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The Aurum Throne

The Next Pha're

After it becomes apparent the health of the leader of Khmst’ashkal is failing and would never recover, the members of the Quarahm began to vie for position in the next reign. Many may fight to lead. In the end, only one can live.

Key terms and ideas: 

Pharesses—The citystate/township/area controlled by the Pha’re. 

Pha’re—The lone male and de-facto leader/figurehead of the Pharesses. 

Quarahm—The group of Qua’rah that report to and/or manipulate the Pha’re and handle the day to day operation of the Pharesses. 

Qua’rah—The women of the Pharesses, nominally 1/40 of the population. 

Mah’ten—The balance of the population of the pharesses, they are genderless workers/drones/warriors/other; they generally stay out of politics, but will lean toward direct parentage. 

Transitory—A Qua’rah in the midst of turning into a Pha’re, nominally 1/7 of the quarahm during the vying for position phase. Pronouns male/female/transition/nueter: he/she/Tea/mei, him/her/tyre/mer, his/hers/terse/merse. 

Quatrahn—A qua’rah in the midst of or near the end of transition, but without the probability of gaining or having a pharesses, generally a derogatory term as the speaker considers the distinct possibility of failure.

Pha-tan—Fully transitioned Pha’re without a Pharesses, not always derogatory, some don’t want to lead or have responsibilities. 

Pha-than—less derogatory term for a Pharesses-less Pha’re, usually reserved for a latter stage transitory who wished to build their own society rather than rest on their ancestors loreals.

We all knew it was due to happen any time. In fact, some amongst us considered it odd transitions hadn’t already started. Tolmeht IX, my eldest sibling and current Pha’re of Khmst’ashkal, was ailing. Our once proud leader was no longer able to fulfill the duties of his position. Unfortunately, he was soon to depart his body altogether. Sad as it was, this was a fact of life, even for Pha’re. No one could live forever; none knew this more than the Mah-ten, whose short lives were certainly a whirlwind of living. The shortest lived of us, they had to cram a lot into a short time. As for a Pha’re, whose long lives witnessed the departures of more than a few generations, it was certainly a lonely life. Each pharesses had their own traditions; some people even chose to live outside of the constraints of civilization, and even provided the trade that was vital to all. For us in Khmst’ashkal, our Pha’re sat on the Aurum Throne. When one departed, a new Pha’re should be ready to take their seat.

It was common knowledge that none could force a transition; once started, it also couldn’t be stopped. There were many horror stories of Qua’rah that tried both and died painfully. So, with no sign of any transition beginning within the Quarahm, we assumed there was time. Some wanted to transition, some didn’t, but desire was irrelevant. Whomever fate chose had to be ready or the Pharesses would perish. We had all been on a constant vigil since Tohlmet had taken ill. We were all hoping to get ahead of any pacts before any could sneak up on us. During normal days, backstabbing and courtly maneuvers were common, as natural as the three suns. However, transitory periods brought out the worst in Qua’rah. The longer a transitory period, the bloodier it could get, and the more the Mah-ten would suffer. We had to keep them content and working, not afraid of tomorrow. Or, as proved in the past, the Pharesses would be doomed.

In my own youth, I had fantasized about becoming Pha’re, I guess most did at some point. I wanted to change the world with science and technology. I wanted to light the light of reason as a beacon to the future. But now I was old, longest lived Qu’rah I knew of. I knew I was set in my ways, and transitioning forced habits to change. Not to mention, a radical transformation of a living body was, at times, hazardous. Transitioning was also not for the too young, as they had no idea how things go normally and could drive civilization to dust. Only those in mid-life were just, wise, and youthful enough to drive a thriving civilization.

This morning, I had unusual vigor—something was happening, and soon. I went over the possibilities of who could be friend or foe in the coming days, as I did most days. As I readied for the morning’s events, I ignored my own body. Why fret over the impossible? I considered the strengths and weaknesses of those I thought most likely to transition; who to support and who to force to fail. Who I would support would have a great influence on the future. I was full-lived, and had clutched many of the eggs of the population. My input would be invaluable…

“My Qua’rah,” started my aid, one from one of my first clutches, “Might I compliment you on your spirit? You are quite alight. Sleep well?”

