Among the many wonders that lie scattered over the length of the realm today, there is none so great as the mysterious lone tree which grows out from the middle of the Rik'yin desert. Gnarled roots and an ancient trunk that twists and twines, it reaches up from the midst of the lifeless plain towards the heavens, a towering beacon over the flat sands. There is a name for it, 'The Guardian,' an anomaly on the face of the world from a time that has passed.
Once, so the tales tell, the land was reigned over by a great empire which stretched down from the northern Cekom mountains, past the eastern forest of Phangrul, and to sea of Cha'kyye. The emperors ruled in a golden age of unimaginable wealth and power, knowledge and culture. Generations passed in peace, son succeeding father, but those years lie forgotten in lieu of the one who broke the chain.
They called her the Warrior Daughter, the greatest glory and terror that the empire had ever known. She fought her way along the borders against the barbarian tribes that lived beyond, crimson hair tucked under the silver helmet that did not conceal her hard grey eyes. As the emperor's only child she lived as she was birthed, as known for her strength as she was for her viciousness for her blood ran hot and her sword was deadly, driven by the wild fires of youth and untamed freedom. Her place was in the midst of the chaos, keeping peace, but through blood. She stood as an iron fist over the land, never cruel or unjust in the interests of her people, but also never hesitating to crush any that stood against them.
On the western edge of the empire there lay a glorious golden city by the name of Lx'qan-Eir, bordered on one side by a long series of rocky hills. And it was there that the Warrior found herself one campaign against a savage band that lived among the caves and preyed on the unfortunate citizens. Training in her camp on the foothills one day, the Warrior became aware of a great commotion. A woman was being held, tearing viciously at her captors while she shouted for their commander.
"She came herself," one of the men informed, "we caught her in the camp."
"Is that so?" the Warrior replied, a wave of her hand signalling the men to unhand the captive. "What is it you seek, then? Information? Assassination?"
"I am no enemy," the woman said, "I am merely one of the free nomads, we are people of honour."
"Then why have you come?"
"Because the tribe that you fought has dishonoured. They have brought death, blood, disruption, while I only wish to live on the land."
"And so what? You want to help us? Are you a fighter?"
"I am a healer," the woman replied, "but there are things worth fighting for."
The Warrior only scoffed. "Leave," she said. "Do not bother us again, and we will not bother you." And at another signal the healer was dragged away.
The second attack came a few days later. The clash of iron rang in the Warrior's ears, the metallic taste of the kill on the back of her tongue, but as her blade grew heavy with spilt blood her battle-honed senses saw what wasn't right. There was another, not dressed in the amour of the empire, but against the barbarians nonetheless. She didn't need to see the face to recognise the spirit.
"Have I proved myself?" the healer said at the close of the fight. "Are you satisfied?"
Perhaps it was the way the nomad stood so straight and proud without even a hint of supplication, or perhaps it was the boldness in her words, but whatever it was it gave the Warrior pause. Something stirred within her, mixing with the indignation, a recognition of an equal match.
"If I said no, would you listen?"
The only reply was the smirk that curled the healer's lips.
The clashes dragged out, the tribe knowing every inch of the terrain even as the defenders had the upper hand in skill. Men killed, men died, and the uninvited guest remained. Aneiex, it turned out she was called, not a follower, but a confederate. Though still the merciless wielder of the sword, the Warrior found herself for the first time not a lone leader, forever above those around her. Underneath the contention there slowly grew a grudging respect, but even deeper there was more. Something changed in those days, each seeing their own freedom in the other, unrestrained by the binds of society's men. It was more than just loyalty and fellowshipit was understanding.
"Stay," was the command as the campaign finally came to an end. "The city will need a permanent defence."
"Indeed," the healer replied. "But why me?"
"Because I am satisfied," came the response. "You have proved yourself."
"If that is so, then you will take me with you."
And so it was spoken, and so it was true. For in then and now and all ages past, there is no bond as strong as one forged in the heat and dust of life and death.
"We may kill each other someday," the Warrior said as they set off toward their future.
The healer only smiled from her place beside her liege. "Perhaps, but not today."
"No, not today."
It was the beginning.
What was born in the throes of battle cemented itself in a life that was no longer just lived always with a heart in your throat and the ultimate price on your head, but now faced with a comrade beside you. Still first and foremost a healer, Aneiex saved as many on the fields of conflict as did her leader, for even as she swore her sword and her allegiance, followed command and seceded judgement, it was never as a subject but as a peer. She became the guard, the keeper, never losing sight of her Warrior's back. Years passed, and the two came to be called Khoyre Qudw Ek-Chir, an ancient phrase whose exact meaning can no longer be translated, speaking with the layers of history of an eternal partnership joined forever in all things. It was one of the mystical names of old, one that seemed to come alive when spoken, drifting with the breezes and folding itself down through the contours of the land. And it was in her shield-mate that the Warrior Daughter confided her true nameSiirlana, which in the old tongue means 'the bright one.'
