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The Sun Rises for Dar’khos
Amaunet walked the streets of Dar’khos with confidence in her step. Underneath her white veil and tunic, she was wearing her ceremonial armour, usually reserved for formal occasions. She wished to remain unseen, at least until she reached the Grand Senate, and the copper ring on her finger would ensure that, casting a subtle magic to let her blend in with any crowd. She could hear the voices of her people, surging through the city like windborne fire, while she walked the same path she had walked countless times before.
“Shuriman crests! Authentic Shuriman crests! Just forged! Declare your allegiance to the rightful emperor of Shurima with these crests!”
The voice made Amaunet turn her head, and amidst the vapour and smoke of one of the major forges in the city she could see a young boy peddling his parents’ wares to a curious audience. As his mother hammered away at a bronze object slightly larger than an adult’s hand, his father carefully cut cyan glass on a workbench.
“Made of the finest sun’s blood! You will find no better!” the boy continued. “The glass was cast from the sands of the Mother Desert herself, and tinted by the magic of a genuine Dar’khosian Summoner! Celebrate Shuriman independence with the truest Shuriman crest in the city!”
Amaunet continued her walk. The sun’s blood, she mused inwardly, a poetic term for bronze that was considered antiquated in most of Shurima but still saw use in Dar’khos. How did the old quote go…? “You have shed the blood of the sun to shed mine…” The dying words of the philosopher-warrior Ankhara, Queen of the Nomads, upon being wounded by the bronze sword of a humble Dar’khosian smith. The quote was longer, something about the sun of her people? Amaunet couldn’t remember; a decade or two before, she would have recalled it in its entirety, but age had taken its toll. Regardless, the term had been embraced by the city as a badge of pride, and it had served to keep the fearsome desert nomads at bay.
Never had the dispersed tribes of Shurima been united under a single warrior again. At least, until Sivir had appeared, and her ability to command so many mercenaries of different tribes with ease had lead to whispers of an Ankhara reborn. Sivir was quick to quench the rumours; she had no intention of dying as easily as the nomad queen of old.
It was reassuring for Amaunet to see life go on in Dar’khos. Everything seemed, for a few hours, to have come to a halt as the Institute played out its formality, with its matches and its proclamations. The wind itself appeared to have stilled, as though Mother Desert was holding her breath. After the matches were done, motion returned lethargically to the city. Perhaps it had had to remember how to live once again.
Voices were coming from a square where a grand arcane device had been built to broadcast the very same matches that had decided the fate of the city.
“Could there be a rematch?” a girl inquired, hopeful. “I wanted Noxus to win! We’re strong and they respect strength, we would’ve remained independent if they had won!”
“Not a chance,” an old soldier replied, having donned her antique uniform for watching the matches. Amaunet wondered if she had been pleased with the results, but the soldier’s weathered face betrayed no emotion. “The League does no take-backs.”
“We can fight Azir!” the girl insisted. She was probably a young recruit, with patriotism and zeal burning in her veins, and still dizzy from the rush of power that comes with holding a sword, and knowing that it can kill.
The old soldier scoffed at her. “You know nothing of warfare, child. Azir would burn us all alive before we could even blink, and has a few more like him by his side; have your elders neglected to teach you the old stories?” The accusation in her tone was obvious.
“Ascended have fallen before,” the girl replied, full of bravado. “And they can fall again.”
“Perhaps,” the soldier replied noncommittally. “But we do not have the power to do so. Just like we wouldn’t have had the power to fight off Noxus’s legions or Piltover’s hextech armies. We have danced on the blade’s edge for too long, trying to remain independent. It was only a matter of time before our hand was forced. We have never produced a champion, after all. Summoners, many, but not a single champion.”
Amaunet forced herself to keep walking. She wanted to go over there and comfort them, tell them that they would be fine, that they would endure, but she was late for her meeting with the Grand Senate. The old nobles were probably anxious to know the city’s future course, they would demand reassurances and plans. Amaunet knew what lay behind their restlessness. It was fear. These women and men had been born and raised in the last bastion of civilisation in miles, the last true centre of culture and progress south of the Great Barrier, and the idea that their sovereignty, their self-determination, could be so easily swept away by the relics of the past frightened them. It frightened Amaunet too, somewhat, if she had to be honest with herself.