Mah-ten had no drive, but they did have an eye for changes. Being short-lived, they had to. Khaltan’s remarks forced me to look over my form. The changes were small, and distinct. There was no denying that I had started a transition. I thought, I hoped, I was too old for this.

“So, it begins.” I sighed.

“What are you suggesting…” Khaltan started before mei realized, “Mi’lady, are you…”

“Yes, Kahl.” I just barely kept from grumbling, “I am officially in the running to take the Aurum Throne.”

“I don’t understand, is that not a great honor?” Kahltan grimaced, “Yours will be the genes of the future…”

“If I survive. Transitioning is for the much younger, the ones that can adapt quicker.”

“But you have the greatest advantage.” Kahltan assured, “You know the whole of the Pharesses and all within, you are well versed in Quarahm law, and your genes are already majority…”

“And the Quarahm also knows me and some are not bogged down habit. But your confidence is comforting.” I assured mer, “I’ll be heading out early. See too it you and the rest are at the festival’s opening.”

*****

The festival opening was to be held in the Grand Field of The Three Light, named in our earliest days, when we worshipped our three suns as gods. While theism still had a hold, we were moving in the right direction, at least; some Pharesses still had the three gods, amongst others. The field was well worn but maintained and was large enough that our entire population could fit in neat files if we wished. The Grand Field was set up in the middle of a triangle made up of of the Ziggurats of: Reh, representing the largest of our stars; of Ra, representing the next largest, the yellow star; and Atumn, the smallest red star. Naturally, the ziggurat of Reh was the grandest of the pyramids, and was the center of attention.

As I entered the field from one of the service entrances, I was greeted by some of the Mah-ten workers making certain everything would run smoothly, despite the cloud of uncertainty over the state of Tohlmeht.

“A little early for the festivities, aren’t you, Helena?” Mocked Baste, one of my frenemies in the Quarahm.

She was not one of my siblings, or even in my lineage. She was one of the rogue outsiders Tohlmeht had accepted into our family. A few years ago she had earned her place in the Quarahm, and had made great strides in proving herself, and of course, improving the Pharesses. Like many rogues-come-citizens, she was a bit older than the median age of Qua’rah, yet still youthful enough.

Like me, she had piercing blue eyes, but that was where the similarities ended. Her jet-black fur was quite at odds with my own off-white with greying black spots. Though she was half a head shorter than me, she maintained she was tall for her home Pharesses. While we were both scientists, my specialties were in chemistry and materials, and she was an agriculture and animal sciences major.

“At my age,” I shrugged cagily, “One has to allow extra time to get from point A to B. Never know when one will have to take a break…”

She looked me over, scented the air. She realized what was happening.

 “Oh yeah, transitioning must be so hard.”

She was one that would accept a change, if it helped her, but wasn’t going to seek it. She felt anything could be used by those who were smart enough to take initiative. I liked that about her, but at times, like-minded people experienced friction between them.

“Well, when it’s all over, I’d be glad to show you how hard it can be.” I shrugged.

“Tempting as that may be,” she scoffed, “One has to survive transition first, and the elderly seldom do.”

Light slowly crept up the ziggurat. It was only minutes until Reh climbed above the horizon. Leisurely at first, then with increasing quantity and vigor, more of the Qua’rah and Mah-ten arrived to take their place. I observed carefully as the infield filled. I had to plan my path to victory. First, I saw Nehma; she was the youngest of us, she was a creamy yellow lioness who had barely begun her adulthood. I was surprised she hadn’t clutched yet. Her form was thicker than I remembered, her fur more fluffed… could it be? Yeah, she was transitioning. What was going on? Then, there was Sint, another outsider. She had worked extremely hard over her long tenure in the Quarahm. Her fur was Rah-set, or yellow sunish-colored with obsidian black stripes. She always stood out. Though I had considered her a prime candidate for transitioning, her regal bearing was unchanged. Yalana took her place, her medium brown leopard print fur was immaculate, had she been transitioning and I wasn’t, she would have been my first choice, despite her weak grasp on mechanical design; she could learn, and I would have been more than happy to teach her.

