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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A follow-up to the story of Prince Ard-Shen, properly introduced in the epilogue to "The Sand Reavers". A tale of dynastic politics and a crypt sovereign's revenge.

A Dynasty Restored - Vassal

The tomb city of Nemison needed heavy repairs. Not only had it been under siege for years, but it had subsequently been infiltrated and ransacked by a group of elves. Then Prince Ard-Shen had almost torn it apart again in the vain hope of finding his sister, Princess Amene-Kate. If any were to humiliate her, it would be him. Not some arrogant pointy-eared not quite humans. The liche priests working on restoring Amene-Kate's army to Unlife, and placing it under Ard-Shen's control, had extratced from their vague memories enough detailsabout the intruders to suggest they were specifically Dark Elves, or as they liked to call themselves, Druchii.
"A shame, Khefru," Ard-Shen said, reclining on the throne that was now his. Magical backlash from what appeared to be the final confrontation between his sister and the elves had caused significant damage, but for now simply being on the throne, flanked by reassuringly imposing Ushabti, was enough. The room was still clearly majestic, images of palm trees and afterlife motifs surrounded the occupants. A charred map of Nehekhara was painted into the floor.
"Yes, Your Highness," the senior liche priest agreed. "They are a most unreasonable sort. Were it Asur, we could simply have informed their leaders and resolved this diplomatically."
"If they hadn't stolen my sister. My final victory," Ard-Shen corrected.
"Indeed, Your Highness." Unlike Ard-Shen himself and the soldiers, Khefu wasn't dead. His skin hung like folds of a cloak from his withered body, and his eyes were long gone, but he was alive.
Ard-Shen observed the Tomb Guard arrayed before him. Some were his sister's, some were his own. A few were his uncle's. He would officially owe his success here to him, though the Dark Elves' interference had destroyed the resistance for him. His uncle would know that. It was the reason he was so desperate to find Amene-Kate. To break her and force ehr to acknowledge him as her king. Or just kill her. Either way, his victory was empty.
The Tomb Guard were the remains of the finest warriors in Nehekhara. Nothing compared to the power of magic, but good enough for what they could do. Some wielded swords, some halberds. Others bow and arrow. An impressive lot, if Ard-Shen ignored that some of them might turn on him if he upset the wrong people. He should never have asked for the royal protectors. Becomign Undead had at least solved the problem of bodyguard. There was no need to reopen the wound.
The commander of the Tomb Guard, a fierce and highly capable woman named Senekhti, stood resplendent in her armour and weapons on Ard-Shen's other side. Cathayan jade stood for her eyes. A golden apple shone fron the centre of her shield. Her headdress was almost as elaborate as a royal's. It was pushing the limits of tact, but Ard-Shen had always liked her.
"Your Highness," she said. "Shall I send for the Imperishable's authority?"
Ard-Shen considered. It would probably just be a formality, but if the request was rejected, everyone would abandon him and he would be executed as a traitor. Since Settra the Imperishable, King of Kings, Lord of the Desert, had regained his undisputed rule of Nehekhara, he had decreed the Tomb Kings would rule only at his command, and all would be, however down the line, his vassal. When Ard-Shen had agreed to become his uncle's vassal, his uncle had sent word of the arrangement to Settra. The siege of Nemison had begun when his permission was received. Now, Ard-Shen needed the Imperishable's permission to rule.
He placed his hands behind his head. "Senekhti. You have always been my most loyal subordinate."
"Thank you, Your Highness."
"Khefu, you are my wisest. How do you think Settra will treat the disappearance of my sister?"
Khefu made a show of scratching his chin. "You have won the city, Your Highness, and taken all her troops and constructs. But she is still unaccounted for. The Imperishable may consider you to have won by right of conquest, or he may consider her to still be in contention for the throne . Or he may even declare your royal uncle king and demand he name you heir instead."
Heir. The word meant nothing to an aristocracy for whom the closest thing to death was occasional enforced sleep.
"If she is hiding in the desert, I am sure we will find her eventually," Senekhti said. "If she went to Naggaroth, we can hunt her down. We won. Let us make it known."
"The longer you delay, the less secure you will be," Khefu advised.
Ard-Shen nodded. He couldn't just wait until Amene-Kate was found, in Nehekhara or Naggaroth. "Very well. Send to the Imperishable."
"There is another matter, Your Highness," Khefu said.
"The Eye of Tahoth has disapppeared, probably along with the Dark Elves. It takes years of skill to learn it, and I doubt Tahoth would grant its vision to a thief, let alone Dark Elves. But it should be a priroity to reclaim."
"Correct. Can you invoke Tahoth and discover where it went?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Unless you ahve more urgent matters, please do so."

