us unprotected.”

“We are bound by our honor and our needs, Lord Cai. I believe there are two advantages that would benefit us greatly upon my departure. One, our rival states of Teotl and Varangia are placed in the same scenario, would it not be wise to abide by the same condition so that they would lower their guards? Second, our wars extend beyond the confinement of the borderlands, intelligence and wisdom may yet be gained within Zarim.” Turning towards the Empress, Shenyue continued with his proposal. “Your Majesty, the Silken Path to Zarim is well-known like the back of my hand. I only require five-hundred cavalry for the journey. Zarim possesses the resources, but not the experienced troops to safeguard their interests. I am certain King Farzin Bina will favor those that uphold honor above all else.”

Guizhong seemed to be staring past the lords and at the sky ahead, her eyes glossed over and lost in thought. For a brief moment, a wide smile emanated from the youngest daughter of the Empress Guo Dai. How long had it been since she’d last seen Shenyue?

But as soon as the conversation turned to the matter of Zarim, her smile dissolved and she resumed staring wistfully outside.

If she could, Yaling would be pacing. It was a habit that helped her to think while releasing the pent-up anxiety she held. They expected her to leave her home? For how long? She was most likely to be the heiress, what if there were tasks she needed to attend to urgently? Her gaze slipped towards her mother, but of course, the Empress’ face didn’t betray her thoughts. Holding a stony expression was one of the first lessons she had taught, as she wore her own now.

Yaling’s attention then traveled toward her younger sister, who was seemingly lost in thought, her attention focused on something far away. Leaning the slightest bit towards Guizhong, she spoke her voice only a whisper. “Guizhong, pay attention. You are every part of this as we are.” Besides, how would it look to the others in court if they saw the youngest of the Guo dynasty daydreaming? She held back a sigh.

Guizhong snapped out of her stupor, turning red as she tried to focus on the discussion. Still, it seemed she was trying to stifle a yawn as she listened to the lords ramble on.

Lastly, her gaze fell upon her brother, who only just returned home. It had been so long since he had left. Her heart ached in response to how he had seemingly changed. It was as if she could see the barrier that formed between the sisters and him. Part of her longed to reach out and ensure that Shenyue had returned in one piece. The protectiveness she held towards him as his older sister hadn’t seemed to diminish at all. Secretly, she felt a touch hurt. All these years had passed without a word from him, only updates on political matters. No letters, no gifts from his travels. It was as if he had forgotten about those he left at home.

Realizing she was lost in thought, just as she had scolded Guizhong for a moment earlier, she focused her attention back on the words being spoken.

While he proffered many words to meet the Sky Lords’ chimes and rhymes, Shenyue would be remiss to not take note of his siblings. Particularly so when the subject of the day pertained to that of their shared futures. Alas, only his nonchalant demeanor remained to maintain his integrity. Choosing to find a more suitable time for words with Guizhong and Yaling, the day progressed with debates over the inclination to meet Zarim’s request. Though it gnawed at the man for failing to greet his kin properly, he understood the necessity of silence when daggered words were deliberate and poised to tarnish the vindication effort he long sought. When the final decision was made, Shenyue, the Sky Lords, and ministers in their multitude were quick to pay their respect to the Empress. Carrying on with their duties, Shenyue was left to his own devices, where he planned for their upcoming journey west.

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The Silken Path - Roadside Respite & Reconcialiation

The Silken Path, long known as the vein of the Guo Dynasty, now greeted three columns of armored cavalry carrying the imperial banner. Armed with an excuse to escape Tianshui, Shenyue has never been more satisfied than when he first defeated an enemy force at the age of sixteen. But even so, his gamble came at the price of two lives that were intertwined with his - Guizhong and Yaling. Perhaps he was a selfish warlord as they had claimed, for he knew very little about them. The journey towards Zarim was long and tough, and there was no better way to mend the bridge that was deemed broken for the past few years. Absent in their lives, Shenyue often wondered if his presence now was good or bad. Even so, he remembered when they were younger, Yaling seemed to enjoy the little things, and that was more than enough for the general to get off from his horse and order a respite by the roads.

Straight columns of interlaced metal and flesh began to melt away, as they began to organize themselves in small groups. Adequate distances were kept in between, amidst the magnificent banners that bore the name of the Guos. Well-trained as they were, they were the Empress’s elite troops without ties to Shenyue. A necessary guarantor of their departure. Though he must admit his longing for mindless banters with his men on the frontier. While the same can be found in the presence of kins, such a task was not an easy one. Particularly so when they had graduated the first steps of adulthood, navigating into a cruel world without the very concept of who they really are. Despite the fact, Shenyue would not let the distant years divide his family, for they were more or less an integral part of his life.

By midday, Shenyue had prepared three sets of lunch that he personally hunted and cooked. While it was not exactly his best work, his efforts were made in hopes of understanding his siblings more. He had sent one of his officers to invite Yaling and Guizhong to join him by the small pond for their first meal together outside Tianshui.

