In his adventures, after he had fled from prison, Sariok and his unlikely inmates loot a besieged ancient city replete with regalia, panoplies of armor and swords, and the finest steeds. He kept the Sword of Ishmael, a blade adorned with gems and four talons perched on its hilt, steel armor with Ishmael insignia, and a skewbald horse to ride his way to freedom and riches; in the deep caverns of Mayfall rests buried treasure promised to him that would liberate his country from unsettled debts.
Sariok interacts with a palette of spirits which dwell in nature from the trees and mountains, mostly creeks. They take the shape of sprites, dryads, wildlife, and fish which bless him with luck in return for the good deeds, or curse him with nuisance and ghosts for the sins he's committed. They fixate on Sariok as a rod to draw energy, or as a pad to cushion his mind from physical pain. Because they flicker soft lights in the night they act as a lantern. His most playful spirit pollutes the air with sex pheremones.
Sariok submerges an object, person, or himself with energy. He imbues weapons with strength and resilience; horses with speed and stamina; and himself with defense and spring in his steps. Natural energy manifests through meditation. Environment plays a role in the quality and mass of the concentrated energy. Sariok's affinity is balance in all things; weaker traits are temporarily augmented to match the highest set attribute. The weakest attribute is constitution on account of his terminal illness.
Sariok is a cartographer in the Kroanor army. He was born Riok von Gottwulf II to a noble family. When his father was next in line for the mantle of Lord Chancellor, a bitter power struggle would ensue among cousins. They left the capitol and relocated to Grunewald, a remote northern island, to stay with mother. The economy went under with trade networks raising taxes overseas; in response to the decline, Gottwulf the First, to prove his merit, closed its borders and deported its cheap labor to invest in competent workers, plants, and infrastructure. The new roads stretch from city to parks where its people could bathe under the sun and frolic in the steep green hillsides. Nature replaced the old gods; the spirits flit from the rivers and trees to inspect its visitors. The howling wind swept across the land and whipped the open fields; Sariok, whetted by his appetite to explore, felt as if the land spoke to him. A long period of prosperity renders his wish to travel, but would mean going separate ways with his brother. Siku, the eldest, pursues to be a military general for the wars to come and for the sake of peace. He had an entrenched position that neither peace nor violence can exist without the other and through the threat of force can peace be maintained.
The isolation policy by virtue of its rule to repatriate outsiders put a stop to international schemes and foreign shareholders; however, Sir Gaius, a cousin of the Magnus name, ran the risk of conducting business with an Ishmael financier and foreign investor. A small noble council of Kroanor electors were slowly in thrall to Eli, one of many Ishmael bankers. Gaius eludes scrutiny of his betters once his debts were settled in secret; soon after Gottwulf retires from old age, and with his younger son miles away in the deep uninhabited wilds of Mayfall, Gaius was unanimously chosen to be regent and has embroiled the Magnus brothers on a warpath set by his handlers.
Khagan the Dragon
The dawn of the Sigismund era was decidedly the most significant change in history. A wild hunt campaign to capture and domesticate dragons, for better or worse, was known as the dragon rush. They infested and occupied most of the territory in the wilderness, the Lotus Mountain in particular, and hunters would choke the forests with smoke to draw them out. The high priesthood of Mayfall, a secret society to most, would direct its prime strategic efforts to practice eugenics by selecting the genes for its military motives. Each unit has thick hardy skin, including the drakes and wyverns, while a few dragons possess a coat insusceptible to fire, lead, and even steel. Beasts and reptiles too feral to turn were put to death with paralysis using venom extracted from Nihilis, a rare emperor Mayfall snake. Many dragons were deployed in recent wars to great effect; Ragnorak, the largest of its species, could blow through a small village with a violent sneeze.
Dragons were native to the Egrisi Range; and over time, they've plummeted into fewer numbers, treated less as an instrument of war, and more strangely as part of children's folk tales. The century old stories prophesy a dragon and its master washed ashore would sound the death knell of a bygone era.
Come sixty years in the Alistair era, a brushfire war sets the stage. Like cloudbursts, a hail and thunder of dragons descend upon an Ishmael regiment storming a moated city in Mayfall. These ancient riders defend their capitol in the aftermath of a nuclear fallout, first of its kind; and so disturbing a shock wave, the Olympus citadel was cratered to a smoking ruin.