Then, I saw Tehneme. I’ve always hated her. She was the current head of the Priestesses, and the First of the Quarahm, though I don’t know how she managed it. She presided over most of the ceremonies of Khmst’ashkal. She took her place on the pedestal midway up the pyramid of Reh, and looked out over the people with fairly well hid disdain. Her yellow-brown and spotted fur was, as always, well-tended to; she always had to look her best, but there was something—more than one thing really, that was different. She was transitory as well, though a bit further along than I was. Finally, a legit reason to plan her downfall. Soon, Nimwhey made her entrance. She was spry and energetic, though she was born amongst the Pharesses, though we all suspected she was not of Tohlmeht, though thankfully, not transitory. Despite her questionable lineage, we accepted her as a true sister; her rust red fur made her look more like a fox than the rest of us. At this time, too many began to arrive to adequately check them out, 20 Qua’rah in all, and the Mah-ten that outnumbered us three to one.

“Ladies of the Quarahm, Mah-ten of Khmst’ashkal!” Tehneme began her speech promptly as Reh dramatically appeared over the ziggurat, timing all important to her, “Welcome. We gather this morning, marking the return of Atumn to our skies, to celebrate the unprecedented era of peace our great Pha’re has presided over.”

As the First of Sisters, she was our de-facto leader when Tohlmet was not around; even though Tohlmet was a Pha’re driven by reason, and Tehneme was most definitely not. Despite this not being a Pharesses driven by theism, she would loudly admonish derision of her claims of ‘signs’ everywhere. She always had to insert ideas of her faith whenever she could, prove her ‘power’ and such.

“This day is more than a day of firsts.” She continued. I didn’t like where this was going, “This is also an end of an era. As of Midnight, our great Pha’re, The Magnus, Tohlmeht IX, has joined the ancestors in the heavens.”

This revelation rocked the foundations of the Pharesses, and turned the mood to ice. As transitions had only just begun, we were effectively without a true leader. Normally, transitions would start soon enough that they were near completed when a Pha’re joined the ancestors. At that point, it would be a quick round of quick skirmishes and assassinations before a new era began and calm returned. Even though we had a First, her views were not compatible to all. This would be a long, and potentially bloody transition.

The Quarahm looked at each other and murmurs began as Tehneme attempted to push her agenda, “Though this has taken us by surprise, Reh-tess will provide us with direction.”

“I suppose that’s my cue.” Called a voice from the back, somehow loud enough for the whole field to hear, “It must be providence, This Pharesses, needs a Pha’re, and one arrives. One that will lead this paltry troupe to the future…”

While keeping an eye on Tehneme, we all moved to take in the newcomer. An odd combination of dark patterns of stripes and spots, this calico transitory was a bit overly confident, and with good reason. Tea had a following, and was further along than the rest of the field, but, it was still distinctly Qua’rah. The confidence in Tyr's voice was troubling. There was something I didn’t like about this interloper. Even if the words had been from a true Pha’re, not a Qua-tehn, it took more than a body and misplaced confidence to be a leader. This random newbie would have to work hard to gain support. I would fight tooth and claw to prevent this thing from ruining my sibling’s great work.

What surprised me most, however, was the Qua-tehn was flanked by Qua’rah that were obviously over enamored by it. The Qua’rah tea gathered were diverse, none from the same Pharesses by the looks of them. Clearly, this was a rogue group that had gotten tired of being rogues. They wanted to be civilized but not work for it. They simply wanted to take from others without really earning for it on their own. This would not be as easy for them as they hoped.

“You are not welcome here, Qua-tehn!” Tehnemeh voiced one of the few sentiments of hers I agreed with.

The Qua-tehn sneered, “How dare you talk to your rightful Pha’re like that, you horrid Qua’tah! I am Seckmeh III, and I will lead this lesser horde of a pathetic Pharesses into the future, with or without you. By force, if I have to.”

Such pitiful arrogance; taking a Pha’re name before even the glimmer of Pharesses was in tyr sight. What did that group of Qua’rah see in tyr?