Guizhong arrived shortly after. She was dressed in ceremonial attire and her hair was re-styled as well.

Yaling was thankful for the break. She wasn’t nearly as used to the long days of travel as her brother surely was. Frankly, it exhausted her. She took the chance to stretch her legs and chat with one of the many ladies of court who had accompanied her.

She was deep in conversation when an officer approached her, inviting her for lunch with her siblings. Truthfully, the invitation surprised her. However, it was not an unwelcome one. Yaling only hoped it wasn’t to talk strategy or politics. Her days were filled by those discussions and she only wanted a chance to catch up with her brother. She quickly excused herself and hurried away with her escort.

The officer tasked with escorting Guizhong and Yaling gave word, announcing their arrival per the General’s orders. With his left hand covering his right fist, he paid his respects.

“Your Highness. Her Highnesses, Princess Guizhong and Princess Yaling are here to join you for lunch.”

Shenyue nodded in silence, dismissing the officer with his approved gaze before getting up from his seat. Forming his hand over fist, Shenyue greeted his sisters. Donning his traveling robes, the tranquil General made sure to deliberately be outside of his armor for the occasion, in order to establish a familiar environment for his kins.

“I hardly recognize you, how beautiful you have grown. It has been many years since we had a proper occasion to ourselves. I apologize for not seeing you and Yaling immediately upon my return. As I am sure you are already all too aware of my ability to attract politics and headaches.” Lowering his head, the man showed his sincere humility. “Perhaps today, by the empty roadside, we can find sincere words among kindreds.” He added, with a soft smile. “Please.” His hands unfurled towards the makeshift tables upon the mat, of which was laid out upon the dried grass and sheltered by the shades of cloth strung out upon the evergreen trees above them.

“Far from the finest of meals that one can find in Tianshui. I hope you will forgive my crude culinary abilities. My rough hands aren't suited for homely tasks.” Shenyue remarked. Despite his humble words, the man was quite proud of his effort. As for the taste of steamed vegetables and roasted quails made by the hands of a warrior, the final conclusion can only be personally drawn by his sisters for themselves.

“I have longed for this day. Yet, when the opportunity presents itself here and now, my words are withheld by uncertainties. Where to start…” He confessed with a contemplative expression.

Guizhong smiled, her eyes stopping short at Shenyue as if to examine his robes. It seemed as if she was in a trance before Shenyue’s comments stirred her back to his attention. “You are too kind, Shenyue. I too sometimes find politics and headaches are often synonymous these days. Although, I still think my sister might prefer them to theater.”

She gave a longing sigh, taking a spot at the makeshift table. Once again, Guizhong’s eyes wandered around the structure. “You built this all just now? It’s quite impressive.” As Shenyue shared the spoils of his victorious hunt with the two sisters, Guizhong took her time to look around. She’d barely left the confines of her palace let alone her kingdom.

Yaling wished to hold a grudge against her brother for not visiting them earlier. With a simple apology, however, she found herself already beginning to forgive the man. She knew she was too forgiving when it came to her family, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. She wanted to be close with her siblings once more. Yaling just struggled to figure out how.

She took her place at the makeshift table, tucking her legs under her traveling gowns. “I see your skills in adaptability have only grown since you’ve left, Shenyue,” she said with a smile. She was genuinely impressed by how quickly the man had created the seating area and the food before them.

“In times of war, soldiers build barricades and forts. When they take respite from their toils, a small tent can make all the difference.” He replied to Guizhong’s remarks. “I cannot spare the thought of having you two troubled by the sun and rough grass.”

Turning towards Yaling, he was quick to adhere to her uneasy expressions. Though he suspected it was far more than the uneasy terrain or the simplistic preparations far from the luxuries of Tianshui.

“Though there is one thing that I have yet to learn - a way to truly voice my concerns. In earnest, it is a difficult thing to proffer my sincerity. After all, I have many letters written, but they never made it past my bedside.” He solemnly said, eyes averting. A simple sorry could be said, but he did not. Knowing that their distant past would not be so easily mended with just that, Shenyue conceded. His principles were refined by his time on the frontier, taking on the form of a person that was worth their actions rather than their words. His reservations were privy to his beliefs, for a man that was worthy of the perfect realm was not one to leverage on words alone. Instead, he would make up for the separated years with his siblings by his actions.

The work of ambassadors and soldiers was not a life familiar to the princess. Still, she took note of Shenyue’s contemplation. Her eyes carefully studied his posture.

“Do you think it’s a trap, Shenyue?”

The idea of their trip leading them into a trap sent a pang of worry through Yaling which she hid with a well-timed bite of food. It was something that had kept her up at night recently. She had to tell herself that the notion was silly. Shenyue would certainly not agree to this if he had any feeling that they may be walking blindly into a trap or that their family was in danger.