When Khefu departed, Ard-Shen turned to Senekht. "King at last," he said. He would have smiled.
"Yes, Ard-Shen." She was the only person in the world allowed to neglect his title. "From the moment you swore to take the throne, I supported you. I knew you would win."
"I have now. But poorly. At least you are by my side."
"Always, my lord. What will you do with your sister?"
"Ask her to serve me. I can't just spill my own blood." Metaphorically speaking. "Otherwise I'll lock her up."
"Whatever you decide...."
"Thank you."

The response from Settra was positive, confirming Ard-Shen as king under his uncle Nectanis. A few weeks later, King Nectanis arrived at the head of a full host, legion upon legion of resurrected warriors from skeleton levies up to Tomb Guard. Screaming Skull Capatpults were drawn by skeletal pack animals, and Sphynxes of all kinds prowled. The one lent to Ard-Shen seemed nervous about meeting its master again. Aerd-Shen assured it nothing would happen, then wondered why he was soothing a statue's fears. Did the statues even have fears, or was he just projecting?
Nemison had been repaired over the months, and now shone under Ptra once more. The pyramids gleamed under new coats of gold paint. Houses were remade. The walls repaired. The interiors cleaned. Ard-Shen hoped it would be a welcome fit for a king.
He rode out on his chariot, accompanied by Senekhti and Khefu, at the head of his much smaller army. The Sphynx strode beside him.
King Nectanis rode his grand chariot at the head of a legion of them. He was clad in all the finery that befit his rank. The sun shoen from the gold. A cloak draped from his armour.
His voice echoed, a sepulchral tone. "Nephew. You have your prize. And you managed not to destroy all my resources doing it."
"There were complications, Uncle. But I overcame them."
"As I would expect. Are you ready to become my vassal, to serve me loyally?"
"Then come here."
Ard-Shen stepped onto the sane and approached his uncle, who was now also on foot. He knelt before the greater king. A Tomb Guard stood beside, holding a great royal headdress.
"Prince Ard-Shen, I, King Nectanis, recognise you as King of Nemison and accept you as my vassal. Do you swear to serve me until Usirian takes you?"
"I swear."
"Do you swear on Ptra's name that you will serve Settra through me?"
"I swear."
"Then by the Sky Father, I name you my vassal-king. Priest-King Ard-Shen of Nemison, rise."
Ard-Shen stood, feeling the dead gazes of thousands upon him. A liche priest came forward and anointed him. He tried to ignore the incompleteness of he victory. Amene-Kate was still somewhere.
The Tomb Guard placed the headdress on his skull. King Nectanis raised his arm. "My nephew, your king!"
Those capable of it cheered, Senekhti loudest of all.
The Sphynx made a sound that was almost a purr.
Priest-king Ard-Shen had ascended.
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Unas the slayer

Staff member
Jan 1, 2017
Northern Italy
Love it!
All the diplomacy of old khemri, balance of powers that cannot be ignored or avoided.
SOmetime this kind of story is much more interesting than epic battles. I'll wait for more.

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A Dynasty Restored - Procession