“You are no Pha’re.” I sighed as muted conversations amongst others erupted, “Build a Pharesses on your own. Or can’t you handle real work?”

Many voiced agreement with my sentiment, even Tehnemeh nodded hers as I continued, “Even if you were Pha-than, especially if, you would know it's more than just having a good body, which you don’t, by the way. To be Pha’re, you have to have that je ne sais quoi. Leave. Found your own Pharesses, and if you prove your worth, we may provide assistance. Resist, and you will retain nothing.”

Seckmeh was taken aback. How could tea not expect resistance? Was tea an idiot?

“So,” The Qua-tehn sneered, trying to appear superior, singling me out, as if I could be manipulated like ter too youthful ninnies, “You challenge my right to rule? Don’t make me punish Khmst’ashkal for your stupidity.”

Seckmeh then smiled. It was an oily, deeply disturbing smile. It was obvious Seckmeh was not as stupid as I had originally assessed. Tea had an ace up ter sleeve.

“There is nothing to challenge.” My voice was more confident than I was, “You are out of your league. Return to the kiddie pool where you belong.”

Under Tohlmeht’s unusually long reign, our Pharesses, Khmst’ashkal, (named for the five natural formations we possessed; ocean, mountain, forest, river, and planes) had experienced an era of peace, even our most optimistic edas couldn’t match. We had sadly been afforded the opportunity to ignore our neighbors and even rogues that surrounded us. We had forgotten what it was to struggle, we had grown soft—too soft, perhaps. I think I found my mission, if… no, once I succeeded in taking over. I had to fix my sibling’s mistake.

“Well, then,” Seckmeh attempted to sneer derisively, but failed miserably, “I guess we will have to prove my power, and punish you for your lack of faith.”

At that, ter minions produced weapons and stormed the field. I wanted to know how Seckmeh convinced so many to follow, but right now I had to live. This attack was bold, unexpected. Our citizens closest to the interlopers fell to the ferocity, but the rest of us recovered quickly. While some sisters used this opportunity to settle old grievances, most of us fought the true enemies. We had not brought weapons, so it was mostly defensive at first, but once our Mah-ten guards returned and tossed us some weapons, the tide began to turn.

Seckmeh and ter minions considered me a threat, and an easy target to make a statement. Little did they know, that despite my age, I was one of the better fighters. Plenty of time to practice. With the added umph of my initial transitory state, I was more capable than usual. Though they really tipped their hands by triple-teaming me, I held my own quite well. As it became apparent we weren’t the pushovers our peaceful ways suggested, Seckmeh realized ter plans had to change.

Tea suddenly withdrew to the edge of the Grand Field while my other two opponents redoubled their efforts. Tea produced some bags and pulled out some clay spheres with ropes attached. I knew this was a bad thing, but still being out numbered, I could do nothing but halfway watch as tea light the ropes.

“Fall back!” Seckmeh called as tea threw the spheres amongst our ranks.

The rogues immediately obeyed and left the rest of us stymied, wondering what was going on. Moments later, the spheres exploded, and the rogues disappeared in the smoke and shrapnel.

*****

As strained as the Quarahm was even on our best days, we always strove to keep the general population from the ravages of politics. We knew that, while some Mah-ten could be trusted to keep up, most just weren’t cut out for courtly intrigue. One thing all Qua’rah agreed on was that it was just better to keep them out the club. That being said, they were all smart and some paid enough attention, especially after the event in the Grand Field, something was going down. Some may even want to try to play the game.

My office was organized chaos. This was normal, but after the fight, it was crazier than usual. I was consumed with not just staying alive, but getting things ready for my mission after. I needed, Khmst’ashkal needed, a force I could lead to victory.

“Mi’lady!” Kahltan gasped as mei entered with the lunch I had again forgotten. Mei was too good for me, “What has happened? Should I have Nimwhey come to tend to your wounds?”

“She is apparently in support of Seckmeh. I don’t know how tea has terse tentacles in the Quarahm so quickly. Nimwhey can’t be trusted. Have our people avoid hers as much as possible.” I returned absently as I organized dossiers.

