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By Ant Ulijn All Rights Reserved ©


The Blue City

The blue city of Viirdan was considered by people to be the most breathtaking city in all of Helliom. Unlike capitals in other Pallidons, Viirdan didn't really follow any set order or structure. Streets wound and turned and seemed to snake their way around the buildings, rather than the streets being built to suit the buildings. All buildings in Viirdan were required to be blue, even the temples, and whilst to foreigners this seemed a strange practice, if you asked any citizen of the capital they would tell you with hesitation why it was so.

Thousands of years ago, before the Pallidons existed and before there were any Kings or High Kings, the people of Helliom wandered their respective lands as nomadic tribes. They never sought to settle anywhere and were content to take what the land would give them, even if at times what the land gave them was famine and disease. It was believed that all things came from The Four, their mighty Gods, and as such they did not question the good or the bad. To do so was to imply you knew better than them and in those days, that was a death sentence.

When a small group of nomads known as the Vishan arrived at this coastal paradise they did something no other tribe had done in the history of Helliom. They settled. They began to experiment with more permanent buildings, using their tents as structural guides and reinforcing them with mud. As time went on they discovered more and more complex building methods and after much trial and error, began building large dwellings and public buildings. The first of these was the Grey Temple, so named for the obvious colouring if the mud they used to build all structures in the large town that was now known as Viirdan.

The building of the temple had been a huge project for the people, involving all levels of artisans and tradesmen working day and night, in order to create a space that would do their gods justice. Once complete, the priests or priestesses of each order came to bless it, calling on their patron deities to watch over all who entered and keep them safe. It was by no means a comparison to the temples found in any of the cities or townships these days but it was still a sanctuary for those who wished to commune with their gods.

The Vishanti lived in relative harmony with the land. They did not excavate hills or dredge bodies of water to build their city as it expanded but rather built with the shape of the earth around them and over time this lead the undulating nature of the capital.  Other tribes had done the same as them and built similar settlements that grew, over time, to dwarf Viirdan in size but never in beauty. It was the beauty of the city that had led to the Sky War.

The fact that he was in a city that essentially stripped him of his powers was more than a little disconcerting. He felt like a gladiator thrown into the ring with a swordsman and told to fend him off with this bare hands. Mages were, officially anyway, forbidden from engaging in physical combat be it with weapons or without and that meant a Mage without Hala was a target here as they would not be able to defend themselves. He had dressed as inconspicuously as he could, not so well dressed as to attract unwanted attention and not so poorly as to appear out of place. The small bag of coins he carried underneath his coat would feed a family here in the city for months and as much as he enjoyed charity work, he would rather not have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get by here in Viirdan. He might not look like a Mage right now but his high level of education and slight build would give him away as one within moments of meeting someone.

At the main gate, he showed the two guards his invitation from King Terrian, their eyes registering surprise that their schooled faces did not. The invitation identified him fully and as Mages were extremely uncommon visitors to the palace, even their training was no match for human nature. He smiled charmingly at them and they returned wary but friendly smiles, bowing and indicating that he should enter. It was a tricky situation for a soldier to be in. They grow up and are then trained to distrust and despise Mages and are then placed into positions where they are likely to come into contact with them far more often than a normal Vishanti citizen would. Mages were given a higher level of status than most nobility in Helliom and were therefore afforded a respect that otherwise would not have been given here.

The inside of the palace was even more beautiful than the city. Water features and mosaics dotted the grounds and there was a hushed sense of tranquillity one would not expect to find in a palace. Servants didn’t run to and fro here, unlike other palaces, they walked at steady but measured paces, ensuring their footsteps were as quiet as possible and did not disrupt the gentle sounds of the water features and birds. Today was a busy day it seemed as there were a number of nobles and scholars waiting around the entry to the court, no doubt hoping to get a glimpse of the Mage they had all heard would be visiting the king. What they did not know though was that the visit was private and would not be part of public court proceedings, so their wait would be for naught.

A woman who was towards the back of the crowd turned to speak into the ear of another woman beside her and Urthen caught her eye. Stopping midway through whatever she had been saying the woman just stared at him, her eyes full of surprise and what seemed to be revulsion. Clearly his disguise had been fine for the city proper but here, his inconspicuous clothing marked him out and drew attention. The other woman turned to see why her friend had stopped speaking let out a yelp of surprise when she spotted him, causing most of the crowd to turn and look in his direction. It was obvious that whilst they would not get to see his meeting with the king, they would still get a short chance to look down on him and judge.

“Master Urthen?” asked a deep voice from behind him.

He turned to see an impossibly tall man standing behind him, dressed in the robes of a royal adviser but built like an army captain. His jawline was so strong and angular that Urthen was sure it could chisel stone and his features were marred with scars and a nose that had been broken one too many times. He was by no means an ugly man and Urthen imagined more than one of the women in the court here probably fantasised about him, but he was imposing even to Urthen. After Urthen had recovered from the surprise of the man’s arrival, he extended a hand to the adviser who took it in a firm almost crushing grip. It was hard to say if this was intentional or if the man was more used to holding a sword than another person’s hand.

“Yes, pleased to meet you. You must be Adviser Rishon.” Urthen said.

“I am and I welcome you to palace of King Terrian, Guardian of the Viirdan Coast and Watcher of the West.” said Rishon formally.

“It’s a pleasure to be here.” replied Urthen. “Although I am not sure the court shares your welcome in quite the same way.”

“Mages rarely come to Viirdan of their own free will.” Rishon said simply.

“I must admit, it certainly does make one feel more than a little exposed. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was in a place that made me feel so on edge.”

This had always been part of Urthen’s charm. He always made the other person feel as though they had some advantage over him, be it intellectual or physical, and he had found it always helped to ease tension and made for much more relaxed communication. Whilst he did notice the corners of Rishon’s mouth twitch as if to smile, there was no other indication of his mood or demeanour changing. It was not the first time Urthen had been in the presence of military trained men turned politicians and he truly did not expect much more of a reaction than he had gotten.

“If you would follow me please, I will take you through the side entrance to the court.” Rishon said.

Every single pair of eyes was on him by this stage and he felt he knew what it must be like for animals behind bars in zoos. They all watched and Adviser Rishon led him away from the grounds and through a small but ornate door on the far left hand wall. Once he was out of sight, Urthen sighed loudly and Rishon actually turned to see if he was ok. He smiled at the enormous man and indicated he was fine, even though he doubted the adviser was overly concerned with his comfort. He wondered if there would ever come a day when Mages were not made to feel like criminals in Vishanti but he knew the answer. As long as the Blue Fall came every year, they had an annual reminder of why they hated his kind.

The side passage to the court was one used by members of the royal family to get in and out of the hall without having to clear through the press of people. It was unadorned, unlike the rest of the palace, and this was in part to ensure that the area was easily monitored by the king’s guards. Tapestries and sculptures might obscure the view of a waiting assassin and the Vishanti king has many enemies who would relish a chance to have him killed in his own palace. There had only ever been one attempt on King Terrian’s life since he had been crowned and the man’s body still hung from an archway above the entrance to the dungeons, no more than a skeleton now.

“Wait here.” Rishon said and closed the door behind him

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