From the end of the war to the turn of the century, a continuous deep, resonant groan was heard in a nearby cavern; an underground mine cave-in had hid cached treasure of which Sariok was sworn to keep half as his cut in exchange for its secrecy. He rode in direction of the noise, while others evacuated in fear of an impending eruption much like the fall of Olympus. He edged himself inside the yawning chasm; from deep within the shadows, he saw glints of gold in between sets of knives before him, only to see in the darkness the whites of its eyes, dark red pupils, dilated, faint ripples of smoke from the slits of its teeth; it spoke to him, crying out for help.
Its upper mandible, the dimensions of a capsized ship, cracks open for air; its wings, like shredded sails, were anchored to the floor by heavy debris. This dragon, a fifty foot wide behemoth, was stricken by lameness. It could not breathe fire or thrash its wings to fly away. Khagan, it called itself, led by its own appetite for gold was doomed for it. The tunnel ceiling walled in the creature; Sariok, suspicious of this glutton, only had to nudge rocks from its pinched limbs like a mouse dislodging a thorn from a lion's paw. He makes a deal instead to repay the kindness Ji afforded him and offers Khagan not only its freedom but its power of flight and fire. An ancient eldritch skill called Bhagavad grants him spiritual energy to stitch its holes and fuel its fire. From then on Sariok and Khagan share a destiny together as well as the bulk of the Ishmael gold.
In the Gottwulf era, Khagan is spotted diving deep waters where cargoes of precious metals are home to marine life. In the wars to come, Khagan would pursue Sariok's scent, the pungent cologne of fried tuna and sour noodles; and as unpunctual as it was, Khagan would be there for his rescue just before his foe’s final blow. Khagan enjoys its petty moments.
Rise and Fall
The Roots of Greatness
Following the global financial crisis, when Seijuro, Alturo, and Washington were bogged down in economic battles, Magnus, the capital city of Kroanor, was compelled to abandon its immigration system. The Kroanor sterling decreased in value during its recession and struck a heavy blow on its people, so much so they could not buy a loaf of bread. Gottwulf, the First Lord of Magnus, adopted isolationist policies; in the first year, job opportunities were created due to the void foreign labor left behind, the road networks were constructed to make space for infrastructure; in the second, budget townhomes were erected so cheap the poorest commoner could afford its mortgage. The people of Magnus were in tune with nature as they set up hostels from which to explore the Archaemid Woodlands, its wildlife habitats, forests, and landscape. There were no homeless, no beggars, and no criminals; peace and inter-ethnic trust was kept, as every effort was made to strengthen the mind and body, and to be free in spirit. Dryads and faeries, impressed with the care put into the flora and fauna, make their presence known.
Kroanor was booming while the Midlands and Americas were stunted by disease and recession. Far from the outskirts of Kroanor, news broke of violent revolts in the Samson deserts. Rather than use the powers of the parliament to raise an army, Gottwulf made an emphasis on culture: a depiction of a nation is derived from the family, in which the family shares blood ties, the same space, language, and experiences. By breaking down the family as individuals who have no context or frame this would invite instability in which every man, woman, and child would fend for themselves; a fate worse than revolution: the fall of an empire. The goals of Kroanor were clear: to maintain a monolithic culture and by extension resile foreign and international affairs in order to achieve neutrality. With social conservatism in order, the standards of high quality shaped every facet of human life; the upper and lower class shared the same sense of nutrition in quality food, even architecture, despite the hierarchal structure. Gottwulf believed a compassionate elite would establish a dynasty that would last a thousand years. This would include eugenics to trim the rot and dregs of the nation so that others can benefit from competent leadership.