“This is not the first the Mah-ten have heard of this, Seckmeh.” Kahltan put down the tray as I turned to him confused, “Yes, mi’lady, tea has been in communications with Khmst’ashkal for a while. We didn’t think anything of it, until the incident, that is.”

Khaltan began to tend to my wounds merself. Khaltan was approaching mer end of life, like mer mother, me. They simply didn’t live as long, that is why we tried to keep them from worry. Their lives were just too short.

“Rest assured, none of your children listened, even as some others wavered. We are all on your side, until our deaths.” Mei smiled, as mei cleaned my wounds, “As you know, politics is no place for Mah-ten, so we trust you.”

“Khal, you are my favorite. You’re too good for me.” I sighed, “But I know that you like to observe, just like your mother, you know things…”

“And you deserve to know what I know.” Khaltan smiled as mei bandaged my wounds, “We knew of the those with the clay spheres. A new technology from across the sea, we never say anything because…”

“You don’t know what we know, and some Qua’rah hate to be told things by their children.” I looked at mer, “Do you really think that way of me?”

“No. We thought you knew. Because you never asked, we assumed you had a plan, but there it is, everything is wrong.”

“Yes, long lived people tend to get complacent. Complacency kills should be more than just a saying. I need to take a more active role in your lives, so I, we, don’t get blindsided again.” I sighed, “I’m too old for this. I will need allies. Do your networks include that of Baste’s?”

“We talk, as do all Mah-ten. Tell me what you need, and we will do our best.”

“Try to get a disposition of her, but don’t take too many chances. I need you.”

“I have already lived longer than my time, but until my death, I am yours.”

“Get a team to the Grand Field and let’s get started on learning all we can of the thunder spheres…”

“Already done. Initial analysis will be forthcoming in the hour.”

“You’re too good for me…”

“I am as good as I need to be.” Khaltan smiled, “Though my life is reaching its finale, you have just received an encore. You are my mother, and I will see to it you have the best start to your new life before I depart. Yours will be the genes of the Pharesses. Of that I am more certain than anything else in my life.”

“Thank you. We will make Khmst’ashkal a beacon of all that is grand, but I have to figure out how to influence the ilk of Tehneme…”

“You may yet get your chance. We just need to get a private meeting secured. She knows she can’t do it on her own. Convince her to follow you. Her faith can be useful…”

“There can only be one…”

“You will be clever enough, I am certain.”

*****

The chapel of Rah-set was dark, seldom was it occupied at this time of night. I personally had not been here in years. The symbolism and stuffiness was just as oppressive as I remembered and feared.

“A little late, aren’t we, dear oldest sibling?” Tehneme’s disembodied voice almost laughed, “One as set in her ways shouldn’t seek to learn new tricks.”

“I need answers.” I returned, angry that I needed her help.

“And what makes you think I will provide any?” she appeared behind the pulpit.

“You don’t want to see Seckmeh take our Pharesses and destroy Tohlmeht’s legacy…”

“Answers are costly.” She smirked.

“How is it you, Seckmeh for that matter, have so much influence?” I almost screamed, “You control less of the population than any of us!”

“It’s the power of faith, Helena. With it, even a few can move mountains.” She scoffed, “Your lack of any kind of faith, or inability to instill it in others, is the problem. That, is why, despite your many, yes I will admit it, great qualities, Tohlmeht preferred me to you, despite your insane head start. Despite that, without me you would be his natural choice. Faith is about psychology, knowing how to influence without bending. Faith, is the reason a minority can push aside a majority. Faith, dear sibling, is why Seckmeh has followers, even amongst our own Quarahm. Faith, is why you won’t be able to win this, even with the disproportionate amount of genes you have already provided. Face it Helena. You may be smart, sassy, and powerful, but you will fail, and fail miserably.”

“Funny. I was going to tell you that.” I sneered angrily, somehow knowing she was right.

She laughed out loud, way too amused by my limits, “You are smart, exceptionally so. Believe me when I tell you, in many ways, your intellect far exceeds mine. Except, in the ways that matter in the game of power. You don’t know how to use hearts and minds effectively. Do you truly think I believe all that I tell the Mah-ten?”