Before long, Guizhong’s words amended his mind. A direct topic, far from what he had in mind to catch up with their distant separations. Alas, he appreciated her words, sharing the same concern even if they were not cut from the same cloth. It was a curious statement, for it escaped his mind that Guizhong was as elusive as her studious eyes - focused, as they were enigmatic. While he could play the attentive fool, it would be rude to neglect her privileged wisdom that he perhaps could heed.

“Forgive my absentmindedness. Pray tell, sister, of whom do you speak of regarding this trap?” He reverted in the form of a question, curious to open Guizhong’s inclination of insinuation. Though in truth, that was the very question he asked himself upon the Empress’s revelation of their summons to Zarim. While he could not discern the truth of the summoner’s intentions from the political atmosphere that surrounded Tianshui, it was not a possibility he would have dismissed so easily. Surely, his departure was all too timely with his appointment as Governor of Wei province. A convenient ruse to ambush him in the middle of the road. But even the old Lords knew better than to act upon an uncertain gamble that would bring about the wrath of the Empress. Not for his sake, but the two princesses beside him. After all, the heir of the throne has yet to be named, and ridding the princesses would only serve to sever any chance of consolidating one’s power in Tianshui. In the event that they do enact such a coarse action, his loyal troops in Wei, battle-hardened and zealous, can easily be summoned to protect the interests of the Guo. It was only a matter of time for Shenyue. But as of now, he was willing to compromise diplomatically with his siblings.

Zarim, on the other hand, was a land untouched by the Guos. A calculated risk to place his own safety in the realm of the unknown, but one far more beneficial than to be held hostage in Tianshui by the Sky Lords. He was sure that even the barbarians in the North and South were not so inept as to act carelessly within Zarim, a realm that held the four kingdoms hostage as much as they are in a mutually-binding respect. Whatever was ahead of them, Shenyue was determined to protect his siblings, as they are just as useful to him as they were of his own blood. Though the sentiments withheld have yet to manifest.

Guizhong took a sip from her cup. “I just heard one of the lords mention it…”

Sneaking a glance at Yaling, Guizhong placed the cup down. “Although I have to say the ramblings can be so tiresome. I assume you provided the answer while I was distracted by a sparrow outside.”

The young princess grinned. “Have you ever been to Zarim? What cuisine do they make? I heard their drinks are stronger than ours, but I find that difficult to believe.”

“So you were listening, as opposed to the sparrow?” Shenyue’s subtle jest floated past his sister, as he stroked his chin slightly as if collecting traces of his thoughts. “Lord Xiahou’s concerns are not unfounded. Though I fear that he had spent too much time confined to Tianshui’s and have fallen ill to partisan redundancy - blissfully ignorant of the world beyond our kingdom.”

“Zarim is a realm unlike ours. In my rare past ventures, I have come to take heed of its perilous sea of sands and wretched passages. To this day, I fail to understand their traditions, despite our long-standing trade. How can a realm be so close, yet so foreign?” A brief pause followed, as his distant eyes reeled back to reality, meeting Guizhong’s own. “As for their culinary practice and any assumptions one may make, perhaps that is an answer only true experience can answer. Fascinating, in fact. I have come to a conclusion that it is an adventure that all three of us can partake in.” Shenyue concluded on the topic, hinting at his familiarity with where to begin their first joint activity as a family.

Guizhong sighed wistfully. “Then let this be the first of many meals to be shared together. Shenyue, is it true that all strategists enjoy games as a pastime? And must you be very good at those games to even be considered a tactician?”

“Indeed. As far as tactics are concerned, it is akin to negotiations, with the only difference between them and ambassadors are their uniforms. One could say that we are all strategists. They are negotiators on the battlefield after all.” He remarked, finally taking a sip from his vessel, as the three siblings enjoyed their meal and passed the hour with gradual topics of interest.

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Zarim - Mantle of Destiny

Brushing past the dusty stone-paved road that led the convoy of Eastern warriors out of the serpentine valley of jagged rocks and scattered foliage, banners and white walls of Zarim’s magnificent citadel greeted the siblings. After several days of keeping to the familiar path that Shenyue had taken in the past, they were finally admitted by King Farzin’s royal guards, of whom were already expecting them. Ordered to encamp outside of the walled city, most of the cavalry regiment remained, sparing the few that were handpicked by Shenyue to accompany the Guo siblings towards the main palace where they were expected. Trodding along the inner roads, the column of soldiers displayed the might of the Eastern Mandate, as ornate lamellar plates and vibrant imperial banners announced the arrival of the young guests in Zarim. Upon the grand steps that led to the inner sanctum, Shenyue dismounted and aided his siblings in getting out of their carriages. As the soldiers remained in proper formation to coordinate with Zarim’s troops, the three siblings were then escorted by King Farzin’s attendant.

The rattling of Shenyue’s armor finally ceased when they were in the presence of the ruler of the citadel. Paying his respects, Shenyue folded his right fist and opened his left palm, forming a gesture of reverence to greet their host.