But such was the way of the desert, she thought. The past never truly stays dead in Shurima.
Amaunet could see the minarets of the government buildings in the distance, at the end of the Sar’Kah’s Way, the major avenue and thoroughfare in the city, running from the Grand Senate to the oasis that was Dar’khos’s lifeblood.
“We deserve better!” Amaunet heard a man exclaim as she was walking down the Sar’Kah’s Way. “We are free! The Sar’Kah is chosen, they don’t inherit the position like Azir’s antiquated regime!” Clearly a scholar of sorts, Amaunet imagined. “We are the only cultured and educated people in Shurima! We deserve recognition as a sovereign city-state!”
He seemed to be rabble-rousing. Amaunet sighed, and slowed down her pace, just a bit.
“It was Sivir’s doing!” a woman shouted bitterly. “She defiles the tombs of her ancestors for her personal gain! She murders anybody who gets in her way!”
“No, it was their blood cult!” an elderly man interjected. “My cousin tells me Azir has sent his reptilian butcher to turn the nomads into blood-worshipping berserkers! And my grandniece works for the Institute as a guard, she tells me Azir has been contacting the Rakkor from Targon! They eat their own people, you know!”
“And what was our other choice?” yet another citizen raised his voice. “Like Noxus would have been any different! We’ve all dealt with enough Noxians to know how it would have been like to live under their yoke!”
“And Piltover would have never respected us!” the scholar spoke again, his voice speared with fury. Clearly this was a personal matter for him. “Our lore and education easily rival theirs. They would have felt threatened by us! They would have stolen our culture, our scholars, and reduced us to a puppet to work on their railway!”
“There was no good choice in any of this. This is all the Institute’s fault! We should have never agreed to let them decide this!”
Enough! Amaunet wanted to shout. Where is the strength of the Dar’khosians? Where is their spirit? Has it been broken so easily by mages in their distant towers?
Instead, she pressed on. The voices of her city curled around Amaunet like a sirocco, filling her with life of such an intensity that it made her feel like her body could not possibly endure it.
“Warding charms! Protect your home and children from Noxian sorcery!”
“Say no the Piltovian railway! It will end honest businesses! It will allow Demacia to invade us! It will make us a target of Piltover’s enemies! Say no to the Piltovian railway!”
“I heard you were joining the Institute in these troubled times. Ancestors watch over you, my friend, and do not forget us, like other Summoners have.”
“All hail Xerath, the One and True Ascendant!”
“Noxian swords! Authentic magical Noxian swords! It will never leave your side! It feeds off the blood of your enemies! Defend your caravan with a magical Noxian sword!”
Colourful shapes blurred around Amaunet, the bright silks and linen tunics that made a Dar’khosian crowd such a visually stunning sight. Blue flax flowers could be seen hanging from windows and walls, along with the golden Sun’s Kiss and the purple Nightwhisper. One of the Sar’Kahs of old had ordered most major thoroughfares to be covered by a canopy of Sun’s Kiss, a climbing ivy-like plant with small golden flowers, which gave citizens respite from the sun. It made the city feel like a cool garden even under the harsh midday sun.
“We want you out of this market by sundown. Your shoddy Piltie wares are undercutting the hard work of Shuriman craftsmen.”
“Honour the spirits of those that came before you! Visit the temple today! There is still time to seek guidance!”
“Piltover supports the independent minds of Dar’khos! Allow the city to flourish and support Piltover with your voice! Say yes to the Piltovian railway!”
“…caravans are being attacked by that blood cult lately. The Sar’Kah has increased the militia patrols, but I think that will just fuel her opponents when Renekton decimates them…”
As the the day gave way to dusk, the Nightwhisper flowers in the balconies released their sweet scent to the wind, blending with the incenses and spices from the bazaars and the aroma of coffee and tea wafting from the terraces. Amaunet remembered that from afar, lit by candles and magelights alike, the city resembled a constellation of topazes and ambers, a crown of dying sunlight upon the brow of the rugged desert.