“Ha, so you lie. I knew it, but hearing you admit it…”

“Not lies.” She interrupted, exasperated I wasn’t getting it, “This is the final proof that you simply can’t win. You are always telling your children about thinking ‘outside the box’. You have to do it yourself. I don’t have the time to explain it.”

She sighed heavily before continuing, “Let’s face it. I hate you, and you me, but this is a threat even I will have trouble with. We don’t have to be enemies…”

“We can’t be friends.”

“Yes,” she groaned, even she had to acknowledge some things were beyond her, “Only one Pha’re can remain in a Pharesses. One true leader, or no one really leads.”

We stared at each other for a moment, both stuck but not willing to admit it. This was a challenge neither could face alone. “You help me, and I will ensure you have enough to start your own, subservient Pharesses…” Tehneme offered.

“How about I take Khmst’ashkal, and let you leave?” I suggested. There was no way either could be subservient to the other, “After all, I still remember your hatching. Though I was not mature, I should have ended you then…”

“Yes, Tohlmet often talked of it, though only Tathat at the time, tea had started.”

“I guess Tathat always did have too much faith and not enough suspicion…”

“As stated, faith can move mountains…”

“And stagnate swamps.” I returned more angrily than I wanted, “Tradition gets in the way of progress!”

“Not always, but often, yes.” She shrugged, “And because I was smart enough to figure out how to use it to my advantage, you have resented me for it. I had to learn, because you, you were just too entrenched. Don’t hate the player…”

“You are right. We should work together, but we must no longer accept stagnation, this surprised…”

“There can only be one Pha’re,” She sighed, knowing the futility of us working together, “It appears one has to die. Both are too strong-willed to manipulate the other on such a short timescale. I hoped to have more time, or wait you out before Tohlmet departed. But…”

“For the benefit of our beloved Pharesses, this has to end…”

“As soon as possible, I’m afraid.” Tehneme accepted with a sigh, neither wanted this today, but…

I was not as fast as her, she was far younger and a bit further along than I. But, I knew history, and I had been studying her literally her whole life. I anticipated her attacks more than I sensed them. I could see no path forward. This would be a stalemate for a while. This would be a race to tire the other out. I was forced to give up ground again and again to stay in the game. She also had another advantage; the home field advantage. She worked here day in and day out. I avoided this place like as much as I could, on principle.

She was rope-a-doping me, seeking to tire her elder out. I had taught her to do this. My mistake. But, at the time I would normally have expired, I suddenly received a second wind. My sudden flurry of kicks and claw swipes caught my adversary completely off guard. I drove her back to the lectern quickly, knowing this wouldn’t last. At the very last moment, she recovered a bit, but it was too late.

I knocked her hard into a statue depicting the founder of our Pharesses, Kelly I. The sudden hard impact collapsed the statue, covering her in debris. She was not dead. If this wasn’t a fight, she could have recovered, but we both knew this was her end.

“Make this worth it!” she demanded when I hesitated, “DO IT, B****!”

I ripped out her throat, her blood spraying all over as guards finally arrived, “Not quite according to plan, but it will have to do.” I sighed.

The guards did not attempt to stop my departure. This was not a crime, this was politics.

*****

The pyres of my siblings Tohlmet and Tehneme, and the few others that had passed recently waited to be lit on the temple platform of Atumn. I personally had no use for this sordid tradition, but Tehneme’s words about faith rang in my head. I had to gain strength, and this was one of the more efficient ways to do so there was. While I had been outspoken of the paltriness of ‘useless’ tradition, I knew this would help to capture hearts, if not minds. As it was, with Seckmeh’s harassment, few others were brave enough to preside over the laying to rest. I was finally able to use Tehneme’s ways to my advantage.

I ascended the steps of Atum-ohn’s pyramid slowly and reverently as twilight crept across the land. With a deep breath, I stepped to the lectern between the principal pyres and looked over the gathered crowd. It was far more than I expected, it was true; in times of uncertainty, even the normally faithless looked to tradition to get through it. I had much to learn about its power.