“Her Exalted Majesty sends her regards, Fair King Farzin. In honor of our long-sustained accord and friendship, please accept our kingdom’s offerings.” Shenyue announced, as the soldiers began to ferry the chests filled with gifts from Guo into the main chamber. “The finest of Luyan’s textiles, our signature Golden Lotus tea bricks, and confections from Yanzi.”

“I am Guo Qian. These are my siblings, Princess Guo Yaling and Princess Guo Guizhong. We are here to answer your summons, King Farzin.”

Yaling entered beside her siblings, the clattering of Shenyue’s armor announcing their arrival long before her brother ever spoke. Taking her introduction as a cue, she bowed deeply, steading her gaze on the pristine floor beneath their feet. She could only hope that her sister was following suit beside her. After a brief moment, she straightened herself

Guizhong once again seemed fascinated by her new surroundings. She was studying the roof of the structure, as if making calculations in her head. She only noticed a few seconds later that her sister was already bowing and tried to follow suit.

Lowering his head slightly, Shenyue took notice of the familiar faces around, particularly those that he had crossed blades with not so long ago. It was as he suspected, though for better or worse, he was not going to let the personal disputes of men get in the way of his kingdom’s interests. It was too early in the day to spill bad blood on civil grounds.




Written with: GhastlySquash GhastlySquash Mooniee Mooniee


 
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Adric "Longfang" Hrothgarsson
Giving a derisive snort disguised as a laugh, Adric endured the good natured teasing of his family. "You'd think she'd have her fill of me with all the trouble I get into." he responded, a smile splitting his face as he responded first to his cousin, Aesir. "I think the first thing I'll do when I become king is have a temple and a statue built in her honor. Only to forget and dedicate it to someone else, perhaps even one of those foreigner ladies I've been seeing floating around. I'm sure she'd get a good laugh out of it."

"I for one would like to know who trimmed his coat. Truly a luxurious thing. If only I could find how he kept it so full and glossy."
Offering a hand to the canine to sniff, and quite possibly nip, Adric turned to address his sister, Kelda. "Who knows what they were drinking. But I wouldn't mind trying some for myself. Perhaps Farzin will supply some at this feast we are to have. Oh, that reminds me," Pulling his hand away from Surtr and leaning forward conspiratorially, he whispers to those gathered. "What's this feast all about again?"

Of course, his question seemed to answer itself as the Guo delegation arrived, as if summoned. Perhaps King Farzin knew they were coming, and had planned this all perfectly. Perhaps that was why the greetings they had received had been fairly lack luster, the wise king he was wanting to open his larder once all his guests were arrived.
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King Farzin was an rotund, aging man. Though his age and size did little to hide the spark of a sharp and quick mind. Almost as soon as Guo Qian finished speaking, one of the Yanzi confectionaries appeared in his hand. And after a brief examination, it disappeared into his mouth. "I do appreciate guests that know of my sweet tooth. Perhaps they want to rot the teeth from my head so I'll stop talking, I always think to myself." A broad smile revealed pearly white teeth, at great odds with his dark complexion. "But they have yet to succeed, as you can see. It has been some time since I have seen you, Guo Qian. A familiar face amongst many I should know. We will have a chat and you will regale me with your stories. As will the others, I am sure."

King Farzin did not speak like a king, but more like a distant uncle. He did not sound like a king addressing representatives and heirs to powerful nations, but an uncle that rarely saw his nieces and nephews and deeply enjoyed the few chances to see them. "And now that we are all here, let the feast, begin! Please, let my attendants show you to your seats. I have kept you all separated for to long, and for that I must apologize. But I have you all firmly in my sights, so you'll have to humor me, and behave yourselves." As he gave a deep laugh that resonated in the chamber, servants appeared from deep alcoves pushing tables and seats as well as bearing exotic and familiar foods. "My cooks have prepared a few dishes from your homes, quite tricky finding all the ingredients and costing me my shiniest coppers to get. But I must insist your broaden your horizons, at least for tonight. I'll be more than glad to take the first bite for you." Another resonating laugh echoed around the room as the last of the chairs were put in place, with king Farzin at the head. He regretted having to use a traditional table, but there was simply no good way for him to assign seating without insulting someone, so he did as best he could.
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Antony Holt
It came as a shock to Antony that King Farzin knew Guo Qian. He had been so aloof with everyone else, he had assumed they were all strangers, and perhaps they all were if what the king said was true. But he could not bring himself to entirely believe Farzin, no matter how kind he sounded.

He allowed himself to be guided to his seat some ways from the head of the table, something he was fully prepared for and expecting. He was not expected to become king, it was almost laughable how far he was to it compared to others. And so he took no great offense from being seated so far from the host. He did, however, find it hard to stomach having to sit near one of the savage Teotl. Luckily not the masked one, but perhaps that would have been preferable to the cold and calculating eyes he found analyzing him. He did not say anything to her, and focused on eating instead.
 