“…the darkness is lifting at last, and I thank thee, light of lights…”
“…have faith in the Sar’Kah, she will see us through…”
“It’s a sign that we must marry! We were both born under the sign of the Sun Disc! My beloved, it is the most auspicious omen for us!”
Passing by the Collegium Clementi, one of the many academies of higher learning, the unmistakable feel of magic permeated the air as the day’s lessons drew to a close. Students chatted amongst themselves eagerly as they left the building, speech too fast for Amaunet to understand, eyes blazing with excitement and power. Shurima was experiencing a revival in more than one way, she realised. That year, the number of mages in training had surpassed all expectations, filling classrooms and auditoriums to the brim, charging the air around Dar’khos’s illustrious colleges with the echoes of miscast hexes and the scent of arcane ambition. It was portentous, in a way that was both hopeful and dangerous.
Amaunet was almost by the marble steps of the Grand Senate, when she saw her High Minister waiting right at the end of the street. Sekhet was a cautious woman, educated as a barrister and a scholar, and Amaunet appreciated her counsel. Amaunet removed her copper ring, and pulled back the veil around her head. The sun was fading and it wasn’t as hot as it had been earlier in the day. Sekhet recognised her, and placed a hand on her shoulder in greeting.
“I have good news,” she said. “I have sent scholars to our Great Library to research whatever tomes or papyri we have on Azir’s old empire. We might be able to use some of the ancient laws in our favour.”
Amaunet felt some of the burden lifting from her chest. Thank you.
“Ancestors bless you, Sekhet,” Amaunet said sincerely. “I have said this many times before, but when my term as Sar’Kah is over, I will support your candidacy fully.”
Sekhet chuckled and waved her hand. “The city will not have it. They will say you’re still fit for one more term.”
“I feel I might be too old for this, child,” Amaunet muttered as she began the slow ascent up the steps to the Grand Senate. “My support of the Institute swayed most of the city to agree with your proposal. I intended to avoid bloodshed, but I don’t think there was a way to keep Dar’khos independent. What was I expecting, a miraculous tie that would make the Institute declare us off-limits?”
“You supported the decision that you thought was right,” Sekhet said reassuringly. “They will see that, in time.”
Amaunet smiled sadly. “You are still young. A Shuriman is measured by the legacy they leave behind. May the ancestors see Dar’khos prosper under Azir’s guidance.” And may I live to see it remain free even with the Empire’s crest over our Senate.
Sekhet opened the doors to the Grand Senate and Amaunet stepped in. At the end of the sumptuous hallway, rose marble tinged red by the fading sun, sat waiting the most important people in Dar’khos. That door was made of stone, enchanted to keep the sound in. She did not find it as comforting as she used to. It opened silently, and as she stepped into the enormous auditorium, Amaunet felt the stare of every living being in the room fixed on her. She walked to her podium, and raised her hand to ask for permission to speak. A formality, really. They were all anxious to hear her.
“Grand Senate of the city of Dar’khos,” she began firmly, just as she had rehearsed. “We have taken our petition to the Institute of War, and we have surrendered ourselves to their arbitration. The Summoners that support Azir have proven victorious.” She swallowed, and some bitterness welled up inside her. “We are now part of the Shuriman Empire.”
A heavy silence fell upon the auditorium. Amaunet felt that even if she had replaced the words ‘Shuriman Empire’ with ‘Piltover’ or ‘Noxus’, she would’ve still felt the same. Pursing her lips, she reminded herself that she was doing what was best for the city. Dar’khos would live and prosper, and if she was a true Sar’Kah, she would be happy for her city.
“What are we going to do now?” a man spoke with no small amount of exasperation. He was the leader of one of the wealthiest merchant guilds in the city, and his words were never taken lightly.