“People of Khmst’ashkal. I stand before you, the last of the principal line, to commit our beloved Pha’re, The First, and the rest that have moved on to the ancestors.”

Those that came to these things were always reverent. Even if one didn’t believe, it was safer, and somewhat comforting to be amongst people that had faith. The silence was almost overpowering as I paused in my prepared remarks. I had had Sint, one of faith, help with the wording. She had skills I knew I could tap later on. While there were many that knew I normally had no truck with ceremony, they wanted to believe that I believed. Sint assured me this would help. Even had they not accepted my change of view, I wouldn’t have cared. This was working; I liked the feeling of power, of control. I finally understood how Tehneme wormed her way to the top.

“Our lives are changed. Each must make their way in the dynamic world, and, in turn, make way for the next in line.” This was almost more than I could stomach. I was glad I practiced in front of the mirror, “It is of great importance that we remember: what matters is the net gain to our family, to our Pharesses, to the world. We must thank those that fully added to our lives. We must also forgive any for any deficit they may have been accountable for…”

“Does that include you?” Seckmeh’s voice hijacked the speakers, “Has your ‘beloved’ Helena, Minister of Science, informed you that it was she that killed the First?”

I had, but as Sint informed me, emotions swayed like flames, and were far more dangerous. While we all knew on an intellectual level death was natural, and even in dark times there was light; there were the emotions to deal with. On that level, a skilled wordsmith like Tehneme, and Seckmeh, it appeared, could turn hurt feelings into weapons against those that even indirectly caused them. Even when there was no other choice but to cause short term pain for long term gain, a price must always be paid. I started to hate the theistic approach again. How was I to get a scapegoat now, and have them accept it? Seckmeh attempted to light pyres, tea would use any advantage tea could, that little… I moved to stop her, to make my move.

“You are not worthy to light the pyres!” called Nimwhey, that little…

“And I suppose abandoning your sisters and Mah-ten makes you somehow worthy?” Baste returned, she would be a perfect First…

“It takes strength to follow true strength, especially in the face of…” Seckmeh tried to hijack the crowd again.

I had a plan, I knew what happened to Tosheah, a priestess come-transitory of Ehbredeh far beyond the ocean. Mah-ten were apparently great spies. No one paid attention to them. I could use that. I would use that.

“Is it bravery that got you dismissed from service when Tothis IV offered you aid to found a new Pharesses. Was it bravery that drove you to run before the blade of truth when you betrayed your benefactor, rather than embrace the ancestors?”

“That was not Seckmeh!” Tea called angrily. I struck a nerve. Good. “I have bravery and strength in droves!”

Tea appeared beside me with a blade to my throat. So much for bravery. I do no know how it worked across the ocean, but threatening death during a ceremony of passing here was no way to win over the hearts of this Pharesses. While I was well within my rights to end Seckmeh, and many amongst the gathered would be happy, three out of five of the citizens would not. For me, the new de-facto leader, to bloody my hands during this was to invite catastrophe for my cause. If I was to win, I had to let some one else end ter. At least if I died, Nemah would emerge the leader. I had already set in motion plans to help her. Sint and Baste agreed that if the choice was Nemah or Tosheah, Nemah would live.

“You are not welcome here, Qua-tahn!” Yalana called, freeing my people from tipping their hands.

“Enjoy this reprieve while you can.” Seckmeh sneered with barely restrained rage, “You may be long lived, this won’t be.”

She was right about that. Everything just fell in to place for me, “With that settled, let us commend our beloved to the beyond.”

I lit torches and passed some to Yalana, Nehma, Baste, and Sint. We set to work lighting the pyres, Tohlmeht’s was last, as was fitting.

“Ancestors, accept our beloved, embrace their strengths, forgive their weakness, and prepare for our arrival.” I intoned, and the rest of the Grand Field echoed the sentiment.

*****

The Grand Field had been converted into an arena. We had to smooth over the disruptions caused by Tohlmet’s untimely departure soon, before order collapsed. It had taken some doing, but I managed to get the final three transitories to agree to ‘Trial of Nightfall’, one tradition shared by all known Pharesses. In the trial, the true leader would rise, and the blood of the unworthy would wash away the ‘sins’ of the prior season.