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Eztli
Location: Dining Hall
Interactions: Soviet Panda Soviet Panda [Holt]
Mentions:
Soviet Panda Soviet Panda [boulder]
koala koala [tree]
The Varangians, those rugged warriors from distant lands, had made their appearance. Eztli had caught glimpses of them before; their uncultured demeanor always seemed to echo their different statures. One of them was as stout as a boulder and as tall as the hills. The other, who had shared their disdain for Xiuhcoatl, was slender like a tree with its bark decorated in scratches and marks. There was a certain feline grace about the lean Varangian, reminiscent of the ones above who stalk the hinterlands at the dead of night. Eztli had never held much regard for the Varangians. Surviving in the harsh northern climes required shedding one's humanity in favor of barbarism and savagery. Their gods reflect their nature: fickle and ravenous for plunder and meat. In truth, Eztli would loathe an arrangement with one of their ilk.

King Farzin commenced his address, and the opulence of the palace suddenly made sense as Eztli endured the monarch's pompous rhetoric. Their eyes briefly met, and she offered a polite yet insincere smile to mollify his overbearing arrogance. It appeared that his swollen head was propped up by nothing but his own gluttony and the affirmation of his servants.

As servants arranged chairs and laid out dishes, a symphony of aromas filled the room. Eztli recognized the familiar scent of chocho, yacón, mashua, and quinoa—dishes straight from the highlands, predominantly herbivorous. She could not help but question the authenticity and skill of their preparation. Chocho seeds, if treated improperly, could leave the crop poisonous. Yacón was a treat, preserved and sweet, meant for travel. Quinoa was popular outside the highlands, it was a common dish given to envoys from Teotl.

Mashua, however, was a vegetable she had not expected to receive.

Placed farthest away from the host, only second to the lonely prince beside her, Eztli could understand where Farzin benefitted from this arrangement. The monarch was closest to those with the best claims to their respective thrones. All to curry favor and sing sweet little lies into their ears. Or maybe, he knows of Eztli's training and fears some betrayal from the sorcerers of Teotl.

Seated beside the forgotten prince, whose claim to the throne lies so far out of view, Eztli could not help but feel a pang of sympathy. Despite his dignified demeanor and impeccable grooming, bloodline ultimately outweighed all else in matters of succession. The prince delicately picked at a soft chunk of brown and a mysterious assortment of meats, and Eztli, having long forsaken meat for lighter fare, couldn't discern its nature.

"Pardon me," she ventured, extending a dish of sliced mashua towards the prince, "might we conduct trade between our two great realms?"

Eztli had learned every variety of poison and medicine that could be foraged or prepared. One of these was an item fed to the Teotl armies before times of war. It was given by their leaders and cohorts so that they would forget their wives. Mashua was known to the chosen women of Teotl as a minor aphrodisiac.

Entertainment was a scarce commodity in Zarim, especially within the confines of this grand palace. If none was to be found, Eztli resolved to create her own.

 
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“Xihuacoatl,” the utterance carried with it both respect and deference, the currency of their hierarchical order. “Are we late? It would be lamentable to strain relations so soon. Might we hurry to join the others?”[/font][/column][/row]
Although her visage hid any reactions to the statement, she did flash a sly smile at the sorceress. Cihuacoatl. "If you are so concerned, Cihucoatl, initiative is always a desirable trait especially when enacted independently." Eztli understood hierarchy. One could even say she was the model sorceress that Tenoch had seeked for. One who mimicked the great priestess herself. Xiuhcoatl may have raw talent, but in the end her mask was her disadvantage.

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And something she'd once again be forced to atone with during affairs with state. Being seated next to the aging king himself, she wondered if he too wanted to peer under that mask. See for himself who High Priestess Zaniyah deemed the most powerful sorceress second only to her and the Altar. Scanning the table, she noted the array of food. Shiniest coppers indeed. But Zarim was the kingdom of caravan and trade. If anyone could pull off such a display, it would be them.

"This was no small feat, your excellency. You may consider me impressed with your efforts to set this up." The familiar scents of quinoa, chocho, and even mashua awoke memories of home.

Her eyes tried to steal a glance from Eztli, who was busy at the end of the table passing the aforementioned dish in some form of entertainment.

However, despite the nostalgia given by her empire's traditional cuisine, the scent from these foreign dishes caused her mouth to salivate. It was a risky move, and with the king seated so closely, she couldn't simply risk turning away. If she removed her visage, everyone at the table, including some of her closest allies and rivals, would know her identity. If she ignored the spread entirely, it would certainly be seen as an insult.

Her current neighbors were far less ideal. At least two Varangians, one flanking her side and another in the front. The one in front of her was far bulkier than the one who insulted her. It was almost as if she was staring at a mountain itself. What some Varangians lacked in terms of raw power they certainly did make up in strength. Although the other Varangian was far less striking in size, his scars showed experience. Many battles fought and many survived. She doubted the ones who gave him such scars still walked the land unless it was by his mercy.

