Background to the Empyraeum
It is said that the smallest of actions can have the largest of effects. When a butterfly flaps its wings in far Manchuria, it can cause a storm in Athens.
In the year 25 BE (Before Empyraen), the Hegèmon Alexander almost died in Babylon, it is claimed. It is also claimed that a holy man of the Taxileon practised blood magic in order to save the Hegèmon’s life. Of course, had Alexander died that night, as many feared he would, there would be no Empyraeum for us to defend. That dream would have died in Babylon and all of us Kalshodar would never have been. What, though, would have been? We can never know.
What we do know is that he lived and that Sham, that same holy man of the Taxileon, became not only one of Alexander's closest friends and confidants but also mine. He at times hinted that he was avoiding some great disaster - words echoed later by her, our Lady Dragon - in saving Alexander that night. Among members of the very informal korallión as well as philosophers of all stripes and colours, the debate rages hot still. Now that the Hegèmon is gone, the flames of discussion are brighter yet. Where are we going and might there have been a better way?
I have witnessed, first hand, the chaos which followed public knowledge of Alexander's disappearance and, though Lupernikes tamped down these fires so well, one cannot silence debate if one is to remain civilised. They wonder if Alexander over-reached for, though the Empyraeum prospers under oikonómoi - Stewards - such as my laconic brother, none have his strength and pure kárisma. We but hold the Empyraeum together until he returns. Let us step back and consider.
In 20BE, we finally crossed the frigid and terrible mountains of the Caucasus Indicus - Hindu Kush - and stood at the base of the greatest of all mountains; called Chomolungma or Sagarmartha - the Great Mother Mountain - by the natives we met there. Alexander ordered we halt and camp in the vast field of snow, ice, and rocks at the base of the mountain though he said not what made this godsforsaken mountain, impressive though it was, so important. He was Alexander, we do what he says.
Shortly after the truly mammoth task of setting up camp for close to three million men, boys and women under arms - with almost equal numbers of camp followers, baggage handlers, farriers, blacksmiths, wives and children - was finally completed, Alexander and Sham disappeared one night.
For close to three months we heard nothing. Rumours were rampant throughout the still-melding army that Alexander was dead. Discipline eroded and nerves ran high. The army which was a model for the Empyraeum to be was still learning to mix and did so as oil and water are wont to; to use Korae's words "the melting pot almost melted, leaving burning hot mess everywhere". We were looking into eyes of kaos and he was smiling back at us in a desultory manner. Once again, it was Lupernikes who came to our rescue, in true laconic fashion, the night he earned that name. The Big bad wolf who eats the balls of the guilty indeed! Terror of him gave the disparate elements of the army reason to band together! In answer to all of our prayers, we learned the answers to our most important questions that night and I watched Kalliades step from a tunnel of blasted volcanic glass, a man re-made.
That the mountain we were camped under was full of dwarves and other creatures was hard enough for us to believe at first, here in the truly frozen arse-end of the world. That they had carved vast tunnels, halls, forges and workshops into the very flesh of Sagarmartha herself was incredible to behold as we were led through them by Sham to where Alexander waited. It was, however, a night for many legends to come to life. With something between sheer, scrotum pinching terror and abject sadness, we each, in turn met her and learned of how she came to be the very last Dragon on Earth. She then gave us each a choice and gave us a taste of the future. I am confident that there was never any doubt as to what our choice would be.
Surely die up here in the ever-lasting cold or walk out of her presence reborn as something the like of which the world had never before seen. First us 300 Dracograth, then Lupernikes and his 10,000 Kalshodar. We all saw that Alexander was already changed and what that might mean. We all knew, deep down, in our most secret of hearts that his Great Dream was indeed but a dream. We would never have been able to hold what we had already taken for long, let alone all the lands between sunrise and sunset. Alexander would die one day, though he was the son of a god and more than mere man. We, who shared his vision would also die. If the Empyraeum died not with him, it would surely die with us. The moment Alexander died; human nature would turn brother against brother as men scrabbled for scraps like hounds under their master's table at feast. The Empyraeum would be torn asunder like the bones of that feast in the hound's jaws.
Unless Alexander did not need to die. Not ever or at all. Unless his army, the best and most loyal of them could remain by his side for all time. Who among those who loved him could refuse such an offer? The incredible changes to our bodies and the unrivalled equipment the dwarves gave us were just sauce upon the already irresistible dish!
That day we marched from out the mountain back into the camp marked the drastic change, the pivotal day that led to the Empyraeum we now know. The faces of the mortal soldiers as we - like autómata of Hephaestus or Ares - strode into their awestruck midst! It was odd, we mused later, just how quickly we called them mortals. Dangerous indeed it would be to forget where we - the Dragon Born, the Flame Born, the Re-Made Ones - had come from. To forget that we were, at least, once human.
