The assembled ranks of the Teclandec shone almost as bright as Haixah itself, arrayed in white and gold beneath a canopy of spearpoints shimmering with Hysh’s reflected splendor. From atop the walls of the Corusca Palace, the Aelven hosts seemed to stretch on forever, melding together in a haze of glory that hurt the eyes to look upon.
All of this glory was reflected in its commander. Dariel the Resplendent earned his moniker, every inch of him shining as if he’d been carved from aetherquartz. Yet even stripped of his raiment, the Satrap of Plenty shone with his own inner light. His bearing was perfectly gracious, his expression ineffably placid, his every motion and every word echoing with the wisdom of untold centuries. Here was a man without flaw, a leader without fault, a perfect people’s perfect leader – and someday, generous suzerain for all of the Prime Dominion.
Mercules Maneater knew better, of course. The Ogor had almost a century of experience with kings, emperors and tyrants, and his eyes were not so clouded by glory as the teeming masses below. Dariel played the part of the confident ruler superbly, but as the Teclandec prepared for civil war he had to be terrified. Still, truth was worth its weight in Sigmarite – nothing at all. All that mattered was how the Satrap was perceived.
With a final, noble salute, Dariel turned gracefully and strode from the balcony. Mercules rumbled in his wake, footfalls echoing and shaking the crystal chandeliers overhead. As they passed, constellations of servants and courtiers scattered and reformed like a school of glimmerfish around a rock. Respect for Dariel and fear of the Ogor drove them apart, and the ever-urgent clock brought them back together again.
Finally, Dariel spoke again. “We stand at the culmination of Teclandec history. Every moment that has passed before, every decision, all leads us up to this very point.” Mercules had heard some variation of this speech a dozen times now, but then again, the Satrap wasn’t really talking to him. “We have gathered the largest army the Prime Dominion has ever seen. Not since the Spirefall itself have so many of our kin been gathered under one banner, and to their number are added our friends and allies alike.” Meaning Mercules, and those like him, he supposed.
“Together, now, we will bring the peace and prosperity that is our birthright to each of our broken, suffering neighbors. Now that their facade of unity has dissolved into squabbling and war, it falls to us to restore order , to bring the Prime Dominion back into harmony. One by one, we will lift the burdens off the shoulders of our neighbors, elevate them, until they can stand alongside us. Then will our destiny be realized, and we will become the beacon to all the rest of Hysh and the Realms that we were intended to be.” Dariel fell into august silence, and Mercules knew he was a moment away from being dismissed, and yet the question that had been burning at his gut for weeks finally came spilling out.
“Why this way, though?” A subtle shift of the head showed that the Satrap was graciously contemplating his subject’s words. “Here, on yer own turf, no-one – not even Redhand – could hope ta beat ya. All you have ta do is wait, maybe a season, maybe a year, and them all will be so worn out from fightin’ each other that you can walk in and do what you want ‘stead of having to fight. Probably thank you for it, too. So why this way?”
Dariel’s expression did not change. His careful, perfect mask expressed only the grace of a suzerain, but his words rang a trace more imperious all the same. “I suppose you would not understand the destiny and burden of the Teclandec. If we stood idle in this moment, if we allowed our estranged kindred to destroy themselves, we would no doubt stand tall in the rubble, but it would shatter all that we are – we would betray the truth of the Teclandec.” Dariel turned, and for a moment locked eyes with the ogor. “Everything we are, this golden realm we have crafted, it is not for a throne or a province, or even for the Teclandec. It is for us all. What we have achieved here is the inheritance of all Iscarneth. The peace and prosperity we own is the birthright of all our people, and we – and only we – have been given the means to ensure that that birthright is realized. That is our duty and our privilege both, and it is the weight of destiny that drives us.” Mercules looked into his eyes, beyond the serene mask he wore to the world, and saw the perfect conviction that shone in their cores. There was a smattering of applause from the hitherto silent crowd of listeners, which cut off suddenly as the Satrap turned his penetrating gaze outward. “You may return to your camp. When there is need for you, you will be summoned.”
As he walked away, Mercules supposed he did understand now. Cold logic and perfect strategy would decree a host of better options than waging a war against the rest of the Dominion, but Dariel was incapable of taking them. The Satrap – and all the Teclandec, too, he supposed – their exhausting drive for perfection was fueled by a glorious and terrible purpose. To stand by and watch as others fought for honor and glory, tearing the Dominion apart even to the Teclandec’s tangible gain, would be… like a Fyreslayer hawking Ur-Gold, or a Dryad burning down a forest. Or, he thought with a chuckle, like an Ogor refusing a free meal. It was unthinkable, and ran contrary to what it meant to be them.
He thought of Dariel’s eye once more, and the conviction that smoldered within them like a molten core of gold. Like dragon’s eyes, he realized with a start. He thought of what that conviction could do once it was unleashed, fully and unfettered by convention and politics, upon the realms. He quickened his pace once more. There was a great deal to prepare for.