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The snow fell in thick and heavy sheets over Bilehora, blanketing the capital city in a cold white that offset its stone buildings with a simple and gentle sheen. Even under the weather, the great capital did not lay quiet, every street bustling with the activity of a country hard at work. For that day was not any ordinary day. The white cliffs did not lay quiet, they could not afford to lay quiet. One of the greatest meetings in Aurelian history had just drawn to a close in the jungles of the Rihannsu, and the treaties signed in pen were to be consummated by the dance and by the firelight of Bilehora’s greatest hall. There was something dark and calming about the empty streets, gently dusted with snow, prepared for the path of the foreign visitors. As they drove by, far from the sunny fields of their homelands, the terrible weather and resolution of the guards and citizens they encountered must have surprised them. Their exact thoughts are lost to the depths of time, but their path continued, bringing them up closer and closer towards the cliffs’ peaks, standing proudly some distance from the coast. The convoy of armored vehicles carried on, taking a sharp right turn to ascend, upwards- along the same paths centuries of horses, carriages, and couriers had once tread. The view became breathtaking, prompting thought on what it perhaps may have been like if the weather were not so terrible. It took several minutes before the cars came to a stop outside. The guests were escorted out in all their finery, and brought into the hall, where a sizeable component of the Kirvinska nobility became apparent, having arrived several hours previous so as to clear up extra space for their newfound companions. The Rihannsu were the first into the building, followed by the much leaner Shffahkian delegation- and at the tail end, three lonely visitors from a still obscure country, content to make themselves at home beside the lesser nobility and not yet worry themselves with the affairs of the Continent. It is of these Rihannsu, of these Shffahkians, of these foreigners that we will primarily concern ourselves, for the affairs of the Kirvinska are known to themselves, their court being as open as it is. With all the court gathered, the Grand Duke made himself apparent- dressed richly, with a buttoned waistcoat that spoke strongly of two centuries ago. The crowd turned to regard him, and he clapped his hands once, twice, making himself apparent. He regarded very slowly the throng of people present, his gaze travelling through them. Before he paused again, it seemed to meet every single one of them, a weighty silence falling over the gathering. It was then that he began to speak. “Friends and neighbors, I welcome you on this auspicious day to Bílehora, to the White Mountain, to enjoy the finest my nation has to offer in honor of the diplomatic efforts of your own.” He glanced around again, far quicker this time. “It is with much joy that I announce this meeting. For in this meeting, centuries of Aurelian heartache are finally being put aside. We are all working, together, for a better continent. More than anything else, that is what those who have come here today should take home with them. No matter the resolutions that are reached, by secret counsel of a dance partner, or by the fireside, remember at least that.” He gave a short smile. “Remember that we have come here, for the first time in hundreds of years, in brotherhood. The Aurelian nations, united for a day, if only in dance. With that in mind, I must move on to, of course, welcoming our guests. That is, those who have taken it upon themselves to arrive for this promising first day. You have my profound and sincere thanks.” He shifted, moving a page on the lectern. “I must welcome first the Rihannsu- our ancient allies on this continent. Surely these halls are no stranger to them, and surely neither is their longing for the richness of their home.” He smiled again, just a moment. Perhaps it was a little bit of a smirk. “However, what makes this day quite special is the fact that a new generation of Rihannsu are making their first trip to the Cape. Such ambitious men and women as their Praetor of recent years, the honorable Terix, and his administration- I can not resist naming a few notables. Allow me to extend an extra mention to the far-traveled Senator Charvanek, and her husband, Senator Darok, and his wife- and as well, the General Morror Kassus, and his adjutant, one Seranne Varak. General, I am afraid that you will find us a nation of seafarers- but I hope that whatever you came here to seek, you will find.” He shifted a little bit again, swapping pages. “With the Rihannsu welcome concluded, I may now greet the Shffahkians. There is no reconcilation more historic and profound than our own. No meeting of enemies, become friends, that has left such a mark on our continent. So I welcome you, too, under these lights, to the White Mountain. It is my hope that conversations here are made which further solidify and expand on our nascent friendship, and that the opportunity to prove our bond comes soon.” He switched pages again. “From Shffahkia I will extend a personal welcome solely to their President, Sera Adélaïde Larue, who has taken a great political risk by travelling here to greet us as a friend.” He looked around. “We could all learn a little bit from this willingness to take chances for the betterment of our nation, could we not? And, of course, I must also welcome our island friends, the Oyusards- there will be no lengthy mention of reconciliation for them, however, since we have enjoyed cordial relations for four hundred years now.” He now set aside the papers, done with the pre-planned opening. