The following chapter starts with about a page of exposition. No idea where that came from.
As No plot? No problem! told me not to erase stuff I hate I shall keep it here and kick it out during revision later. If you find your self with your eyes glazing over because nothing happens just keep on reading until you reach the line of asterisks
Chapter 4 Good intentions
There where many strange nations under the skyshell. The Nomad Empire was among the strangest of them all. Not quite a unsettling as the Living City but certainly even more exotic than Alashana then tamed desert and with a history that was stranger than that of the Meritocracy of the Order of Reason.
The Nomad Empire had started out as a collection of wandering tribes that had little in common but their tendency to roam broadly the same region in a past so far removed from the present as to be basically lost to memory. During the rise of the precursor civilisations which were the seed of progress that gradually led to the wonders of the present day the nomads found themselves threatened by the strangest enemy they had ever faced. The comforts of the sedentary cultures that had ensnared them. This almost meant the end of these once proud and free peoples as they lost their youth to the lures of the cities, to the temptations that came from not having to go out and search for water and hunt for food. So the elders of the tribes convened to find a way to survive this attack by an enemy that could not be fought with weapons.
After weeks of discussions, fights and honourable duels to the death they found an answer so easy that it shocked them that they had not thought of it from the very beginning. They decided that instead of waiting for the other civilisations to come and swallow them they would instead walk into them, learn of their ways, take their advantages and learn from their mistakes. So, the elders reasoned, in time they would become the most advanced of all the civilisations, friends to all enemy to none, always wandering in the way their revered ancestors had done.
Now thousands of years later the Nomad Empire was one of the greatest empires of all. It moved freely over the world. Its people wandering from city to city, from home to home always carrying their empire with them. The Nomad's had never fought a war of aggression for their realm coexisted with every other. Only a very few times did they have to fight wars of defence. Usually when the citizens of one kingdom became envious of the Nomad people or looked for a scape-goat for their present problems, the Nomads simply vanished into the night, taking with them their knowledge, their skills and their riches.
The only greater conflict happened when the prejudice against the Nomads had spread over several kingdoms. At this time they stopped their retreat and stood firm. This was in the time when man had tamed the flowstone giving him the ability to build floating islands that where his to control. Soon the skies of the aggressors where doted with embassy islands which bombarded the castles of the their attackers from the sky.
It was at this time that the Nomad Emperor decided to move from the ground to the sky. Taking a large chunk from the soil which they considered their original home territory he built his castle there ripping it from the ground using high magic. Now the Emperor had his a fortress but would not stop wandering all over the planet staying true to the tradition of his ancestors.
It was not long after that first the Elder of the different Castes of the Nomad Empire built their flying homes, followed by the most affluent Nomads. Today the Nomad Empire whose centre always is the Imperial Island overlaps many nations on the ground and dots the skies above them.
Elder of the Traveller Caste Kalasna was fidgeting with the cuffs of her silken robe. She always did that when she was nervous, impatient or irritated. Today she was all of it. She was waiting for Lahagnun Elder of the Hunter Caste to arrive. She was used to having to wait for the Elders of the other Castes who did not take her profession seriously. After all the Travellers had only appeared after the Empire had started moving into other nations. And had built the floating homes of the Empire. And had pretty much come up with every technical advancement since then. But noooo. They were the youngest Caste and hardly necessary anyway.
If it had been up to Elder Kalasna the other casts would have been abolished long ago. How could you be proud of an ancestry that had still marvelled over the miracle of toilets and had probably preferred to go out into the bushes for the next hundred years or so because is was more traditional. She snorted in disgust. She had expected better from the leader of the Hunter Caste. After all they had been the red-headed stepchild for almost as long as the Travellers were.
Once the Empire had moved into the cities of the other kingdoms the Hunters were no longer needed and had become the de facto army and police force for the Nomad. A mostly symbolic position seeing that the Nomads were usually protected by the police and military of the nations they were visiting at any given time anyway. Nations who did not take kindly to foreign armed forces. They did not even get the prestige that came from protecting the emperor. The royal family who governed the Empire and its many off-shoots who provided the diplomatic corps were not protected by the smelly hunters. They were protected by the Emperor's Bodyguard who were recruited from one ancient family and them alone.
Today was an important day for both the Travellers and the Hunters. Today they might be able to strike a deal that would secure them the recognition that both there castes were owed for a long time now. That would of course only happen if Elder Lahagnun could stoop to appear here more or less in time.
Elder Kalasna was coming up with her third theory about the biologically challenging ancestry of Elder Lahagnun, when he walked through the door. The Hunter a small slightly twitchy man in an armour that hinted at a powerful body that he clearly did not posses had an expression that Elder Kalasna liked to call 'lemon face'. The internationally accepted facial expression of those who tried to swallow something they did not really enjoy.