The Puppet Masters
Known as the Order of Tszapiro, a secret society came into existence under the direction of a nobleman, Lord Wolfram, who was also the senior figure of the Knights of the Covenant, an Ishmael fellowship, and an accomplice to Sir Eli, the head of the Rosenwick bank. In its earliest stage to plan global rule, a letter to Ishmael, written by Lord Wolfram, conveys the significance with which its ancient religion is blessed: its people, faith, psychology, and culture were one with the soil; the land itself promised to them by God; in fact, its accomplished disciples pray in unison worldwide, share their homes as a place of worship, and justify crimes of the highest order as preemptive self-defense. The financial network of bankers manipulated foreign governments to officially approve this chosen covenant in its literature and legislation. Wolfram deploys a number of operatives to establish lobbies which sympathize with its territories, sacred laws, rites, and faith and had them implanted in the Americas, the Continental Alphos, the Midlands, the Egrisi Range, and the Archaemid Woodlands; excepting, of course, the other Fertile Crescent nations, Samson, Khasar, Babylon, and Terran, lands which Ramigora, the King of Ishmael, ruled by decree to be annexed. It never occurred to others that the purpose of the expansion was to establish an international trade hub at the epicentre of the world. Its religious undertones was not only to project divine protection; but to act as a legitimator of its progressively jingoistic actions.
Under the counsel of the Ashen Knights, an Ishmael agency, the Ehren Guild society emerges as an intelligence operation against humanist forces from Western nations to the Mediterraneans. The Ehren Guild did not surface as architects of global enterprise until its sixtieth anniversary, but its roots were traceable to the dissolution of the family, republics, autarkies, and free markets. The ambitious members of the guild unlike most conquests in the field of battle sought to attain the means necessary to influence Washington from within. The president was bribed an offer to recruit moles, controlled opposition, and political grifters within the Grand Old Party. The GOP partisan talking points shifted from republic orthodoxies and slowly crept into a political spectrum that typically agrees with its most severe critics; from speeches to policies, the inner cabal pulled the strings to put them out of action. The relationship between Washington and Ishmael special interests were soon interwoven in one fell swoop; Congress, the executive branch, and its foreign policy advisors were under the overall control of the Rosenwick banking family.
Ishmael nationals were given carte blanche to extort money and build cybersecurity firms to make problems, where none exists, and sell steep solutions to its victims. Oftentimes, Gigmeres, or non-Ishmaels, were in the employ of their schemes to make ends meet. A law was set in stone to enforce charges on prejudice against Ishmael business, in spite of the freedom of expression; in rare cases, Ishmael nationals would come clean about spy operations and usury practices, but they never see the light of day on account of their sustained grip on the courts of justice. Because the incurred loan debts were owed to a disproportionate class of Ishmael upstarts, a widespread fear aroused suspicions of a conspiracy; for the first time, the Ehren Guild were a scapegoat; as a result, the Ishmael population, felt the need to attend intellectual debates, as much as possible with vim and unabated vigor, to push for the basic tenets of Liberalism, rights of the few, culture of tolerance, and more strongly incensed the political climate with concepts of racial hierarchy, class warfare, and economic inequality.
There was no shortage of critique aimed at the culture and traditions of Washington; the Grand Old Party was a mere shadow of its former self for, in order to survive the onslaught of criticism and clarion calls for change, it became a financial hub of chicken-hawks in support of Ishmael's qualitative, military edge. For the next century, the Washington media became a propaganda arm of the Liberal elite whose segments were to blur the lines between a republic and a democracy. It is through this leverage that they may shake off the American vipers who seek their expulsion.
Conquered by Thieves
The quiet death of Gottwulf would have been both a spur and reward of the banking enterprise. However, with no current viceroy to rule in his stead, a bedridden King required a regent; three candidates were in position to jockey for power of which two were his sons: Siku, a seasoned military general, Sariok, a cartographer in the Magnus army, and Gaius, a highborn wastrel. The House of Kroanor had a small council of nobles whose privilege elects the new emperor. These electors comprise the elements of the nation from the spiritual, secular, and military blocs; the era of peace deeply affected the opinion of the candidates, but the debts amassed by Gaius in his recent diamond mine exploits could not be ignored. Gaius blames the King for deporting his workers. Siku pontificates to the council that law, order, and military insight necessarily brings peace to the region. For Sariok, the naturalist, free from the tethers of royal duty, was on a voyage of exploration, deep in the uncharted forests between Mayfall and Magnus. There, he conserved and mapped the area.