It had beenover a month since Ard-Shen had received recognition by his uncle as vassal, and Settra's approval of the position. Even longer sincehe had returned to Nemison and ordered its to be rebuilt. The legions were purged of their loyalties to Amene-Kate and transferred to him, the statues were awoken and bound to him. The forges were lit and began producing new weapons and armour and chariots. The buildings were restored, the walls repaired and the sarcophagi returned to their places of honour.
Yet, only now did he enter his sister's private sanctum and gaze upon her crypt. It had, thank the gods, been spared the looting of the elves, retaining its splendour and the wealth of aeons. Everyhting Amene-Kate had ever owned, her most personal possessions, were here. Ard-Shen wouldn't touch any of it. There was loot and right to rule, and then there was stealing your sister's childhood toys. Some liens couldn't be crossed.
The figure of Amene-Kate lay atop the empty sarcophagus, which stood against the far wall, against a background of Amene-Kate's journey through the Realm of Souls. The sarcophagus rendered her as she had been resurrected, a deathless figure, encased within death mask and mortuary robes, khopesh in hand. It seemed to be staring at hi through images of jewel-eyes. Mocking him for failing to capture her.
"Sister, I shall find you and the Eye of Tahoth. Trespassers cannot escape."
Khefu had performed the rites of tracking and communed with the god. The Eye was somewhere in the northern Empire. The elf priestess that thought she possessed it would, with any luck, be getting no use from it. Amene-Kate was harder to find, but appeared to be in Naggaroth, in the city called Karond Kar. That would require a full scale invasion. Impossible until Ard-Shen's position at home was secure. The Eye would make it easier to find her, too.
Hearing a cough behind him, he turned to see Senekhti. She didn't have much skin left, and it would all have been covered by her death mask and armour anyway, but she still managed to look confused.
"Your Highness, may I speak plainly?"
"When have I forbidden such from you?" Ard-Shen spread his hands.
"I've read the guest list for your public coronation,:"
"You have problems with it?" Now he was King of Nemison, he had to hold a more public occasion to notify the gods and the nearby political figures.
"Your uncle, King Nectanis, is a necessary figure. Your fellow vassals and the other Nehekharan kings are equally obvious." She tilted her head. "But the others? Do we need quite so many living?"
"Would that we were among their ranks." Sometimes Ard-Shen wondered if the Usurper - the Usurper - was a punishment from the gods for daring to break the bonds of life.
"As do we all, Ard-Shen," Senekhti agreed kindly. "The Dwarfs and honourable to a fault, and sure to accept your legitimacy. I do not care for Sudenburg either way. But why the Brettonians? They invade our lands. They despoil our tombs." The slightest hint of anger crept into her voice. Even a close friend did not dare lose their temper at a Tomb King, but there were limits.
"It is for the sake of politeness. I am a new king, or at least a newly sole king, and they like their ceremony. Perhaps we can work some negotiation into this."
"How cunning of you. May we walk? I hope to find somewhere to vomit before mentioning the next name."
Neither of them had vomited in a thousand years, but Ard-Shen understood her feelings.

They walked through the tomb of Amene-Kate for a good long while before emerging into the sunlight. The streets were clean and orderly again, as they should be. A troop of Tomb Guard saluted on its march.
"Now, your concern?"
"I hardly need to state it. Ramnekht? The Vampire?"
"Of the Necrarch bloodline. A scholar, not a schemer."
"Why, Ard-Shen?"
"Khefu insisted. They are old rivals in academia, and Ramekht is a lord of some authroity, even if he leaves his state to others. It would be rude not to invite him." Ard-Shen hated the idea of sharing space with a Vampire, but his liche priest had been firm.
Senekhti folded her arms. "Ard-Shen, please. Don't invite him. Ptra's mercy, say you haven't sent the invitations?"
"I've already sent the invitations to my fellow crypt sovereigns. I waited on the others so I could explain them to you. I'm sorry, Senekhti, but the Vampire must come."
"What will the Dwarfs think fo that? All our other guests?"
Ard-Shen felt an urge to find the priest and rip him apart. "He doesn't have to come to the ceremonies. The man who keeps my legions animated has a lot of leverage. But he can compromise."

In the end, perhaps sensing the anger within his king, Khefu agreed to have Ramekht visit later. He apologised for allowing his scholar-politics interfere with state politics, and understood how disastrous it would be to have him there with all the other guests.
"Remember, Khefu. You are my advisor. I am your king."
"Never leaves my mind, Your Highness."