The huge circular stage had been set up in the center of the field. The Circle, known as a circle of equals, had three equidistant points, each representing the genders. Though it was only recently I accepted the power of presentation, I had the honor of standing on the Rahghen point, representing the Pha’re; I maneuvered Nemah into the position of Rhe-tehn, representing the Qua-rahs position of authority. That left the point of Actune, while ideally equal to the rest, was undesirable to one seeking to rule.

We all knew which two mattered the most in this competition, though. Both Seckmeh and I basically ignored my sibling, focusing solely on the biggest threat each faced. As the last sliver of Atumn, this season the last light, slipped below the horizon. A tone sounded. The black match had begun.

In a normal competition, all three competitors would meet in the middle after a solemn march. Both Seckmeh and I rushed each other along the border of the triangle in the circle. This was not for entertainment as in other years,his had to end quickly. Seckmeh was nearing the end of the transition, which afforded greater than normal strength; at least I still had greater speed. I hoped.

Seckmeh, to play to, not his, strengths used a great bastard sword, swinging it quicker than one would expect and with greater precision than most could manage. I, however, had to play to my strengths, and keep distance, and so used a long spear/pole-ax. Poor young Nemah, though, with little practical weapons experience, used twin wakashashi; not that she was in the fight much.

As we fought, the ferocity of our attacks took chunks out of the ground, wood, and even stone. Sparks sprayed with every meeting of weapons. Even if we weren’t taking hits, the ferocity and speed of the fight meant it wouldn’t last too much longer. I was fatiguing faster than Seckmeh. I had underestimated my enemy; my years of experience were no match for the vigor of youth.

My weapon shattered, I tripped and fell, injuring myself in the process. I had no chance against the speed of the on coming death, I was too injured to regain initiative. Even had I the time to cower or try to crawl away, I wouldn’t have given him the satisfaction. I needn’t have feared. As Seckmeh drew back for the killing blow that would have bifurcated me, a blade appeared in his neck.

Rather than keel over, though, Seckmeh turned to Nemah, face distorted in anger, “You missed the aorta, and I still have the healing factor of transition!”

Nemah admirably stood ter ground, “I am not worthy of succeeding Tohlmet, even should I be old enough. I just had to distract you.”

As Seckmeh realized what was happening, I plunged my backup blade I had hidden in my boot, into his temple. Nemah stood for a moment as death caught up to Seckmeh.

As Seckmeh crumpled to the ground, Nemah fell to ter knees in acceptance of ter fate, “All Hail, the next Pha’re.”

Had tea known which name I would take, tea would have used it. But I wanted to hold tradition for those that believed. I hadn’t revealed what my Pha’re name would be to anyone.

“Qua’rah and Mah-ten of Khmst’ashkal!” I called out, “This is the dawn of our greatest age! Too long have we rested on the laurels of Tohlmeht’s peace. While we slept, our borders were breached by darkness. We can’t let that happen again. We must secure our place in the world.”

To cast any darkness on Tohlmet’s legacy too soon was dangerous, too late would be just as bad. I had to take the chance. As the victor of the trial, and the now undisputed Pha’re, this was the only chance I had to establish my reign. After all, his was one death in this affair I could not be blamed for. Only time and the ancestors could be blamed; "they" chose to end his rule, however.

“Tohlmet’s peace was good for its time! But with his departure, that has ended.” I continued, “Hathe’s Expansion has begun!”

The people cheered. I had won the gambit. Nemah, still fearing, but accepting of ter death, fought to maintain composure. I looked down on ter and smiled.

“The expansion begins this night, with a new Pharesses, to be founded and led by my worthy sibling, whom we will all support as best was are able!”

Nemah shuttered as tea realized I was offering ter an out without departure. Tea accepted my offered paw of assistance, “I, Hepshe II, Pha’re of soon to exist Bongosrei, welcome your support. All hail Hethe VIII.”

“All hail Hethe VIII!” the crowd echoed, “All Hail Hepshe II!”

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