This election was not kept dark from the world. The diamond mine projects set up by Gaius went under on a gradual decline as cheap foreign labor was effectively nixed. The banking tycoon Eli from Ishmael, a member of the Order of Tszapiro, purchases Gaius out from under his debt and sponsors his claim to power. Eli invests in the gemstones and campaigns a marketing ploy to make diamonds a symbol of love and commitment. To consummate the success of their riches, Eli betroths his daughter, Avigail, to Sir Gaius from the House of Magnus. The royal marriage between the two dynasties gained the momentum to bury the two candidates out of contention. Gaius unanimously becomes regent.
The first order of business was no small feat: Gaius was to open the gates of Kroanor to ensure money flow; second order, Gaius, with the guidance of his council of foreign relations, was to agitate the people of Samson with regime change; the final order, pledge to serve the Ishmael cause with the blood and lives of his people. For every mistake Gaius would make along the way, a penance would be issued, each one worse than before, sooner or later building up to a great depression and costing the integrity of the nation and its security. The media conglomerate owned by various Ishmael financiers played a role in war propaganda using sworn testimony by Ishmael journalists; threats of insurgency to topple the monarchy, an increasing bounty on the head of Gaius, and resorts of nuclear strikes were but a few stories from the rumor mill. The doubts of these claims tarnished the reputation of Gaius; even so, the board of foreign advisors, an eclectic mix of neoconservatives and secular types, pushed for an immediate invasion in the name of democracy.
There was a relative lull in violence between the two belligerents; Samson fortifies their defenses and Magnus hangs fire. The Order of Tszapiro and Ashen Knights of Ishmael funds the Cherubim militant group led by Kikyon to spearhead the insurgency; in response, Samson organizes a separate militia led by Oemnas in coalition with Babylon and Terran forces known as Gilgamesh. The photos of dismembered civilians and coalition forces set on fire were released to news agencies to rile up their viewers. Radio quickly became a recruitment tool for the imminent stage of conflict. With a tight rein on media coverage, the financiers of global press ensured a moral outrage would ensue; by censoring live feeds and stifling the efforts of foreign influence, this would pressure military intervention from Washington.
The combined force of Washington and Cherubim broke the artillery regiment within Samson walls that held a stranglehold on the Magnus army. The Battle of Gilgamesh shed enough blood to stain the deserts. Over a quarter million were killed, with low civilian casualties, as they mostly fled to Terran. A Washington-Magnus joint force occupied Samson, contemplating the fate of its King, Anubis, and installing a new government to draft a constitution fit for democracy. In a plenum between the secret society members, the Samson petroleum industry and agricultural enterprise became an Ishmael monopoly overnight. A sectarian conflict brews over the execution of Anubis; Ishmael forms the Oathkeepers to answer for the suicide bombing of a Samson prison releasing convicts, nobles, and senior military figures.
Gaius, Siku, Sariok, and a handful of higher military officials swore allegiance to Ishmael. They make up a fraction of the Oathkeepers and issue round-the-table talks in war rooms. Responsible for multiple base operations, they create autonomous zones from which to deploy sorties on enemy regimes. In the event they are called to battle, they assume different positions: Gaius leads the cavalry; Siku commands airship fleets; and Sariok remains a scout in the battlefield. From the outskirts of Khasar, Siku drops munitions as a preemptive strike on specified targets. This method of attack avoids the problem of civilian casualty which spares Khasar the decision to retaliate; in the wars to come, Khasar becomes an extension of Ishmael to cast a wider net for success in taking Terran.
A Raewulf publishing company in Washington is fed tapes of the Samson conflict. The casettes they released sparks debate among the people. Think tanks become involved to reshape public perception of the war. The seeds of patriotism, where terror fails, are sowed into institutions and the media; Ishmael, a private benefactor of the bloodshed, makes certain their veneer of pacifism hides their insidious purpose in the public eye. They campaign for a public outreach asking employers to review blanket statements of xenophobia and to monitor calls for revenge in the Fertile Crescent. The upcoming 250th American election draws near. President Vargas fails to bridge the issues between the two major camps, one protesting for peace and the other drumming for war; thus, his reelection slips from his grasp. Rashad, kept on a tight leash by the Rosenwick family, campaigns for the promise to pursue terrorists in earnest. And so, he becomes the president with groundlings rallying to his adulation.