The day of the celebration was another perfect desert day, as if Ptra approved. Great numbers lined the streets out of Nemison, most Undying legions, but several guests as well. In a show of unity and a fine display of politics, Ard-Shen had persuaded the Dwarf Lord Ragni Stonebreaker to lend him a small escort for his chariot, in lieu of his own Tomb Guard. He would have liked to keep the elite soldiers, but the Dwarf Lord refused to let his men march alongside Undying troops, understandably enough. More surprisingly, he had managed to persuade some Brettonians damsel-priestesses to stand at strategic points and offer their own blessings. The armoured knights sat astride their equally enclosed warhorses outside the city. The grounds further out were surrounded by a Nehekharan host, made up of the legions of mmany kings. Uncle Nectanis, fellow vassals King Anasces, King Namsis and Queen Hepshenit, the latter his cousins, the former a once-powerful ruler his uncle had subdued.
Senekhti and Khefu stood beside Ard-Shen on his chariot as it rolled past the onlookers. Behind came a large part of his own host, from Skeleton Warriors, to the relegated Tomb Guard, through Ushabti to the Sphynx, which King Nectanis had 'kindly' turned over to his nephew permanently. It seemed happy with this development, although Ard-Shen wondered if it was being landed on him as punishment for it getting possessed by Apophas. And a permanent reminder of whom he served. At least it was a useful military asset. But was it? His uncle wouldn't appreciate it being destroyed.
He shoved aside his dark thoughts and allowed the adulations and joyful music to lift him. This was not just a Nehekharan triumph. All could see the priest-king's new power. All looked upon him and knew their place.
"Excellent work, your Highness," Khefu whispered. "All must know your majesty."
Departing the city, he came upon the Brettonian knights, their armour, almost as decorated as Nehekharan standard, gleamed under the sun. Most notable among them was the leader of the main force here, Repanse de Lyonesse. The midnight-haired, her Sword of Lyonesse held aloft, favoured him with a polite but not friendly gaze. In her response to his invitation she had made it clear her respect for ceremony and tradition demanded she attend, but no more. According to Khefu, she was immortal in the way the Nehekharans had wanted, still able to do whatever the human form could, but never aging or sickening. Except that if one of these 'Grail Knights' were killed, that was it. No resurrection for them. Still, she was a fellow immortal.
The procession stopped, and a group of liche priests blessed Ard-Shen, praying for a long and wise reign. His fellow vassals came to him and acknowledged him as an equal.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A Dynasty Restored - Tomb Kings

Ard-Shen granted King Nectanis an audience first. As his direct lord it was his uncle's right to formally congratulate him and discuss the new situation first. Senekhti and Khefu stood beside him. Skeletal fan wavers stood nearby the doorway and the king himself, unnecessary but a reminder of what was and what should be.
Nectanis entered the throne room flanked by Tomb Guard, and with a collection of Liche Priests in his wake, perhaps to show how much higher he was in rank among gods and men. He did not bow.
"I trust you are enjoying your new royal status, nephew?"
"I offer you my gratitude for enabling it, uncle."
"Good. You have a long and difficult road ahead of you, but I am impressed with the guests you persuaded to attend."
"Guests are as sparks to a fire. The more there are, the brighter it shall burn."
"I taught you well. You and your sister."
Ard-Shen bristled. "She is in Naggaroth somewhere. I shall find and break her."
King Nectanis gave an exaggerated sigh. "It breaks my heart that my nephew and niece cannot share a pyramid."
"None of us have hearts anymore, uncle."
"It is not His Highness' wish to dwell on such matters, Your Highness," Khefu said.
"I do not mean to disturb His Highness. Priest Khefu, Senekhti, I see my nephew is in your capable hands."
"Extremely capable," Senekhti affirmed warningly.
"Remember, all give you obeisance today, but they are not your friends."
Ard-Shen decided he must have been truly desperate to borrow his uncle's forces. "I am aware. I shall secure my position and restore the glory of Nemisor."
"See to it that you do. Do not allow your sister to distract you."
Before Ard-Shen could reply, King Nectanis turned about and departed.

