Adunthor leaned against the stone rail of his balcony, looking across the harsh landscape that surrounded his city. The long, desolate plains and bleak red bluffs of Qendar spread out from the city like a dull red wave. The sun burned high above, its heat baking the stones and sands of the landscape, pressing like a physical force on any living thing that moved.
The city defied the bleak surroundings, rising tall and white from the cracked red earth. Built from limestone and marble painstakingly brought hundreds of leagues to form its walls, the city gleamed in the fierce sun. The city was checkered with smaller buildings, made of adobe, whitewashed in imitation of the great towers and palaces in its center. A patina of red dust caked every surface, driven in by the winds which howled across the floors of the canyons and valleys of the great wastes. The city shone like a great jewel, and buzzed with the lives of its occupants. Hundreds of thousands called its walls home, and thousands more traveled through, bringing trade goods and tribute to the center of the Qendarian Empire. Adunthor smiled as he watched a train of porters and pack animals begin to filter into the gates of the city, bearing tribute from one of the vassal lands. Each kernel of grain, each common slave, and each carefully transported fruit acknowledged the superiority of the forces of Qendar. Adunthor liked knowing that his people were obeyed without hesitation—it was a sign of his own power.
Adunthor turned away from the edge and strode back into his chambers, the office still feeling new to him even after six months. So many years of careful manoeuvering and planning had finally delivered him into the seat of the Viceroy. The Council of the Twelve had elected him to it on the death of Tandros, who had held it for the last twenty two years. Adunthor had been finishing routing the Caftan tribesmen from their fertile plains in the west when the summons had come. From the High General to the seat of ultimate power in one bound had shown the time and influence Adunthor had so carefully built, starting even when they had first arrived in the arid land. He sat and waited for the ambassadors from Thephias to enter. A slight smile twitched at the corner of his mouth and his eyes shone in anticipation of the meeting. After two frustrating years of indecisive warfare, he would taste his first victory.
The Thephian ambassadors were escorted in by Adunthor's aide and seated comfortably before any words were exchanged. The white haired leader of the envoy sat relaxed, content to let the Viceroy speak first. Adunthor waited in annoyance for a moment and began.
"Gentlemen, we have been engaged in a senseless and destructive conflict for too long now, and I feel some sort of resolution is needed." Adunthor's deep voice filled the air, and resonated in the small office.
"Certainly," Replied the old man with a nod of his grizzled head. "Withdraw your forces and leave our borders and we will live in peace with you once again."
"Now Lucivious, you sound as if we are the only party at fault here. Your violent attacks on our citizens started this conflict."
"Our citizens are not used to being rounded up as slaves or robbed of their property by armed bands of thugs. I believe our response was quite justified."
"I must take offense to the classification of our soldiers as thugs."
"What do you call a group of men who pillage, rape and destroy at leisure then?" Lucivious' tart response seemed to please Adunthor.
"Depending on their timing, I'd call them patriots."
Lucivious sighed and stood. "If you have nothing further than a wish to review the war between us Adunthor, I shall leave it in the hands of my assistants. I am tired and the noonday heat is wearing heavily on me."
Adunthor's smile turned cruel as he passed a packet of papers over to Lucivious. "Perhaps this will interest you. Just before dawn this morning, a specially picked and led group of my warriors and battle casters entered and took your main airship base on Triton's Peak. A servant opened the gates along the south cliff and allowed us to gain access. There is a letter from your Commander Morcious detailing our victory and the destruction of most of Thephia's air fleet. After the capture of the Peak, three waves of airships attacked the fortress towns of Caliph, Besphurous and the port of Karliss. Supported by ground forces, the three locations are now in Qendarian hands. With their capture, the entire Berivia plains are open to us and the heart of Thephia is exposed."
Lucivious's two assistants gasped in horror but the old man merely nodded. "What are your demands?"
"Simple. If Thephia lays down its arms and surrenders itself as a vassal state of the Qendar Empire, it will be allowed to exist. Should you wish to fight, we will enslave and destroy every last citizen in your borders."
"You will turn over all weapons and disband your armies. Your troops will enter into the foreign forces of the Qendar armies and be sent to areas for retraining and orientation. The state will pay an annual tribute of two-tenths of its yearly production in all goods and will turn over its library and research to the far seekers at their guildhall here in Qendar in the next month. All military boats will be scuttled and all airships turned over the Qendar Air Navy." Adunthor smiled at the ambassador. "I have been frustrated many times at the borders of your obstinate country. It is fitting that it should fall due to one of its own 'enlightened' citizens."
"I must confer with my leaders about the terms of our surrender."
"You have five days to finalize before we begin to destroy all you have built. Move swiftly." Adunthor motioned and the three men were ushered from the room. He unrolled a map and spread it flat on his desk. With Thephia subjugated, the entire eastern coast was now his and the west was protected from attack. Now, he thought with great relish, it is time to turn our attention south again to our former home. He picked up a piece of red chalk from a dish in the corner of the desk, and very carefully drew a thick circle around the nation of Tierceron.