It has been raining. The rain is soft, and warms, and brushes away the waves, turning the Sea of Gold into a silver mirror facing the calm grey skies. Elikem and Daitya shout as they run in the puddles of the private garden, their offering of tea still smoking on their father’s altar. Between the buildings of Beyaloa’s estate, a few servants walk briskly under triangular umbrellas.
And on the small beach, facing the calm sea with a cup of precious coca steaming between her hands, stands Saramen, queen of the Twelve Thrones of the Isles, flanked by the Bey of Ansibah and her advisors and guards. As Beyaloa consults with her water elementals on the pier, they wait for the meeting with the People of the Sea, unconvinced at the tall tales of underwater empires and sunken cities spun by the group.
They have been waiting for a while now. More than an hour. The easy conversation of the first moments, as Pragatima reminisced with Saramen’s bodyguards about old battles, have dried up and turned into an unconfortable silence. Under a tiare tree, Rohim and Harik are staring at the sea, afraid to consider what would happen should no-one show up.
And suddently, as Campa starts to complain about the lateness of their guests, the sea parts to reveal M’’ui’rin and another member of her tribe. Introductions are made, and gifts exchanged between the two monarchs, and Saramen soons gets over her surprise as they start talking about the threat posed by the Unificator. Under the rain, knee deep in the water, they make plans to organize some kind of resistance against his ever-lengthening grasp : Some of M’’ui’rin’s people will travel to the Dreaming Sea to find if others are trying to resist, and a safe haven will be built in the sea around Khimsar where the free People of the Sea can train and regroup.
Soon Pragatima and the Voriyaras are planning how to help training such peculiar fighters, arguing with Campa about how to organize the camp. Harik, playing with his shining lens, recalls some of the discussions he shared with Beyaloa, and wonders at the possibility of a sorcerous working that would allow the armies of the land to fight underwater alongside their newfound allies.
Meanwhile, Saramen takes Beyaloa for a walk on the beach, intent on testing her loyalties to the Twelve. They agree not to share any information with her aunt for now, fearing how Omale would try to use such knowledge for personal gain.
In the main room, they find Jemdat and Siem talking in a hushed tone, obviously exited by the content of the letter they received. The circle quickly learns that due to Pragatima’s negociations with the Bank of Ansibah, Ysmir has made significant gains, enough to sponsor someone else for a place in the council. He plans on lending enough assets to Siem to allow her to become a Merchant-Prince, and asks for her to come back to Dir-Jal as soon as possible.
They spend some time discussing the matter, and promise Siem to meet her back in the City of the Chained God for her inauguration during the yearly Festival of Chains in a few weeks. The next few days are spent finding a sufficiently secluded bay and setting up the training camp, with half the Voriyaras staying to help the Sea People organizing the training camp.
The voyage back to Dir-Jal is less eventfull than their previous trip: the group crosses the savannah and the dry valley without trouble, and they soon arrive in the city of the Chained God, where preparations for the festival are in full swing. They are welcomed by Ysmir, whose palace is packed with guests staying for the festival, some coming from as far as distant Illuvar.
They are brought up to speed on current events, and learn that the cult of the chained god is currently undergoing a schism, with some vocal elements decrying the official acceptation of the cult (with Marika as High Priestess) as political maneuvering to quell the population. This movement is centered around a previous alchemist and holy man named Neth, and is taking ever-hardening positions on the liberation of the Inashi and the leading council of the city. They also learn that someone has been seen consuming the Inashi’s flesh, and their suspicions soon turn towards the new sect.
As the three scholars mingle with Ysmir’s guest and reconnect with old friends, Pragatima leaves the city with Siem to negociate with some of the local Hazan tribes, planning to open a regular market between the Hazan and Dir-Jal, both to facilitate peace and to secure her power. During the trip, Siem confesses that while she accepted Ysmir’s offer, she fears the terms of the deal she struck with him to become a merchant-prince. What’s more, she is unsure how she feels knowing that her triumph is due to another than herself. Philosophical, the mercenary simply advises her friend to wait and see how things evolve before making up her mind.
The great arena is vibrating with the sound of thousands of voices. In the warm glow of late afternoon, a trio of dancer-gladiators is fighting in the red dust, blades spinning and twirling. The first day of festival is upon Dir-Jal. Everywhere people are in their most colorful garments, talking, betting and debating as the spectacle gets more intense. Sitting in the honor row, the group is making small talk with Zapir, a Star-Prince from Illuvar and his bodyguard Rain Pearl, when the attention of the audience switches from the match to the council: without fanfare, Siem has taken a seat next to the two established merchant-prince.
There is a moment of tension, as everybody waits for someone to call that bluff. But after a minute of silence, Pree Asma goes from shocked to obsequious, inquiring as to Siem’s change in fortune. And just like that, the tension vanishes as fast as it started. People relax, and the activity of the festival resumes once more. The risk is past. Or so everyone thinks.
The sun is about to set when the ground growns and shakes, throwing mortar dust everywhere. The arena rings out with screams and the groaning of stone and bricks thrown against each other. In the distance, a cloud of ration jumps in the sky as the Inashi throws his immense weight against his shackles.
In the silence that follows, Pragatima and Harik are the first to notice the dark figure striding across the sand towards the council, clad in funeral robes and wearing a broken death mask. Immediately the Hazan warrior jumps in the sand to join the gladiator already positionning themselves to block the menacing stranger. A spear coalescing in his hand, the masked man joins the fray, dispatching the gladiators in a few blows, as the circle calls for the arena to be evacuated.
In the middle of the nascent chaos, the circle preps for battle, incantations making the air buzz. As the spear of shadow and the spear of lightning clash in the middle of the arena, Pragatima at last sees the visage of her foe throught the cracks of his mask : Nash Draghma, eyes haggard and empty. His voice is cold as ice as he tries to brush away the Dawn.
“Move aside, Hazan. I did not offer my name to death only to be stopped by a savage.”
And with a blow that cracks both air and stone, Pragatima, leader of the Voriyaras, master of White Reaper, undefeated against monsters and Exalts alike, is thrown in the arena stairs by a Nash Draghma darkly lit by the un-light of his anima.