The next guests were the various Nehekharan kings, or their representatives, who congratulated Ard-Shen on his victory and new status, praying to the gods for a long and prosperous reign for him, and good relations with them. He accepted these words, knowing they were empty platitudes. It was good to have kings acknowledging him as sole, undisputed ruler of Nemisor, vassal or not. He thanked them for their attendance, and offered to send envoys to make diplomatic arrangements. It would be best to start building soft power as soon as possible.
Next came his co-vassals, separated out from the rest by the link, heard afterwards to show his control.
Kings Anasces and Namsis, and Queen Hepshenit, stood before him. Namsis and Hepshenit looked appropriately respectful and appeared at least mildly pleased to be joined as sole monarchs by their cousin. Anasces looked as if he wanted to swallow Ard-Shen whole.
"Welcome to my realm," he said gracefully.
"It is well to see you properly enthroned, even if our other cousin, your royal sister, had to suffer for it," Namsis said.
"A pyramid is only large enough for one king. You knwo that." Ard-Shen couldn't resist.
"Indeed," Hepshenit noted. "Senekhti, you are still guarding your king. How devoted."
Senekhti replied tonelessly. "Yes, Your Highness."
"From what I heard, Dark Elves took away your sister, killed her priest and unbound the legions," Anasces observed. "And you still almost died."
The words scorched like desert sun, but Ard-Shen kept his temper. "I am king now. I shall hunt down and destroy the elves. They are responsible for our condition. They will pay."
"You are here because our uncle broke you," Namsis pointed out. "Do not presume to lecture on success."
Anasces glared. "At least I am his vassal because I personally relinquished my sovereignty for all to see. His Highness' enemy still persists unbroken."
"Exactly, you were defeated," Hepshenit said. "Do not dance around how and why."
"This is my Lord the king's day of recognition," Khefu said, his sandpaper voice cutting across the arguing. "Do not ruin it for him."
"I offer my congratulations to your lord for his joining our ranks," Anasces replied smoothly. "It is an honour to be received by one so regal."
"If we are done fighting, I should like to suggests we negotiate between ourselves and our mutual lord spheres of influence. Trade. Military obligations." Hepshenit looked at him expectanly.
"Yes. I would like to establish where we all stand."
"And where you stand with the humans and Dwarfs," Namsis added.
"There is much to discuss, truly. Enjoy today, then return to me tomorrow or send envoys. You may leave now, all of you."
Anasces and Hepshenit departed. Namsis remained.
"There is one more thing I should like to know, cousin. Is it true that you invited a vampire?"
"His Highness dismissed you!" Senekhti ordered.
Namsis bowed. "I did not mean to offend."
After he left, Khefru coughed. "I'm just surprised the other two didn't find out as well."
"I hope your scholarly interest will be sated," Senekhti said viciously.
Ard-Shen held up his hands placatingly. "Do not fight. I will receive the vampire tonight. You will both be with me. We will give him nothing of value." He had never been more annoyed with his priest. Only the fact that the man had practically been his grandfather kept him alive now.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A Dynasty Restored - Of the Living and Of the Undead

The Dwarfs marched into the throne room. Entering a chamber for a meeting did not usually warrant 'marching', but for the Dwarfs, it most certainly did. Lord Ragni Stonebreaker and his Longbeards entered in full style, which meant practically full armour, their beards tidied (never, ever shaven) and axes sharpened. They walked purposefully, in formation, jewels embedded in their gromril. Despite his inability to truly die, Ard-Shen felt a moment's gratitude this was a meeting, not a battle.
The Brettonians followed a polite time later. Respanse led the way, accompanied by several knights, all decorated with their coats and shields. Her Sword of Lyonesse hung at her side. A damsel priestess accompanied her.
Space was made for the two groups to sit sufficiently far from one another, but they seemed happy to see one another.
"Welcome to Nemisor, men and women of Bretttonia, lords of the mountains." Ard-Shen restrained himself from speaking Brettonian or Khazalid, both languages he knew well. It was his liche priest's job to speak with the living. "I hope Ptra was not too harsh on you as journeyed here."
"Our underway shielded us for most of the way," Ragni, a hulking, grey-bearded Dwarf, answered. "We are used to hardship, which saw us through the remainder."
"By the Lady's grace I survived, Your Highness,," Repanse was almost joking.
"That is good to hear," Ard-Shen said. "I thank you for your participation in my procession yesterday. It is an honour to receive such generosity from a lady of Bretttonia and a king under the mountain."
"The Lady willed it," Repanse answered. "I was pleased to attend to the ceremony of a new king. I congratulate you on achieving your position."
"Thank you. I understand your own position was achieved only after much hardship." Ard-Shen had had Khefu brief him and Senekhti on their guests.
Repanse smiled. "I accept what I am given."
"Lord Ragni, I am honoured to be in the presence of one who holds matters such as honour so close to his heart."
"The honour is mine, Your Highness. It is important we find allies where we can, so far from our ancestors' homes."
Senekhti looked pointedly at Repanse, who chose to ignore the accusation.
"It is inded good to seek allies where possible. The desert is a dangerous place, for the unwary. There are many dangers. A scorpion's sting the least of them."
"We can handle danger, Your Highness," Repanse said. "It is our duty to strike down evil and cleanse the land."
"A noble duty, Duchess. You have travelled far to destroy evil."
"It shall be hunted where it is found."
Khefu gave Ard-Shen a warning look.
Ard-Shen remembered something important. "I forget mortal appetites. I shall send for sustenance."
Repanse and Ragni gave mutual thanks.

