The Trouble With Joinstohm Part Three

Michael tried to recover. It was general knowledge Jaguar spent a lot of his time in Joinstohm working with the Predgarian units. He should have fully expected the possibility that he’d be around.

‘Not at all,’ Michael tried to brush it aside. ‘Though I don’t think my visit warrants interrupting your busy schedule.’

Jaguar chuckled. ‘Really? The Pharollin don’t often come calling, a phoenix warrior even less. What can I do for you?’

‘I’ve lost someone,’ he admitted. ‘I was hoping your Predgarians could help me locate him.’

Jaguar leaned back against his desk. ‘I’m assuming there’s a reason why your own people can’t do that?’

Michael winced. Jaguar was sharp. ‘It’s an alien, well, he looks just like us, just a bit taller.’

‘Right.’

‘He’s from a planet called Terra.’

Jaguar raised a hand. ‘I think I see where this is going. Does this happen to be the Terran tourist that’s been in the news? Let me think back,’ the general began to count places off on his fingers. ‘Unicia, Cuhain, Shamix, Rajiti-’

‘Ishetta,’ Michael muttered, shuddering to himself.

Jaguar chuckled again. ‘No one likes Ishetta,’ he agreed. ‘I’m surprised you took him there – and now you’ve lost him?’

Michael nodded. ‘We were supposed to leave today for Steiron, but he’s not in his room.’

The helmeted general didn’t speak for a few seconds.

‘What?’

‘Not in his room? You don’t think you might be over-reacting?’

‘General, my aura sweeps can stretch at least five miles before I’ve even activated my medallion.’

Jaguar grunted. ‘Ah. I’d forgotten the legendary strength of the Phain family. Very well, it seems your fears may not be unfounded, but you still haven’t explained why you’ve come to me.’

Michael sighed. ‘I’ve alerted the High Consul, but if we don’t find him quickly, well, it’s only going to be so long before the Asterion Court hear of it.’

‘Oh Light above,’ Jaguar murmured. ‘So you’re trying to find him quietly, so they don’t get wind of your…slip-up.’

Michael cast the general a hard stare. Was he amused by this? If they didn’t manage to find the Terran then Courin’s opposition at the court might take the opportunity to try and confiscate their medallions, the only reason they’d survived so long against the Sarpiens.

Michael didn’t say any of what he was thinking though. There was a threat much closer to home that he knew would ensure Jaguar’s co-operation.

‘I’d be more concerned as to how the Dakkonin will react.’

The seconds ticked by.

‘Clever,’ Jaguar responded eventually, sounding far from happy. ‘There’s a reason why they call the Blue Phoenix the best politician on Courin. You’re right, of course, we can’t give the Dakkonin an opportunity to send in their hunting units and battle-states.’

Michael nodded his agreement. ‘There wouldn’t be much left of Joinstohm afterwards. So you’ll help me?’

‘I was going to anyway…even before your threats.’

Michael smiled disarmingly.

‘Have you at least got some idea where in Joinstohm he might be?’

‘None.’

‘Lovely. This just gets better and better. Come on then, we might as well get started.’

Michael blinked in surprise. ‘We?’

Jaguar pushed off the desk with another chuckle. ‘I might as well tag along since I’m here.’

Dumbfounded, Michael watched as Jaguar strode past him.

‘You coming?’ He asked from the doorway.

Michael nodded silently and followed the Predgarian general out into the corridor. This day had taken a bizarre turn.

‘Do you have a plan?’ Michael asked as the big man led him through a door and another long corridor.

‘Yes. Since your aura sweeps have failed I intend to use my nose.’

Michael grunted disgustedly. Of course, the general was a Feline. He’d be able to track the Terran by scent.

The corridor led out into a large hangar, the far side already open to the air traffic. Jaguar directed him to a small, streamlined hover vehicle.

‘Can you use one of these?’

‘Of course, they’re not that different to motorcycles.’

Jaguar mounted the nearest and turned to look at him. ‘They’re a bit different,’ he disagreed, switching on the engine. The green hover-bike started to lift off the ground.

Michael hurriedly went to a second one situated directly behind. As he got on and turned the ignition he noted the huge broadsword strapped to Jaguar’s back.

The gleaming blade was legendary, but only because Jaguar wielded it. The sword alone wasn’t that special, it was the general’s titanic strength when in armour that made it so dangerous.

‘Lead the way,’ Jaguar told him. ‘I’ll be right behind you.’

Michael nodded and carefully piloted the small vehicle around Jaguar’s before increasing speed and shooting out into the open air.

He grinned as he veered and dodged between the larger traffic. He hadn’t ridden one of these in years. He’d forgotten how fast and manoeuvrable they were. Michael was taken back to his childhood very suddenly – when he and his siblings had used to race around on them in Phoenicia.