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are all forms of entertainment- there is drink, there is food, there is plenty of space to dance should you wish- and, of course, there will soon be fights for your entertainment. The finest brothers and sisters of the sword will duel for gold and for their honor on the hallowed sand, as my ancestors spoke many years ago when establishing this hall for the first time. It is on that note that I bid you all a good evening- and great joy during these festivities!” He backed off from the lectern, retreating into the shadows of the raised room set behind him. Each guest began to mill about, most with a pre-planned destination in mind, some without. It was the Praetor who found himself with the most prominent goal, making his way decidedly through the crowd and brushing aside requests for conversation. He arrived rather quickly at the foot of the hall’s grand stairwell, leading up. The two guards at the bottom wheeled, one to either side, to allow him passage, and he was able to travel to the second story with little difficulty. Once there, he found a curious sight- three long couches, arranged in Tagmatine fashion, so that the one who sat could recline. In the center of the three, there was a grand map of the Aurelian continent on a spinning table, as well as other important documents slated to be discussed. The room was remarkably empty of a guard or servant presence, simply one of the former and one of the latter. The Grand Duke, as expected, sat, reclining at the far side of the room. He acknowledged his important guest with a simply nod, and motioned to either one of the other two seats. “The Shffahkian is late! So you may have your pick, not that it especially matters which you prefer.” He demonstrated this by spinning the table gently. “I am sure there is much for us to speak of, but it would be best if we waited just a minute for her to come… I am sure it will not take too long, what with the layout of the hall. Perhaps she has made the mistake of being willing to answer to the press on the way up here.” He mused a moment. “No matter. She will be along, I assure you. Make yourself comfortable, food will be on the way shortly- and then we may begin to speak of the heart of the matters which assail us.” The Duke seemed oddly tired, considering the considerable expense and worry that had gone into the design of these festivities. Even moreso, considering he could not see them from his seat, and had to content himself with just the thought that they were proceeding properly. The Senator Charvanek smiled slightly, content with the fact that she had been introduced specially, though chafing under the idea that her name had come -after- Terix’s, as always. Her expression stiffened into a frown, and she decidedly wheeled about to find her way into an important crowd, her husband stumbling to keep up with her. She quickly stepped her way to what seemed like a group of middle-aged men of some wealth standing in a circle, chattering quite quickly in Kirvinska. Though she could not easily make out the words, her approach caused them to slow down in their discussion and part to make a space in the circle for her. Motioning her in, the most senior among them took it upon himself to greet her personally- “My most sincere greetings, Sera Charvanek. I hope your trip has been quite alright, hm?” The jovial-looking old man smiled a little bit. “I welcome you to the White Mountain! My friends and I are a lot of romantics, we are, we’re simply discussing the root and legend of our people, our nation. And our destiny, to take back the Batreasca and create once again a unified Kirvina. A country for all Kirvinska people. A beautiful legend, isn’t it? Come- come! Drink.” He filled a cup of wine, almost pressing it into the slightly stunned woman’s hand. “Your people are no stranger to expansion either, haha!” He belted a laugh, looking to one of his compatriots, who nodded in agreement. The same man cut in, bearing himself a much more subtle and quiet voice, which stung slightly of a soft distaste. “We would love to hear what you have to say, Sera Charvanek. Do make a little room for your husband … the night is long, and I am sure there is a lot to speak of.” He chuckled, quietly. “Forgive my friend. But we are all a little ambitious on this day, as I am sure you could understand, being as you are.” Darok, the other powerful Rihannsu senator present, had kept an eye out and stayed in place for around a minute. Spying the fate of his compatriot, to be consigned to a discussion on the destinies of nations with a gaggle of moderately alcoholic Counts, he determined to wheel out of the way of such an end to his evening and instead make his way to a more… sober crowd. After several minutes of strategic listening- strategic listening that made him seem quite the fool, head softly bowed by gatherings of other people without daring to join in- he found a group that he could stand to join, and roughly sidled his way into their circle without being called in. Here, too, there seemed a leader, and he cleared his throat. “Good evening, Serem Darok… I see that you have made yourself quite… amused, and that the festivities have had quite an… effect. On you… no matter.” This man was quite young, seeming twenty-something, with straight brown hair and sideburns. He seemed better suited to be an actor or a singer than- whatever he was, judging from appearance, but his deep and quietly tired voice did not suit such a role at all. “Janos H. Kalevaitis… I am the Duke of Ceara, and the man in charge of expansion of our government’s… naval and military industries, in preparation for… various actions, in light of our promising league and certain obligations that our dear Istvan bears… whatever you are here to discuss, I should hope that I prove, ah… helpful, yes.” He cleared his throat. “And no, I am not War Minister… but I am Minister for the Expansion of the War Ministry, and thus subordinate to him… I create new departments and… manufactories and such.” The man nodded. “You, Darok… I do not take you for a military man. You are a bureaucrat. That is fine, so am I… in a way. Make yourself known, I am sure we may speak of… matters in which our two nations may… aid each other, yes? I am listening…” The General Morror