“We are working on ways of using the ancient laws of the Empire in our favour,” Sekhet explained patiently. “We are hoping to classify ourselves as a Principality, and be granted a large measure of autonomy.” Another Senator scoffed loudly, and some of Sekhet’s supporters angrily defended her wisdom. They were already vying for her favour, even though the elections were more than a year away.
The debate slowly escalated into a heated argument. The Senators were restless, and fear of the unknown was turning these wealthy, educated, cultured people into something that resembled a drunken shouting match. Amaunet felt old, so very old. She had felt old when she retired from the city army, and after twenty years of politics, almost nine of which she had spent as a Sar’Kah, she felt drained, hollow, like she had given everything of herself to her city and it hadn’t been enough.
She took a deep breath, and mentally prayed for guidance.
“I will have order!” she shouted with a voice that felt like it could command the wind to stop. The room fell silent grudgingly, with resistance. “As the oldest person in this room,” she began, not terribly proud of herself for invoking the honoured tradition of respecting elders, “I must remind you all of the history of this city. When Azir obliterated the capital city of the old Shuriman Empire, the land fell into chaos. The first Sar’Kah, Khnum, may he watch over us all, was a young merchant, known only for his bright intelligence and his silver tongue.”
She saw some of the Senators roll their eyes, as if they were about to interrupt her. She fixed them a hard stare, like she used to do to recruits back in her army days. This is important. Now listen. “It was he who saved us from the foreigners, from the dangerous Rune Mages who came to feast on the corpse of the Shuriman Empire, and were eager to feast on Dar’khos’s still beating heart. The first Sar’Kah was chosen in dark times. We had no leader, so we chose one in the same way I was chosen, and we have carried this tradition for two millennia.” She let that sink in. “Khnum bargained for our independence by promising the foreigners aid in looting the ruins of the Empire and understanding the artefacts they found. He ensured our freedom in times where a single mage could cast a Rune Spell to level an entire city.”
“Is there a point to all this?” one of the Senators asked, impatient. Amaunet glared at him, and the intensity in her eyes staggered him.
“Yes,” she said harshly. “As you all know from your college lessons, Noxus once became very close to annexing us a few centuries ago. We would have likely lost all that we had gained since our independence, and become nothing but cannon fodder for their armies, or worse. The Sar’Kah and High Minister from that time, sisters Amenankhnas and Nefertari, secured our ongoing independence by playing the Noxian aristocracy against each other, so that no noble could make a move on us without exposing a flank to an opportunistic coup.”
She paused, then pulled the knot on the loose tunic around her shoulders, which shrouded most of her body from sight. The tunic fell, revealing her old ceremonial armour and her bare neck, where a large, ugly scar snaked from under her chin, down her throat and over her sternum. Void magic cared not for simple armour, even if it was of excellent make. She had learnt that the hard way.
“When the Void rose from Icathia, I stood against it, as Sar’Kah of this city. We pulled out ancient artefacts from our vaults and we sacrificed them to save our homeland. Lives were lost defending Dar’khos, and I count myself lucky to be alive.” Amaunet gave the entire auditorium a long look. “Dar’khos has thrived in times of turmoil. It has turned uncertainty into an advantage. It has prospered where lesser cities would have fallen. If you give me your courage, this city will blossom. This, I vow.” And she brusquely raised a fist to her chest, the ancient Soldier’s Oath, a relic from the golden age of the Shuriman Empire. When she lowered her hand again, she saw the mood had shifted. She had conquered the beast of fear that had prowled freely in the Grand Senate. She had given them confidence.
As Sekhet took her cue and continued her explanations, Amaunet looked through the stained glass in the auditorium that depicted the city in its golden age, with spires and minarets reaching for the sky like the spirits of the very people that lived in it. The sun was setting behind the glass, and Amaunet found it surprisingly reassuring. The sun could set and ages could end, but just as certainly the sun would rise again come night’s end, and so would a new age begin.
“Dar’khos will thrive,” she muttered aloud, her gaze distant. “We are the true spirit of Shurima.”
Next: Darkness and Light