The Lemoin noble closest to her was unexpected. Her ears were pointed at the tips, and she appeared to be someone of mixed heritage. Despite her stoic face and regal posture, her eyes betrayed just the tiniest bit of apprehension. The same look of fear she'd seen in countless others who wondered if they too would be worthy of the title they'd be bestowed upon. She remembered the countless young hopefuls that lined across the altar to be given their destinies. For in Teotl, such a proclamation was unchanged once granted. If it were to be sacrifice, wives, or among commoners it did not matter. This noble's eyes had the slightest resemblance to that hopeful look.

She considered her company and situation. She'd done her best to study for this meeting. But court decorum in Teotl was often spoken bluntly and displayed for all to see. Conviction without flattery or attempts to deceive one's own intentions. "You must be the Lady of Ascana herself. Your magical prowess in medicine and agriculture have spread far and wide. My own homeland is prone to similar difficulties in taming the land. Still, the results of your charity are...a worthy accomplishment."

She turned to her right. "And you must be the heir to Varangian throne. Some say there's more beast than man. Although I must admit my knowledge of Varangians relies on what I hear in most circles."

Finally, her eyes settled on her direct neighbor. "And then there's you. The rude one who would rather surmise one's appearance without considering a brief apology when bumping into her."

That last line was filled with venom. She wished he could see her grin under the visage, but for now she'd settle on his reaction.
 
Lord Cedric Lemoin takes his seat at the grand dining table, surrounded by representatives from various nations. As he exchanges polite nods and greetings with the assembled guests, his mind is a whirlwind of diplomatic considerations. He carefully observes the subtle nuances of each individual's demeanor, noting the alliances and rivalries that shape the intricate tapestry of international politics.

As the meal progresses, Cedric engages in conversation with finesse, navigating the delicate balance between diplomacy and strategy. He listens attentively to the perspectives shared around the table, keenly aware of the importance of fostering goodwill and understanding among the diverse factions present. With each exchange, he strategically steers the conversation towards common ground, seeking opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.

Internally, Cedric reflects on the weight of his role as a mediator and diplomat. He understands the significance of these interactions in shaping the course of international relations, and he bears the responsibility with a sense of gravitas. Behind his composed exterior, however, lies a keen intellect and a shrewd understanding of the power dynamics at play.

Amidst the elaborate banquet, Cedric remains a beacon of composure and grace, embodying the ideals of nobility and statesmanship. He is not merely a participant in the diplomatic dance unfolding before him but a key player, poised to wield his influence in service of peace and prosperity for all nations involved.
 

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Guo Qian (Shenyue)
Prince of Guo
Location: Royal Palace, Kingdom of Zarim
Tags: Soviet Panda Soviet Panda (Antony Holt)



It has been some time since he was given audience with King Farzin. As much as it is necessary to show a display of the Guo's imperial might, Shenyue only saw a man of wisdom instead of a contender for the bountiful resources of the land. For the time being, Shenyue chose to fold his fist and palm as a gesture of paying his respect and gratitude to Farzin, withholding his words for another time. Particularly so when there were wandering eyes abound, seeking to unravel Farzin's outstanding hospitality for the Guo general. Understandably so, given the sudden congregation of hostile parties under the present banner of civility.

Despite his efforts to finally escape the politics at home, Guo Qian found himself trading one hostile environment for another. The only thing that managed to keep the swords and axes from being drawn was King Farzin's hospitality. Under the banner of Zarim, none was keen to spill the blood of their life-long enemies, despite no greater opportunity. Shifting his attention towards the bearded warrior, Guo Qian immediately recognized the Longfang, of whom was all too close to cutting the Guo's expeditionary army in half last year. Far from a refined strategist, the Varangian's moniker nevertheless deserved its entitlement, especially when he had almost captured Shenyue in battle. Alas, the heavens have yet to forsake the General, allowing him the dignity to sit at the same table as his enemies with a smug sentiment about their last encounter.

Across from him was the peculiar Westerner, whose attire gave away their origins. Shenyue quickly caught on to the curious look in their eyes when Farzin spoke earlier. Though, it was the norm to be surprised here, where feuds and hostilities were suddenly shelved for exchanges of words over grand cuisines and refreshments. Shenyue could only remain quiet for so long without standing out as a peculiarly inept representative of the Guos, given his tendency to cast his long gaze upon both the awared and the unsuspecting subjects of his personal scrutiny. Lemoin, a kingdom that possessed the appropriate modicum of unhealthy relations with Guo, as did the others, was a realm that Shenyue had kept an eye on, but did not provoke. With the Guo already fixed on incessant skirmishes between the Teotl to the South and the Varangians to the North, a third front would have turned the young general's head immaculately white from the implicated nightmares of logistical planning.

"Of all the familiar faces that tried to seize my head on the field, yours is not among them. I am Guo Qian, son of the East and servant to Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Guo Dai. Will you tell me your name?" Shenyue inquired the studious man across from him, who he assumed to possess the one thing that he sought for years - the removal of oneself from the intrigues of nations and contenders. At least, that was his impression of the man, given their choice of a distant seat as much as Shenyue was inclined to do.