Michael grew serious. Times changed, he hadn’t spoken to any of his family in the longest time. He put his thoughts to one side, this wasn’t the time or place to dwell on that.

They made good time and Michael slowed, bringing the hover-bike to a stop on the platform where he’d first obtained a ride from the Iraji driver.

He waited and a matter of moments later, Jaguar joined him.

‘Can we leave these unattended?’ Michael asked as he and the General both hopped off the bikes.

Jaguar gestured to a pen-like device inserted into the handlebars of his vehicle. Michael was fairly sure that the ones in Phoenicia had never had such a device.

Jaguar took it out of its secure holder, pointed it at the bike and pressed the large button over the top of it.

The vehicle shimmered once and disappeared.

‘Huh. Camouflaged bikes, impressive,’ Michael took the device from his own and repeated the procedure.

‘Predgarians do much more fieldwork than Pharollin,’ Jaguar pointed out. ‘Since your Order spends most of its time cloistered in council meetings I’m not surprised you’re not familiar with them.’

Michael gave him another hard stare. Was that a jibe at the Pharollin? Probably, but what was he going to do? It wasn’t as if what the general had said was inaccurate.

He decided to just lead the way inside without commenting, though his shoulders did hunch a little when he heard Jaguar chuckle softly.

Michael clenched his teeth. He was rarely ever out of his depth, in anything. The Predgarian general was making him feel like a warrior fresh out from training.

‘When did you discover the Terran’s absence?’ Jaguar asked as Michael jabbed the button for the lift.

‘Not much more than an hour or so.’

‘Good, that’ll make him fairly easy to track.’

The lift doors opened and the two men stepped through, the space feeling tiny with the armoured general stood in it.

‘Have you any suspicions as to why he may have disappeared?’

Michael shook his head after he’d punched the number for the right floor. ‘I wish I did. He may have just gone sight-seeing without me, but he knows how dangerous this city can be. He’s been very sensible so far on this tour, I can’t see why that would’ve changed now.’

Jaguar nodded as the doors opened. ‘He wouldn’t have been picked as Terra’s first representative to other worlds if he wasn’t sensible. Take me to his room, let’s see if I can’t pick up a trail.’

Michael led the way. It was only a few turns along the wide passages, but the hair on the back of his neck rose when he came upon the door, torn off its hinges.

He glanced behind him as Jaguar unsheathed his massive sword.

‘Allow me.’

Michael nodded and let him pass. He gathered his energy, making ready in case he needed to launch an energy ball at someone.

‘It’s empty,’ Jaguar informed him, putting away his overly large weapon.

Michael stepped in, inhaling sharply as he looked around. He shook his head disbelievingly at the toppled furniture. The Terran’s journal was now ripped into pieces and the bedsheets torn from the bed. His clothes had been scattered too.

‘You might’ve mentioned this earlier,’ Jaguar commented, his voice mild.

Michael gave him a sharp glance. ‘It wasn’t like this before I left.’

Jaguar returned his gaze. ‘Well, in that case, I’d say we’re not the only people looking for your friend.’

 

 

The Trouble With Joinstohm Part Two

As the Iraji’s clawed fingers moved towards the syringes, Michael reacted. His hand shot out, latching onto the alien’s wrist.

The Iraji’s head swung towards him aggressively. Michael knew that in terms of bodily physique he was no match for the reptile but he thankfully had access to a few tricks.

Quickly, he drew on the gift he’d been born with. Some referred to it as mysticism or psychicism. The people of Courin simply called it “the Power.”

He felt its strength, though the rippling cool aura was nothing compared to what he could draw on when his medallion was active.

Letting it envelop him, he allowed the aura to be seen with the naked eye. The Iraji’s eyes widened and he drew back as Michael began to glow with a faint azure light.

It was somewhat ostentatious Michael conceded, but it got his point across.

‘I’m a medallion warrior,’ he told his driver in a firm but quiet voice. ‘I wouldn’t if I were you.’

Still glowing, Michael released the Iraji’s wrist. The reptile continued to stare in fear and awe.

‘Take me to the Predgarian Centre and we’ll forget this ever happened,’ Michael offered.

The driver nodded quickly and concentrated on the traffic in front of him, though he kept throwing a wary glance at his passenger.

‘I did not know you Courinese could use psychic powers without medallions.’

Michael kept his face calm, not wanting to show any sign of what his thoughts might be. He had no intention of telling the Iraji of his unique family-line. If the reptile got any inkling that he was descended from the first ever phoenix warrior then he might take his chances to get some of his DNA no matter what.