In the first year of his term, Rashad is met with tactics of heavy resistance. The source for the war efforts slowing to a crawl came from the ranks of his own administration; an analyst by the name of Ji made these setbacks not for the public weal but for his own selfish vindictive reasons. Terran, in virtue of this wrinkle, became an oasis in the Fertile Crescent, as they make the most out of the military diasporas and flocking war orphans. Because of the strained relationship between Rashad and his reactionary base, a total war with Terran was off the table; three years into his term, a Washington base in Samson spots and assassinates Oemnas, a Terran military leader, for which he takes credit to secure his reelection.
Kingston, the Rosenwick banker, funnels money into organizations which focus on foreign policy. The coordinated effort to promote regime change was thinly disguised under moral clarity and military leadership; the central plank of the agenda was to retool the old stories of fascism and apartheids to make them relevant for antiwar academics; at one point, Terran was represented as a tyranny oppressing those who fled warzones into its camps. To make aggressive political gains, one program subjects its people with the anxiety of persecution and the end of democracy. On the eve of winter, Washington joins forces with Magnus, Ishmael, and the Kikyon mercenaries to fight the Terran regime, supported by Samson, Babylon, Mayfall, and Seijuro.
The war jumps from city to city and threats of last resorts were carried out. This brought the death tolls from cross border clashes to three million. Ji, who has the power to shapeshift, is enlisted as a military personnel under Ishmael service; he scouts the remains of an airbase operation where an injured Siku hangs from a deflated Zeppelin. Sariok's brother, Siku, reveals to Ji before his death his plans to betray Ishmael with the help of the surviving mercenaries and a disgruntled body of vulgarians. Ji dances to the tune of wealth and changes sides. Their operations unfold overseas where they spread fear and strike points of interest as part of a wider plot to rob the gold and precious metals during wartime.
A series of accusations are levied against the Kingdom of Mayfall where Ji hid most of the gold bullion. Ishmael personally sends the Knights of the Covenant to advance on the Olympus fortress, a bastion of Mayfall trade. When their plans went awry, the Oathkeepers, led by Gaius, act as a battering ram to come for their rescue. The three parties, after a year long conflict, proceed with negotations of peace: the Knights offer Mayfall a share of gold once recovered; Mayfall denies charges of involvement; Oathkeepers ask the Knights for their independence from Ishmael; the Knights rebuke the presumptuous folly to break from their influence.
The Oathkeepers break the faith; the Oathbreakers form, led by Sariok, as its firebrand, who then make their escape to the montane forests. Sariok finds Ji inside a cave reflecting on the coins and bars of gold where they devise a compromise. He returns to Magnus where Ishmael officers ambush and accuse his unit for desertion and resisting arrest. A final clash between Ishmael and Mayfall result in a nuclear fallout that woke ancient beasts from their slumber. A fleet of dragon riders splits open the clouds and gashes through Ishmael air support and land forces. Ishmael warns Magnus to extradite the Oathbreakers to their custody who are promptly taken to a prison ship called Novu. Ji, free from the suspicions of Ishmael nobility, liberates the prisoners of war and becomes a captain of raiders, thieves, traitors, and mercenaries. In the forefront of the attack on Ishmael, Ji and his recruits rob the lives of Ishmael nobles and the undefended palace loaded with regalia, armor, swords, and horses.
At the time of the new world order, Washington plays with the idea to rule with an iron hand, Magnus purges its cosmopolitan elements from the council, the dragons become a bulwark against the invasion of Mayfall, and Seijuro, now that Ji and his band of thieves have the wherewithal, extracts precious materials in the African plains for very handsome pay. These rare metals would help found the Nova Space Federation two decades later. In between from then to the frontiers of space exploration, Sariok returns to the Mayfall cavern and finds more than he bargained for: he befriends a hermit dragon crushed beneath a fall of rocks and its teeth peppered with his gold and silver.
The world at the palm of his hands, Ji commands his personal fleet to travel to his galaxy and interface with the rulers of Mightagrux, a class of warriors, led by Grendel Ashakra. Sariok did not know at the time but he would not only become the greatest rival to pose a threat to Ji, his captain, but also become the regent for Ji's archnemesis and adoptive father, the late Drakon Ashakra, whom Ji had murdered. Til that day comes, Sariok spends most of his time in a dragon sanctuary, a popular resort in Mt. Lotus, made out of hot springs.