After the meal, which Ard-Shen watched with curiosity, and an imgianry rumbling from a long-vanished stomach. When the living were finished with it, they returned to business.
"As King of Nemison, I can offer a great many things to those worthy of them. I am a vassal, yes, to my uncle, but he has promised a light touch and great autonomy."
"It would be our pleasure to begin discussions of what we can do for one another," Repanse said. "As you have said, I am a long way from hoem and so am grateful for any allies."
"I have reviewed the Book of Grudges personally, and though there are 564,485 entries against your sister the Princess Amene-Kate, there are only 281 against you. Understandable for a new king."
Ard-Shen's jaw would have dropped. How could he accumulate so many grudges in only a few days? He had heard the Dwarfs loved their grudges, but this was insanity.
"My king has been nothing but gracious as a host," Khefu said angrily.
Senekhti touched the handle of her khopesh.
"In preparation for the procession you spoke to me through the liche priest, though you know Khazalid. Refusing to speak our language is an insult. That is the greatest entry. You may send envoys to meet with our Reckoners."
"I'll speak to them myself, Lord," Ard-Shen replied in fluent Khazalid. "I trust we have not offended the servants of the Lady?" he asked Repanse twice, once in Brettonian, once in Khazalid.
She dipped her head. "No, Your Highness."
"Because we wish to build good relations with you, alone in the desert s we are, I am sure the Reckoners will be generous." Ragni said the last word as if it choked him.
"Good relations? Then all the more reason I should come to your hold in the Atalan Mountains personally. To return the favour. Duchess Repanse, I shall visit Copher, too, in the interests of fairness."
That seemed agreeable to all involved. The audience ended with a cloud hanging over it. Such that when the Sudenburgrs arrived Ard-Shen gave no more than a few polite words and an acceptance of their good wishes.
Gods, how would he react to the vampire in this mood?

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A Dynasty Restored - Parleying Death

Ramnekht was a Necrarch, which meant he was a scientist and sorcerer almost by magical compulsion, Khefu had explained. It also meant that instead of regularly drinking blood, his studies distracted him such that he simply absorbed what heneeded from ambient magic, leaving him...functioning, but withered. Although he had flesh, his fingers and other certain parts of him seemed down to the bone. He was clad in a flowing dark robe, and held a staff in one hand, a book in the other. For effect, probably.
Ard-Shen stared at this creature in mild disgust. His own kind were undead, too, but at least they looked the part (the liche priests were alive, but didn't drink blood). The vapires, however, were a complete mockery of life. The final corruption of what Settra had desired.
They met deep within a secure chamber within Ard-Shen's pyramid, the energy of the death monument flowing about him, enhancing his carrion strength. Senekhti and Khefu looked more spry, too. No Tomb Guard stood with him, potentially vulnerable as they were to a vampire's binding magics. Instead, Ushabti stood all around the sealed throne chamber, all looking with animal eyes at the vampire.
"Is this truly necessary?" Ramnekht asked. His voice was scratchy, like dry papyrus, but disturbingly unaccented Nehekharan. "I am a mere scholar. I wish only too congratulate my colleague's new king."
"I accept your congratulations," Ard-Shen said with difficulty. "It would greatly benefit me to have peaceful relations with fellow lords of death."
"Naturally," Ramnekht agreed. "I can provide great service to you. Your priest and I have learned much in our studies."
"What studies?" Senekthi asked warily.
Khefu looked between her and the vampire. "Many studies. Into life and death. And undeath. And how to control souls. Magic."
"How comprehensive of you," Senekhti observed.
"I am aware that you are purely a scientist, with no great military force?" Ard-Shen asked.
"The blood of W'soran runs in my veins. I could raise a mighty host in an instant." Ramnekht looked around at the Ushabti. "If I were not trapped in this Morrslieb-forsaken place. But you ask to see if I can provide military assistance should you require it?"
"It would distract from my studies, but yes, I am able to raise an army should I wish."
"It may be of use in future. Thank you. But understand this. None of my soldiers shall be yours."
"They are loyal warriors who fight for their king," Senekhti agreed.
Ramnekht looked offended. "I would not dream of stealing Your Highness' troops. The corpse-fields are infinite even excluding Nehekharan soldiers. There have been a great many Brettonian crusades and orc incursions, for one thing."
"Good," Khefu said. "Perhaps we could share our findings with my king?"
"I am sure he would like to hear what we have learned."
"I would like to see these studies. But you must understand, spawn of Neferata. You are here as a courtesy. Senekhti strongly advised against allowing this audience, and only my sense of propriety made me agree to receive you."
Senekhti glared at the vampire. "You have what you want, blood drinker.
Ramnekht smiled, the tips of his fangs just visible. "I have everything I came for, Your Highness. Allow me to depart and you shall receive my studies. Perhaps you could visit my tower?"
"Perhaps. For now, your may go."

