Shiran City glows a soft gold, humming contentedly where it sits nestled between the several hundred feet high sand dunes of the Shiraniqi Desert within the Fènwa World, its retaining wall lined with circular lanterns that pulse through varying shades of blue, green, violet, orange-gold, and red. It’s the Festival of Flesh and the entire City is alive with music and excitement for the evening’s festivities, for the Taking Ritual between a Qishir and a maequïn/lae.
But what the citizens of Shiran City do not know is that approaching the City’s walls is a great army ordered to run every Greywalker into exile or death from the very Cities they built by hand, sealed with magick, and anointed with their own blood, sweat, and tears. An army that has been ordered to show mercy to no one who resists. But they will not attack tonight, no they will enjoy the Festival of Flesh and the Taking Ritual, welcomed through the gates of the retaining wall and ushered across the Sparkling River that bisects the City and into the Temple Palace that sits at the apex of the City, its golden dome a homing beacon that sends out wave after wave of welcoming, calming energy that soothes those that make manners of thanks to its creators, that live safely within the walls of the City it guards.
Maestrx Azhuriel, neodrach of Amèlanis, blooded Apprentice of Maestrer Thilael, stands on top of the tallest obelisk in the City, the nexus of the City itself, the pulse point from where all its magick streams and all excess is grounded back through, orange-amber eyes surveying the approaching army with scrutiny that belies the only eighty namedays ey has under eir belt, young by the standards of the Greywalker race. Rich black hair laden with exactly twenty-three blessed silver bells that mark eir status within the race whips around eir pale, sharp face, the shoulder length locks dancing and singing in the wind as it picks up before abruptly settling. The fingers of Azhuriel’s left hand curl around the short sword strapped to eir right hip, every instinct screaming to muster the Guardians and to take on the approaching army even if it will mean the death of thousands of eir race, at least they will not go down without a fight.
But that is not how things are meant to be. Shiran City must fall so that it may be taken over and the one who will see a reformation of the Worlds may rise from the ashes of what is left behind once the army approaching the gates does what it intends and vacates. It rankles even further than Azhuriel knows ey must flee with two handfuls and three of the strongest warriors and high clergy with strict instructions to mask their heritage and blend in with certain races powerful enough to handle the intermingling of bloodlines so that even if seemingly every Greywalker is killed the bloodlines of the race will live on despite the genocide, and eventually will be strong enough to rise again, to reclaim their Sanctuaries, to reclaim their homelands and their Cities and their culture and rituals.
But today is not that day, today that fight is better fought elsewhere.
So as the main gates swing inward and the High Guardian and Maestrelan, the head of the race within this particular City, meet the flag-bearer of the army and its General, Azhuriel mentally runs through the list of things ey needs to do before night sweeps over the land within the hour. Azhuriel watches with gritted teeth as, with a few exaggerated gestures, the High Guardian and Maestrelan step aside to either side of the open gate and wave their hands to indicate the City beyond as a way of welcoming the army inside and Azhuriel blinks down off the obelisk and lands gracefully at its base, starling a group of children playing tag around it. The children squeak and drop to their knees and bow forward until their foreheads are pressed to the stones of the road, gemstone-like eyes bright with a mixture of awe and fear as its not often one of the warrior clergy is seen outside of the Temple Palace dressed head to toe in war armor, tattoos done in ink that perfectly matches their eyes freely showing along arms corded with strong muscles and sweeping across cheekbones and dancing along collarbones.
“Rise, lil’it uhnis,” Azhuriel says, voice a sweet, lilting alto that sweeps over them like cool water on a hot summer day. “Today is a day of laughter and dancing and playing and thanks, do not bow to one who is as equal as you on this holiest of days.”
“Yes, Maestrx!” The children chime together, rising swiftly and pressing their hands from heart to lips to forehead in a sign of mutual respect before scampering off to resume their game.
Seems such a shame that they shall not survive the night, Azhuriel thinks mournfully before taking off down the streets of the City ey had come to call home over the last two decades since finishing eir training under Maestrer Thilael.
Azhuriel has just finished packing and is striding across one of the City’s many “town squares” to meet up with the others ey will travel with out of the City when the first bells toll from the Temple Palace signalling the start of the Festival of Flesh and ey stops, orange-amber eyes dropping closed as a million Greywalkers throw back their heads and send chants and cries and shouts of jubilation to the heavens above. This would be the last time ey heard the songs of eir people spring thick and sweet around em and gods but that stung. It was unfair that of all the races, it was the Greywalkers who must suffer this atrocity dealt upon them for simply being capable of great acts of horror but yet being only truly able to perform them in times of peril against the race itself.
Because Azhuriel knows it would only take one of the clergy to sink the City, taking all with it but the Greywalkers who have true rights to walk its streets, make love beneath the roofs of its buildings, bleed and cry in its temples, and see new life and fresh death at its tending places. But the Patrons did not decree that such was allowed, not this time. Shiran City would fall in such a manner but now was not that moment.
“Shall we be gone then?” Thilael says from eir left, his violet eyes twinkling with a mirth that Azhuriel never quite got the grasp of, having walked up with the rest of their travelling party while the last of the chants faded away on the wind.
“Yes,” Xhandir, a Greywalker-Ancient mixed blood Soulless Warrior says from eir right, sapphire eyes flashing with a sadistic need to see blood flowing but hands resolutely kept away from the twin blades strapped crisscross-wise to her back.
And without further comment, the thirteen of them slip away, mixing first into the crowds heading towards the Temple Palace where the Taking Ritual will soon begin, branching off several blocks from the open square courtyard at the base of the stairs that lead up to the great building heading at a brisk pace for a door in the side of the retaining wall where thirteen of the best bred hörphé wait for them, the animals’ six legs strong, wide backs able and already saddled and bagged for a long journey across the Shiraniqi Desert to the other Worlds, heads tossing back and forth on thick necks, intelligent eyes regarding each rider keenly and questioningly before bowing to signal the animal has accepted its rider willingly.
Mounting up, the Guardian who had gathered the hörphé pulles open the doors and Azhuriel, Thilael, Xhandir, and the rest ride out single file, the thick stone door closing with a resounding thud behind them. None of them slows the gallop of the animals beneath them, none of them look back. Shiran City as they each know it is dead to them and across the Seven Worlds, each of Shiran’s twenty-two siblings are facing similar situations on the most holiest of nights.
And from each of the sacred Sanctuary Cities built by the Greywalker race, thirteen riders slip out while the armies sent to murder or exile every single man, woman, neodrach, and child partake in the Festival of Flesh and the watch the Taking Ritual.
One day in the future, the Greywalkers would walk the streets of their Sanctuaries again, and that knowledge was enough to sustain the hearts and Selves of each rider that left their home and their people behind to face ruin and death alone.