The Bloodless Conquest they later called it, our march out from that wind-blasted plain. The gold of Alexander and his Dracograth out in front, the silver and black massed ranks of the Kalshodar striding behind yet before the mortals that remained. "Bloody boring" is what Korae called it as Kalliades, I and others laughed along with him. We; an army of new soldiers superior to any force on Earth found no-one to contest our passage first East, then West. We were witnesses to whole nations bending the knee to Alexander without a single sword being drawn, a single drop of blood spilled. It truly did get boring after a while!
Imagine this, if you would. Three hundred Dracograth; close to six cubits in height, clad from head to foot in shining golden armour of metal carved expertly by the dwarves to resemble our new mother, the Dragon who had made us so. We each carried a spear, a great shaft of blackened silver taller than even us almost topped with an axe head flared like one of her wings. Upon armour and spear there glowed powerful dwarven runes of warding, naming, and protection.
We learned to recognise one another by the shape of lips showing between the golden daggers lining a snarling dragon's maw.
Gods of war, automatói, demons, spirits of the fallen mighty of war, who knows how they saw us? Even I, each time I caught my reflection in a lake or looked over to see Kalliades or Korae marching along beside me - each time I looked down at the thick black hair crowning Sham's head all the way down there (he barely reaches my waist now) - it took a long time to grow accustomed. I would have thrown down my sword and ran from us! That there existed warriors that would stand behind their lord as he or she paid homage to Alexander impressed me, that they held their ground and did not piss themselves and run.
Then, of course, we still have ten thousand black and silver armoured giants behind us, I almost forgot about them. No, I didn't but I know how much my seeming to will irritate Lupernikes. Oh, how we shall laugh when he scolds me later! I hope that his does not stint on my portion of that fine lamb stew of his!
A full cubit shorter than us Dracograth but broader and in armour made up of thick, heavy, angled planes, the Kalshodar were a sight to behold. Individually, one Dracograth or Kalshodar can inspire terror in even the sturdiest of mortal men but ten-thousand of those big and bellicose buggers with
their rune encrusted shields, near-flaming sword (more runes), silver and black dóry spear (even more runes); all topped off by that faceless helm of angled surfaces looking like a deadly chunk of carved and silvered obsidian? Ten thousand things looking like either warriors of the war gods or devils, whichever those we met believed in most? I'd have cut myself down and been honoured at how they trampled over me as I died!
We took a leisurely stroll to the Sea of the East and gazed out into what we thought was the end of the world, where the sun rose each day. We stared towards the distant islands of Ippon, unaware of their very existence. We turned about and headed back West.
It took us five years to reach the place we were convinced was the opposite 'end' of the world; the place where the sun sets each evening. We had been held up in Brytton or Avalon for quite a while and found this land of Éire to equally challenging though we had conquered in the end. Our plans to spill little or no blood had gone rather awry during our time on these two islands. We were anxious to see the sunset and leave before we had to butcher even more of the insane natives! We did manage to pick up quite a lot of those spike-haired, tattooed lunatics wanting to join our army though.
The sun set on the world and rose upon the Empyraeum. It was almost an anticlimax, that sunrise. We had done what we left our homes so long ago to do, something none of us believed we would ever live to see, yet it felt strange. It had been too easy, like were cheating almost. All the way to that mountain of miracles we had fought almost for every doron of progress, every daktylos of land yet now...now it wasn't like that. The natives surrendered it to us willingly and practically fell over themselves to join the Empyraeum and pay Alexander tribute. I imagined that this may well be how the gods felt when they - especially those lunatics the Greeks believed in - received our obsequience. Nothing sensible and worthy of worship like my beloved Ahura Mazda though, I remembered that in moments when hubris would raise its dangerous head...
"So easy it would it be for you or I,
Armed with a good switch and a sharp eye,
To be Lord in the kingdom of the flies.."
I heard Sham once sing in that faultless Greek of his. His imagery is a little strange, granted, I expect it sounded better in his native tongue, just as many things do in mine (my Greek is better but I know that it is far from perfect). It resonated with me somehow, though, as we trudged - deep within the passages of our own thoughts - back to Alexandria and the future.
If only that had been it! If only the rest of our existence were to consist only of patrol and guard duty for pretty much ever. That would, when you think about it, be a huge waste of all that dragon fire, blood, and dwarven artistry and skill.
It's been - I forget precisely - something like three hundred years since we left Earth behind, taking our ships into the stars to find him, to find Alexander. We've had our fights out here, we've met things that can stand toe-to-toe with a Dracograth and take a lot of effort to put down. We've seen the real future and we really do know what is coming now. I, for one, dream of the boredom I had been so dismissive of all those years ago.
In finding Alexander, we found a lot more questions than we found answers. For Kal, Sham and I we found something of a hint of an answer to that much-debated question; what would the world be like had Alexander died in Babylon?
In all honesty, I don't want any of that world, I'm happy with mine. With one devil behind us and another in front, at least we're doing what we were made for and, if we do it well, the human race may well thank us.
That would be enough for me.
[Journal of Neshaa, A; Dracograth Kasha (Temporary); 14 Dròmiom, EA 2.644. RA:18h:D8':SQ]