"I should have chopped his head off," Senekhti hissed. "What good can come of sharing his studies? How can we trust him not to steal our troops? We three are too powerful to be bound by any other, but the soldiers..."
Khefu waved a hand. "Don't worry. My enchantments protect the soldiers. And I assure you, there is much value to be had in sharing knowledge. We must simply decide which is valuable."
"I admit I am morbidly intrigues to see what you have discovered," Ard-Shen said. Khefu was intelligent, even if he sometimes annoyed him. "We should use all the resources we can to rebuild."
"Yes," Senekhti agreed. "I strongly advise caution, however. And I certainly do not advise visiting his tower. He could summon everything within Usirian knows how far, and trap you there."
"I'm not visiting the tower, do not fear." Ard-Shen's thoughts turned. He had received all the local power holders, and rebuilt most of his city. He had even acquired the dubious assistance of a vampire. Here, within the pyramid, where his immortal power was strongest, he felt able to dream of new heights. Throwing off his vassal status, driving out the Brettonians. Expanding Nemisor's borders. He anchored hismelf. That was for later. The Brettonians deserved respect, he still had to find his sister and the Eye of Tahoth, and perhaps secure a port to welcome overseas trade. It wasn't all just about conquest. But first...
"Your Highness?" Senekhti asked.
He looked at her, dark thoughts in his mind. "We shall complete the remaining ceremonies, and then we shall see."

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A Dynasty Restored - The Book of Grudges

The Atalan Mountains reared up into the sky like a scorpion's stinging tail. Even the Sphynx seemed dwarfed by their sheer size, and the tomb legions could easily be swallowed whole. I was no wonder, Ard-Shen thought, the Dwarfs had survived so long here, in the midst of a hostile desert. Khefu called them rocks given human-like form, and he was inclined to agree.
Senekhti had recommended bringing a large army, for a show of strength if not necessarily to use it. Over the past few days she had feevrishly worked to maintain the pace of the army, filled with a drive to clear her king's name and show the Dwarfs the folly of offending a Tomb King.
Khefu was appropriately offended too, but more eager to learn secrets of rune-crafting. An ancient art passed down from master to apprentice. Guarded jealously by the long-lived Runesmiths. He didn't think he would learn anything, but there was always hope.
Ard-Shen's chariot rolled onward at the head of his army, following the lead of the Dwarf throng sent to escort him to the hold. It had taken several days, but at last the mountains were in sight. The Dwarfs had refused to allow use of the underway, so this somewhat inefficient land travel was required.
The path ahead narrowed.
"You should go to the centre," Senekhti advised.
Ard-Shen laughed. "Mountain passes do not scare me. The Dwarfs are not planning to ambush us."
"What about a Greenskin attack?"
"I have no time for the bipedla fungus." Ard-Shen had fought Greenskins before. They were fierce and savage, but undisciplined.
Senekhti nodded. "Very well."