Surprisingly, a common ground in a chamber full of young warriors and scholars - which beckoned Shenyue's curiosity regarding their current circumstances. While he cannot confirm the purpose of this feast, his suspicions gradually grew. By right, their numbers were even, particularly so with the Varangians and the Teotls present, of which were already made known to Shenyue as the incumbent successors for their respective thrones. There was only a few logical possibilities for such a gathering. The rest were quickly dismissed, given Shenyue's familiarity with Farzin's hospitality and honorable inclinations among the realms throughout the years. A possibility of a prolonged ceasefire, though not in the way Shenyue would expect to play out. That is, if his assumptions thus far were true. Though in the sinister scenario of ill-intended conspiracy, the five-hundred elite Guo troops stationed outside of the citadel would be enough to get Yaling and Guizhong to safety. While it is no different in Guo, Shenyue understood his oppositions, their ambitions and fears well enough for him to be comfortable among creatures of predictable habits within an environment that he could control. The same, however, cannot be said here in Zarim, where many various unknown elements only serve to propagate his paranoia and wariness of those around him.



 

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Elanil Y. Zanhuesa
Location: Dining Hall, Zarim
Interaction(s): Xiuhcoatl GhastlySquash GhastlySquash ; Adric Soviet Panda Soviet Panda
Mention(s): Everyone in some what
Appearance Note: Braided hair updo
Soundtrack:

Tension built at Elanil's neck as she allowed herself to be led to her seat. She found herself surrounded by unfamiliar faces from three of the most powerful countries on the continent. And while she wasn't exactly close with the pair she'd arrived to Zarim with, she would've at least preferred their company over strangers that would likely use her as a bargaining chip if given the chance.

It didn't go unnoticed to her how everyone was spread so thinly. One of these men would likely be her future betrothed--the Lemoin spy network had informed her of that possibility.

Elanil took a moment to study everyone around her. Two men who looked like they enjoyed the activity of hunting rather than dining and socializing. Their experience on the field could be seen on their exposed skin, scarred and calloused from time spent outdoors. Then there was a masked woman who was a mystery to everyone in attendance, even King Farzin.

One by one, Elanil recorded everyone's names and faces into her memory, taking note of any defining characteristics that may prove useful in the future. She never knew what details could save her life. As a girl, she'd learned quickly that she needed to be prepared rather than reactive, especially after a kidnapping incident that nearly handicapped her as a young girl. Being in one of the safest country's in the world didn't mean anything to her.

Surprise flashed across her golden eyes when the High Priestess addressed her. "Yes..." Elanil replied, uncertainty evident in her tone. She was a trained socialite, but suddenly, she felt like a young girl learning how to ride a horse for the first time all over again. "Thank you for your words... perhaps I can share what's been successful for us at a later time, though I don't know how beneficial that will be for you given the difference in geography."

A small smile graced her lips, a peace offering even though forced, before her neighbor's leg accidentally brushed against hers. Her brows furrowed and she angled herself away from Adric, discomfort crawling up her spine like a thousand little spiders.

"Has everyone adjusted well to Zarim? I know the landscape must be quite different for some of you." The attempt at small conversation made her want to writhe in her seat, but she hated the crippling silence even more. She didn't have an appetite, and sitting there doing nothing would've been frowned upon back home.
 
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It took all of Guizhong's focus not to squeal with delight at the feast before her. Exotic foods of all sorts laid before them. And who wouldn't want to try such unique cultures? While the kingdom certainly tried its hardest to sate her tastebuds, nothing could truly beat the real deal. Guizhong's lack of table manners was quite apparent as she began to stack her plate with one of everything.

In her mind at least, the food was the only interesting thing about this entire endeavor. The Teotl sorcerers were all too far lost in their ritualistic ways to be anything more than entertainment. The savages of the north were too brutish to be anything more than trained beasts. And of course, the Lemoin delegation were nothing more than ill-equipped fools who relied on silly notions of choice when order was all that was needed.

Yet, finding herself positioned next to the future heir of the kingdom was puzzling. He certainly was charming with his words.

"Can you past that." Guizhong tapped Cedric on the shoulder. "Oh and make sure you take some as well. That dish is a national delicacy for our people."

She finished her request with a wide smile. Above the apathy for her peers and fascination with their feast, Guizhong at the least played her part of the spoiled princess with ease. Her mannerisms showed she was use to getting her way.
 
Cedric was interrupted from his discussion on current events with a lesser known individual, though it was part of his princely duties to hear out everyone's thoughts, opinions and concerns. He turns to his arranged marriage partner with a pleasant smile, the same one he greets everyone with. "Oh, that dish? From your people? Fantastic! I will surely try it out. I always liked the delicacies much more. I think that's what people these days are calling a 'sweet tooth'." Cedric holds the plate up while Guizhong takes as much as she wants from it. When she's done, he uses the serving spoon to help himself to a medium sized portion, indicating his fondness for sweet things. "I see in your eyes you think the seating is strange to have you and I in close proximity." Cedric wanted to guess why the seating was arranged this way but if he said the wrong thing it could cause no small amount of problems. So as the crown prince, he keeps his mouth shut about the matter and asks about other things. "Please do tell me about what it was like growing up in your area. All I really know about other countries are from books. It certainly doesn't compare to hearing about it from someone who lives there."
 
