Itabil il Cori, first of his dynasty, quickly walked the temple corridor. Iyye, his court seneschal, followed him, resplendent in her white doublet. She had been a prophet bound to the temple once but had withdrawn herself from the retinue of His Radiance to follow the teachings of Oyubas il Yiyubas. The man was the last heir of the very ancient dynasty of Yiyubas and a self-proclaimed priest of a non-existent religion. The wandering pedagogue had traveled from the free cities of Ish to Daedor, the kingdom of Aia to the Acehillst synods of Ynodiu, even making his way to the even-more-ancient arcology of B' inside the ice-shelf on the western coast of the larger peninsula of Ad itself. Unfortunately, the man was shredded to pieces in front of his two disciples (which he named Iyye and Kiyye) by a Grask'il. A shame. If Iyye was to be believed, Oyubas il Yiyubas had a neural-input port that he had installed into himself and his disciples. He had, upon his death, attempted a complete drive transfer to Kiyye's neural input. Unfortunately, Kiyye was not willing to let Oyubas il Yiyubas rummage around inside of her head, and put a revolver round through her temple.

"My lord, I cannot guarantee that the ritual will work. These rites date back to long before the collapse of the Grand Inos of yore."

Itabil laughed dismissively. "They will work -- and if not, I'll hardly have your head for it."

They had reached the end of the hallway. A simpering priest stood before them as though he had been expecting their arrival. "H-hello, my lord. My name is Yrylliu il-, erm, just Yrylliu. I will escort you and your . . . consort, if you will follow me."

The man, after giving Iyye a look of disdain, spun on his heels and began walking at a swift pace. Itabil, though a monarch, was merely a guest in the house of a temple far wealthier and more powerful than his small kingdom, so he followed without speaking a word. This type of behavior was to be anticipated and tolerated, he had been debriefed beforehand. Iyye left the Radiant Temple. By extension, she had evoked their ire. It was expected and justifiable that they would treat her contemptuously. So long as they didn't burn her alive at the Centrality, neither of them would utter a word.

Itabil had beheaded Ragnar il Ause on horseback. The baron knew his hold was damned and fled the skirmish to hide behind high walls while his men defected or were put to the sword. The man fled like a dog. Disgusting. He charged his horse and beheaded Ragnar with one decisive sweep of his poleaxe-bardische, single-handedly ending the war with the dynasty of Ause. (By extension, he ended the dynasty itself, evoking ire among the baronies.) He thus founded his kingdom in the ancestral lands of Ause, putting a chokehold on all imports entering Aia from the eastern cities of Ish and Ish'kk'a. He had arranged for the Temple to service him in storing the head, as a neutral (and highly feared) party they were the most secure and least dangerous way for him to store the head.

They had reached the end of the corridor, which opened up into a massive hall. Chrome pillars rose like giants to either side of him. A seemingly infinite number of chrome pedestals lined the walls, polished to perfection. There were other priests in the room, many of them scattered in small groups, but they paid them no mind. Yrylliu walked a short distance before stopping, walking to a pedestal, and picking up a black box.

"This is your h-head. Not your head. Ragnar's head. This is Ragnar's head."

Itabil opened the box. Ragnar's head was all black and wrinkled. Having been embalmed, it could hardly rot, so it had shrunk in on itself and dried out. It still had Ragnar's look, his nose, his beard, his long matted hair. The mouth was stitched closed. He could still remember the day he manned the parapets of Ragnar il Ause's old hold, could remember the stench of his banners burning. He had hung the golden eagle of his dynasty himself, manning every parapet and climbing every bastion in succession.

"Shall we burn, my lord?"

"Let's get this ordeal over with."

Without a word, they turned to leave. The room had become quieter and he was getting looks from the priests. Some looks were fearful, others angry, others merely curious. He had single-handedly started a war with the baronies of Aia and established a kingdom and dynasty that could rival the king's own. His renown had spread throughout the land by now, this city was no exception.

Dozens of men at arms stood around the Centrality, the personal retinue and house guard of Cori. Itabil opened the box once more and removed the head of Ragnar from the box. A thousand soft shadows danced all around them as he placed the head on the pyre. Candles surrounded them, but none were as bright as the ever-burning spheres of fire that comprised the eyes of the statue of His Radiance, which stood behind the pyre.

Iyye stepped forward. Her Radial Palmar Incendiary was going to be used to light the pyre -- a cybernetic implant from the days she was a member of the temple. She held her arms before her, her hands seemed to twitch and grotesquely convulse, and flames shot forth from her palms. Flames roared to life around the pyre, consuming the stone slab and the head itself instantly. Fire raced across the oil canals in the smooth stone floor, all the way to the walls on either side of the Centrality.

Iyye began, "We ask, Oh Radiance, for your divine hand. We ask that all providence bestowed upon the ancient and feared dynasty of Ause is given to the ever-noble and worthy dynasty of Cori, that the strength of His Radiance would shine upon Itabil il Cori and his kin, that his dynasty will last a thousand generations."

Many more would come up to initiate the rites, but Itabil felt nothing other than weary. He wanted it to be over. He wanted Aia to fall. He wanted the campaign to end.

He wanted peace.

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