Travelling between the peaks, vultures circling above (perhaps wondering why carrion was moving about), was a little disconcerting. Ard-Shen had visited these mountains a long time before, but there was still something to be said about the sheer scale involved.
The throng made its way to a deep valley, at the end of which stood a massive city, hewn out of stone and iron. It gleamed under the desert sun, Ptra illuminating its glory. Huge walls and equally massive watchtowers guarded it. An enormous gate warded the entrance.
"Its defences are reinforced by many runes of shielding," Khefu said, breathlessly. "It is truly a masterpiece of engineering and magic."
"This is only the smallest part of it, Your Majesty," the Dwarf leading the throng, a young warrior named Bjorn Stormbrow, said. His beard was thick and bushy, and his eyes held a sense of awe and reverence that was only appropriate for addressing a (pseudo-)living god.
"Is it now?" Khefu replied.
"Yes. It goes far below into the deepest caverns. We were born of the deepest caverns. The Greenskins and Skaven assault us every day." The young Dwarf grimaced. "But we endure."
"Great empires cannot be maintained without hardship," Ard-Shen agreed.
"Is it true that you measure your fellows' worthy by the length of their beard?" Senekhti asked.
Bjorn smiled. "A Dwarf's beard is never shaven. He is as old as it is long."
Khefu had, in fact, spoken of the one time someone had dared to shave a Dwarf's beard. That had broken two great empires.
The gate opened, slowly, as if just like its makers it had all the time in the world and didn't care to be hurried.
"Welcome to Vulture Mountain."

Ard-Shen perceived great artifice within the hold. Everything was engineered exactly, to show the skill of the craftsmen and to perform exactly as intended. But he also felt a slight unease, a disquiet caused by being within a city devoted to life. Dwarfs filled the corridors and halls, marketplaces offered wares of all sorts. Being underground also cut him off from Pta's blessed light, the great torches and skylights not quite compensation enough for him.
Ard-Shen was required to leave his army, under strict supervision, near the gate. Senekhti didn't like it, but they were guests. The Sphynx looked about, seemingly sniffing the mountain air.
The king and his advisors were escorted to the lower levels, and ushered into a room filled with statues of ancient Dwarfs, murals of their achievements, and grudges. Lots and lots of grudges. Everywhere he looked, Ard-Shen saw a written insult against the Dwarfs, and the remedy to be taken, usually death. In the centre of the room stood an altar, upon which rested a massive book. A cloaked Dwarf stood at the altar, glaring at Ard-Shen.
Bjorn stepped forward. "I apologise to intrude upon your study, Reckoner, but this is Priest-king Ard-Shen of Nemisor, the Nehekharan lord who requested to visit and discuss the grudges against him."
"I see," the old, seemingly blind Reckoner said in a voice like slabs of iron. His beard was knotted several times over and still reached the floor.
"Lord Reckoner," Ard-Shen said in Khazalid. "I thank you for agreeing to see me."
"Did I agree to see you? Did I?"
"We're not leaving," Senekhti said.
Ard-Shen held his arm before her. "Calm, please."
The Reckoner scowled. "I am not used to addressing corpses. But I recall now." He opened the book reverentially and red some pages. "You have quite the record, Your Highness."
"My king has reigned long, for most of that time in partnership with his sister," Khefu said. "Let us not conflate the guilt."
The Reckoner smiled knowingly. "We are meticulous in our records."
"My treasuries are vast. I am sure I can satisfy all the monetary costs?"
"No doubt. But that is not the only issue. Several of the grudges require your death."
"That may be more difficult to satisfy," Ard-Shen commented.
Senekhti crossed her arms, having been relieved of her weapon. "Extremely difficult."
"Perhaps payment in kind," Khefu suggested.
The Reckoner raised an eyebrow. "The settlements are decreed. They must be given."
Ard-Shen could not remember every offence he had caused, and did not fancy submitting to a thorough investigation. He was a Tomb King. A crypt sovereign. If vast amounts of gold were not enough, then he would not give anything else.
"Consider it a coronation gift. I am now sole king at Nemison."
"Ragni suggested such," the Reckoner admitted. "We do not normally write off grudges." He smiled. "But since you have reclaimed your rightful place, and are working to satisfy your own grudges, I am sure, perhaps we can make some adjustments."
The next few days, even weeks, were spent negotiating. In the end a few of the grudges were erased, and to further cement the new arrangemetn Ard-Shen promised to provide militayr assisatnce for an upcoming campaign the Dwarfs were planning against a king who was not part of King Nectanis' realm.

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