"Elder Lahagnun, what a joy to see you here. Only 15 minutes late. When we are having a very important guest waiting for us." she greeted him smiling with a disapproving smile she had perfected raising four generations of children.
"Don't give me that shit Kalasna. Do you think I came late on purpose?" the Elder of the Caste of Hunters hid in his diminutive body a voice so deep that it could crush stones to dust and shatter bones.
"So. What happened today? Did you fall of your island and had to walk all the way back up?"
Lahagnun had to fight the urge to slap some sense into Kalasna while she was contemplating if it would not be a good idea to use his lemon face to make some lemonade. While both the Elders still marvelled at the fact that the person in front of them was supposed to be the representative of the cast they had the most in common with, another door opened and Qumro the personal secretary of Elder Kalasna came in. He paused for a moment sensing that he had just stepped into a war zone but he had learned long ago to counter his superiors legendary foul moods with the most deadpan professionalism.
"Revered Elder Lahagnun." he bowed before the one other Elder in the Nomad Empire with the reputation to have the kindness of a striped Alashanan hunting spider with a peptic ulcer. "I am honoured to be witness to your indomitable presence." Lahagnun grunted smirking into Qumro's general direction. "Revered Mother, our visitor has now finished his tour through your palace. As instructed we have seated him in the dining room for the most honoured guests. Will you see him now?"
"Yes, Qumro we are on our way." Kalasna answered. "Please announce to our guest that we will be shortly with her."
"I hear and obey, Revered Mother." Qumro vanished back through the door happy to leave the Elders to kill each other with their disdain.
"I hope this is worth it." rumbled Elder Lahagnun.
"Of course it is. I've done my research. This will open up some very interesting new avenues for us. If we play our cards right today we will be able to recruit allies in the House of Merchants and the House of Guides." Elder Kalasna was now calming down again. When the situation called for it she could go from raging wildfire to glacial calm in the blink of an eye. Now that things were moving against according to the plan. Her plan. Her temper was cooling down considerably.
"I can see the Merchants joining us. Greedy little fuckers. But the Guides? Really? Are they not you sworn enemies?" asked Lahagnun who was trying to scratch an itch just beyond his reach under his breast plate as they walked out of the door into a luxurious corridors that was all polished stone, columns and impressive frescoes.
"Oh they will. While they are a bunch of stuck up bastards there are some among them, especially the younger generation that recognized that their glory years have long since gone. Who needs guides these days? We know all ways, all routes everything."
"Well there is still a lot of uncharted land in the Inner World." suggested Lahagnun who had taken out the ceremonial dagger our of its sheath, trying to carefully scratch that horrid itch without cutting himself.
"Oh please. How exactly are they going to lead us through the Inner World if they have no idea where they are going?"
"Well it is their duty to explore new terrain and open it up for the other casts. Is it not?" he finally reached the itch. "Aaaah." he sighed as he finally found some relief. Followed by a louder "Arrrgh!" after he accidentally nicked his skin with the knife.
"One of these days you should learn not to use a weapon as a general tool Elder Lahagnun."
"pfff. Just a scratch."
Elder Kalasna shook her head. She thought about comforting her companion with a bit of a sarcasm, but they had arrived at their destination and now was the time to put any difference aside. When they talked to strangers the Nomads stood as one. What ever trouble they had among each other stayed there.
She opened the door to an opulent room that had three walls that were just windows showing a breathtaking panorama of all the land far below the floating island that housed Elder Kalasna's residence. Inside the room stood a large black table that had been carved out of a giant slab of onyx. decorated with intricate patterns that were characteristic for the Traveller Caste. On the table stood a large crystal bowl overflowing with fruit that stood in bright contrast to the darkness of the table and a large crystal jug of water that glistened in the sunlight to great effect. There were four chairs set on one side of the table leaving the view outside undisturbed. In one of the chairs sat a solitary figure clad in a simple but expensive looking midnight blue cloak.
"Elder Lahagnun, may I present you the Sage Sree." as Kalasna said that the figure at the table rose in a fluid vaguely disturbing motion. The person in front of them turned around. When Lahagnun First Elder of the Caste of Hunters saw the face of the stranger he had to use all his experience as a veteran warrior not to take a step back. Instead of a face the visitor had a white porcelain mask that covered the entire face leaving no holes for eyes, nose nor mouth but had the outlines of a face carved into it. Which while a bit eccentric was nothing that would have shocked the old warrior. What did was that the mask shifted from a neutral expression with the sound of grinding chalk into a wide unnatural smile.