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Adric 'Longfang' Hrothgarsson
Adric was all to happy to allow the king's servants to guide him to his seat. And at the right hand of King Farzin as well. Truly he was favored. Or it was a happy accident and he just pulled the right straw for it. Either way, he was in a place of great favor and he would make the most of the opportunity. In the meantime, he had a belly to fill, and once the food was revealed he began filling his plate. Quickly stabbing meats and ladling fruits and vegetables onto his plate, he was one of the first to begin eating. As he ate, his eyes darted like an animal guarding it's meal. Though whether the others saw him as the savage they perceived him as mattered little to him, for he was getting his first proper look at the majority of the assembled nobility.

First where those immediately around him, the masked woman from Teotl that Aesir seemed to have already annoyed. 'And they thought I would be the problem,' he thought to himself, snorting in amusement. "Only a beast to those trying to kill me." He replied to her around a mouthful of some exotic meat of some bird or another. Swallowing the mouthful, he lowers his voice just enough for those near him could hear. "And a few other, select reasons." Bursting into laughter at his own innuendo, he looks over to where he sees that Guo princeling Qian. He had almost had him a year ago, if it weren't for the timely intervention of some heavy cavalry he would have would have had his head. He could almost feel the smugness from where he sat, and flashed his teeth at the man.

Then he felt something brush against his leg. At first he thought it was Surtr, but looking down he did not see the lovable hound begging for scraps. Instead, he saw the Lemoin woman, Elanil he thought her name was, adjusting herself away form him. So perhaps it was her. "It is dry like some parts of Verangia, but much to hot for me. And this sand, it is almost everywhere! I must have poured half the desert from my boot just traveling here!"

"The desert is a harsh place, Lord Adric,"
King Farzin interjected, holding out a hand to try and placate the larger man to his right. "Please, Lady Xihuacoatl, what ever grievances you have with Lord Aesir, let them rest. I find that things settle better when not in a bad mood." Patting his large stomach to emphasize the point, he gives a knowing stare towards the Teotl sorceress. As if to say 'Do what you must. But keep it civil.'
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Antony Holt
To be honest, Antony was quite surprised when those around him began to make conversation with him. Perhaps they thought his status higher than what it was, perhaps they thought he was closely related to Lemoin royalty and thus were attempting to worm their way in for whatever reason. But he couldn't possibly fathom the reason why they would think such a thing unless their own spy networks were so woefully managed that they couldn't even know the truth of what was so painfully obvious.

But that would not stop him. "But of course," he said politely, eyeing the array of Lemoin dishes within easy reach. Vegetable for Vegetable, he decided, and reached for a platter of ratatouille. "Ratatoille. A dish enjoyed throughout Lemoin." He stated simply after exchanging some for the offered foodstuff. He was about to take a healthy bite of it when he was stopped by another unfamiliar voice. This time, belonging to the first son of the Guo dynasty.

As he placed his utensils down so he may give a proper response, he couldn't help but think about how many battles the man before him had taken part in. The most he has ever been in were practice bouts. The only actual combat he has participated in was giving the order to hunt down bandits thinking him to lazy to deal with them. "I am Antony Holt, Lord of Mournstead. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Guo Qian."
 

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Aesir Bjarneson
"Stormchaser"
Location: Palace in Zarim
Interaction(s): Xiuhcoatl GhastlySquash GhastlySquash ; Adric Soviet Panda Soviet Panda
Mention(s): Kelda
Soundtrack:

The foreignness of Xiuhcoatl's name on Aesir's tongue left his mouth dry. He wet his lips, tasting the salty desert air on them as he repeated her name. It was a barely audible whisper. The movement of his full lips would've gone unnoticed even to a wolf's keen eyes.

Surtr brushed against Aesir's leg from his position underneath the table and brought his mind back to the present. The large beast had managed to fit himself under the magnificent Acacia. It was easy to forget his companion was there, given how still and quiet he was. Like he was on the hunt and ready to strike due to the vulnerability his master's wandering mind had caused.

When he was finally addressed, he couldn't stop the automatic smirk that graced his rogue features. Angling his head to the right, his eyes were greeted by the woman's clouded attire once again. Her words were laced with poison, but little did she know, he'd spent his entire life building a tolerance.

"In our country, my words are not to be taken with bitterness. It is how we show our affections. Look at my brother, Adric. Would you not say he is more bear than man?"

Aesir nodded towards his Crown Prince, a mischievous, light-hearted smile on his face as he glanced at the man. Then he shrugged. "And me? Well, I am often compared to a beautiful woman by my own sister." He chose his next words carefully, minding King Farzin's subtle warning to them both. "Take no offense, Priestess. I did not mean to strike a matter of sensitivity for you."
 

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