Kassus felt far more at home than either of the two scheming senators, the medals dangling off of his burly chest earning him many looks of admiration from the throng. It seemed almost to direct him, effortlessly and with many waves and raises of drinks, to the group of generals and admirals seated around a large table, drinking and speaking of their old tours of duty. Here there was no apparent leader, but several people spoke out to welcome him. “Come sit, fellow!” “There’s plenty’a space for ya’!” “Get this man a drink!” A similar hearty welcome was given to his second-in-command, who was sat quite comfortably right next to him. The two of them had full plates and drink slid in front of them, at which point a man bereft of his coat and vest but not his admiral’s cap raised his glass in toast. “To the Rihannsu!” The table raised their glasses in turn and belted out the same cheer. He turned to the pair with a smile. “Ah! So you’ve come to escape the papers and legalese of that crowd as well, I hope. Well, there are more military matters than we can count to speak of, so make yourself right at home. Including how our League is going to manage any shared military business.” He chuckled. “Word’s goin’ round that the Kirvinska navy’s boutta’ double, right boys?” The table gave another chuckle, though quite soft and reserved… but the man’s grin stayed. “Anything the Rihannsu are looking for, any aid you need, any advisors you need, allow me to proffer my services first by saying that we will almost certainly be ready to provide. A storm’s brewing on your eastern border, friend- who knows what lies In the Shadows?” The Shffahkian President had about as easy a time as Terix had, simply stalled for a few moments by the relentless barrage of the press, hungry for any information they could get about the gathering. They were only allowed in in limited numbers, but even this limited number congregated into a small blob, traveling around the dinner to interview those who signaled the okay. Even so, they were not especially welcome, gettng distasteful looks from all those who were not in the camera’s eye. Having escaped them, she found herself at the grand foot of the same marble stairwell, and a short number of steps later at its head. The other two leaders already reclining, she could scarcely mumble an apology before the Grand Duke waved his hand. “There is no need for that- I know how they are. Come, dear woman, and let us speak- there is much to be done tonight, and quickly, if we wish to catch even a hint of the festivities outside.” As she made her way to recline alongside the other two, the idea of what they were doing must have passed her mind- the three were reclined around a grand map of their continent, taking into purview all that lay before them the same way the Tagmatines had shown the first Kirvinska Duke more than a millennia and a half ago. The fate of the Aurelian continent was to hang in the balance, a continent that Adélaïde Larue loved dearly, and she would have to fight quite hard to pass any of her major (socialist) policies by the two reactionaries seated so closely across from her. She settled in, subtly, for a long knight of debate. The young Oyusard lady was not a major functionary, not a major diplomat, and not a military officer. Her name was Pania, and she was simply there to meet some people and enjoy the company of Aurelia’s most distinguished elite in the name of her nation. She padded softly towards the gathering of young fencers, their helmets in their laps, ready to spring into the fray. Their amicable chatting continued even as she came right in front of them, and they waved, collectively. They even made a spot for her, pulling her up further into the crowd, and putting her in between a dashing young soldier and another young, noble-seeming lady of similar age with her hair pulled up into an elaborate crown of braids. They both wore the dark armor of duelists, and seemed rather good-natured. The man on the left bowed, first, and then the lady to his right- they introduced themselves as “Palemon, Victor of Spars” (appended with ‘by that logic, you’re also Eater of Chickens, aren’t you, Pale’ by one of the other fencers) and “Anne vár Attre.” The man spoke up first. “We’re to be the first two to fight, you know? Annie here’s really got it out for me, I beat her a few w- “ He was interrupted by the blaring of the horn to announce the first fight, at which the two of them slided rapidly down through their companions, tugging on their helmets and buckling them. It took several moments for them to get down and clamber over to the right part of the hall, Anne running faster to reach the opposite side of the fighting area. They came onto the sand from opposing sides, bowing slowly to each others as their names were announced by the presiding referee. A small crowd had gathered to watch the battle, mostly Kirvinska, as it was their sport, and a soft wave of commentary began to wash through them. Certainly an interesting group of people to speak to, should any wish to join them. They paused for a few moments, facing each other, and their hands dropped to the hilts of their swords. When the order was given, they drew and approached each other, hands coming out so that their curved sabers crossed. On the count of ‘one-two-three’, they circled their wrists so that they crossed each others’ swords three times, and then began to back up, each one taking a moderate crouch. The man struck first, his elbow wheeling the weapon back in a curved and elaborate moulinet over his shoulder to barrel right for his opponent’s head. She shifted to one side, bringing her own weapon up to parry his away from her, and then rushed in for a slash across his chest. The two of them danced this way for upwards of a minute, prompting the crowd watching them to enlarge significantly now that the match was known to be even. The quiet violin music, the song of sword-fighting, and the soft chattering of a crowd with all to gain and all to lose. It would be a grand evening.