But no age lasts forever, for in time the emperor's reign came to its natural end as he fell to illness and passed from this life. To the people the apparent heir was obvious, but the Council of Elders had grown self-satisfied in the years and feared the strength of the emperor's child. Long they debated before one stood and made his declaration.
"I have served long for this empire, and I believe that I am fit to continue to do so. I shall marry the heir, and take the throne."
"The empire would be lost before I submit myself like that," was the Warrior's reply to the usurper's proposal, for she knew how the Council had grown power-hungry, and how their complacency scorned the idea of a free woman on the throne. Even with her battle-lust somewhat tamed by her time by the healer's side she was still a wild thing, the forces of nature in her blood, never to be bound in the chains of wedlock in such a way.
Rage swept through the Council at the refusal, at first stunning them into inaction, but never could it have lasted. In was at a camp up north in the middle of the night that the response came.
"There is an army," was the only greeting Aneiex gave to the just awakened Warrior. "The emperor has sent the Imperial Guard to take you to the capital."
"How long away?" the Warrior asked as she began to ready herself.
"Not long. We turn then, fight against your own people?"
"It is not me that is fighting, it is them."
There was a moment of quiet in the small sallow tent before the next words came.
"You would never make a queen, would you? Even if you ruled, it could not be from a palace. You would never leave you place before your men."
The Warrior ducked her head in the dim light. "Why are you here?" she asked. "I know why you joined us that first day, but why follow all these years? You are a healer, Aneiex, not a fighter."
"As I said," the healer-turned-guard replied simply, "there are some things worth fighting for."
The weight of the exchange hung heavy in the air, but then the sound of the alarm rang out over the camp, breaking the silence and calling the Warrior to rise.
"Go, prepare. I will see you outside."
"No, you must leave, now, hide yourself. Tactic is not cowardice."
"Then you come too."
Aneiex shook her head. "Someone must lead the men. Escape while you can, Siirlana, I will meet you after it is done."
But that was to be the only promise to her liege that she ever broke. For while the men were fierce and loyal, they were caught by surprise and hopelessly outnumbered. They were slain as they stood on the red-stained ground, and their commander taken back before the Council where a decision was made to draw the Warrior Daughter out the only way they could envision. In that, at least, they were successful. Three days after the battle saw Siirlana at the capital, falling to her knees before the palace, but not for the reason they had predicted.
The healer's pale form had been left, rigid and lifeless on the steps, throat slit and blood spilt onto the cobbled stones for all to see. With one single act, the peace and justice that had been held within the empire for generations had been broken. And kneeling there, Siirlana vowed upon her shield-mate's body that she would make it right again.
Her fury was so great that not even the Council dared to stop her as she bore the body out of the city and into the adjacent Rik'yin desert. In that desolate landscape she buried Aneiex in the sand where, against all the logic of the inhospitable landscape, a seedling would one day sprout, growing into a majestic old tree with the healer's body as it's life-giverpart of the land, as she had always wanted.
A storm was brewing, one that the whole world had come to expect, but when it broke it was not from the Warrior Daughter. For even as the word spread, an army was rising around the edges of the empire. Always people of honour, those who had wandered apart and nomadic for so long were banding together in rage at the injustice of their fellow's death, larger in number than had ever been imagined. They stood the length of the border, preparing for what would be the greatest and most terrible war that the people had ever seen, ravaging the length of the land until an end was forced not with victory but with such a high casualty that gave both sides no choice but to yield.
In the chaos that followed, no one noticed a shadowy figure slip into the palace one night, and no one was there as the ambitious elder was awoken by a hand clapped over his mouth to silence his scream.
"You have failed in your duty, emperor," the hissing voice spat. "You have brought destruction on your own people, and you shall die knowing that it was you and not I that ended the peace of my fathers."
In the depth of the darkest hour, the sky was split by a churning inferno of orange. The people gathered in the courtyard as magnificent palace was engulfed in flame, cracking in its foundations before crumbling to the ground, taking with it every last remnant of its once-great inhabitants. There were a few among those that watched that claimed to remember a black-swathed form standing off to the side, standing witness to the fiery execution of that centre of power before melting away into the darkness. The night the empire fell, was the last that anyone would ever see of Siirlana.
And here is where the stories differ. Some say that the Warrior Daughter lost herself in the outlands, that the spirits recognised her for what she was and raised to her name, lifting her to the sky where she could forever watch over her land and her people.
But there are others that recall a mad storyteller who walked the hills of Lx'qan-Eir. She was grey-eyed, so they tell, with a mane of blood red hair and an oddly regal look about her stature. She told of strange things, wonderful things, crazy things, of golden cities and bonds sealed in bloodand of an ancient name that seemed to come alive when spoken, drifting with the breezes and folding itself down through the contours of the land, sifting through the histories and setting itself forever in the sands of time.