‘Some of us can.’ He allowed the glow to dissipate but did not let go of his grip on the Power, just in case the Iraji got brave again.

The rest of the trip was spent in silence, and Michael was fine with that. When they reached the platform for the Predgarian Centre he took out his payment card and inserted it into the small machine connected to the top of the cockpit controls. He noticed the driver’s standard charges were higher than usual, but he wasn’t going to argue the point, not today.

He unbelted himself and left the vehicle, the hatch slid closed behind him and he backed away quickly as the Iraji promptly lifted off again.

Michael took a moment to glance down, over the edge of the steel landing platform. The murky haze was broken by dozens of vehicles going about their business on the lower air-lanes.

He squinted, trying to penetrate what lay beyond them, but the ground was much too far to be seen. The growing dusk didn’t help much either.

After glancing upwards towards Courin’s two suns, the red Kaliij already dull and indistinct while the blue Hunoth was obscured by thick cloud, Michael turned to face the large building behind him.

He allowed himself a small smile as he looked up at the Predgarian crest, the green and gold griffin appearing serious and regal against the black circular background.

Michael allowed himself a slow trot as he moved towards the redbrick building with its glass double doors.

Stepping through the doors he stopped momentarily in the large reception area, taking note of the two small potted palm trees and wide wall box filled with colourful short-stemmed flowers.

Michael smiled again, he wasn’t sure why, but Predgarians always had various plants and flowers on display.

‘Can I help you?’

Michael turned his attention to the high reception desk, an armoured warrior stood behind it.

Her slim but muscled form was confident, the close-fitting plates of her green Feline armour well polished.

He glanced down at her chest where the green medallion hung for all to see, but he couldn’t tell what kind of Feline it might be and decided against taking a wild guess.

Michael smiled at her as he walked up to the desk, taking in her serious but attractive face, half-hidden by her Feline mask. Her brown curls were held back in a simple tail.

‘I must speak with your captain,’ he told her, deciding to get to the point.

‘The captain has much to attend to,’ she countered immediately. ‘I’m sure I or another of the warriors here can assist you. What seems to be the problem?’

Michael sighed to himself. He supposed the Predgarians must be used to a lot of people coming in asking for the captain of their unit.

Not bothering to explain any further he reached for the chain about his neck and pulled the medallion out, letting it fall against the white fabric of his shirt.

The Predgarian stared at his chest, her face showing her utter shock. Michael’s medallion was almost twice the size of hers but he knew it was the picture that had left her speechless. There was no mistaking a phoenix for any other Avian medallion.

He gave her a warm smile, wanting her to know he wasn’t offended. ‘I need to see your captain.’

The Predgarian nodded slowly and then grinned. ‘I can do better than that.’

Michael became puzzled, wondering what she meant. The warrior stepped from behind the desk and went to the armoured door to their left.

She buzzed the intercom. ‘We’ve got a Pharollin coming through, everyone get their armour on.’

Michael couldn’t help but smile at that. The other Predgarians were probably scrabbling for their medallions now. The Predgarian Order were the only one out of the five that kept their true identities secret.

They dealt with the public far more than any other Order so it made sense, but Michael thought not for the first time that it must be very inconvenient.

The Feline warrior led him into a plain corridor. There were several doors, mostly on the left side. When they got to the other end the Predgarian turned, sending him that playful grin again.

Michael began to worry. Did she know something he didn’t? She knocked on the last door briskly and opened it a small crack.

‘Sir, a representative from the Pharollin is here. I thought I’d better send him straight to you.’

‘Thank you, Serval,’ a deep but friendly male voice replied.

Michael stiffened, he knew that voice!

The female Predgarian sent him one last maddening smile and walked back down the corridor, leaving him there.

Michael took a deep breath. He hadn’t been expecting this, he was under-dressed for such a meeting. His hand twitched towards his medallion. No, he’d look like he was overcompensating.

He couldn’t show any hesitation so walked through the door, his eyes instantly coming to rest on the large desk and the armoured warrior sat behind it. As expected, the Predgarian was dressed head to toe in his tawny armour, the faint rosetta markings clearly visible.

The tall muscular warrior stood at his entrance, his height making him a good foot taller than Michael.

The Predgarian’s heavy armour came complete with a full helmet, concealing everything about the man’s visage.

Michael smiled at the man anyway, he’d been trained to always put forwards an act of self-assurance and confidence, even at the times he didn’t feel it.

‘General Jaguar, always an honour.’

Michael didn’t need to lie about that. The man before him held a hefty reputation. He led the Predgarian Order and had fought against the Sarpiens and their evil masters on several occasions.

Jaguar was one of the greatest warriors on Courin, and even if the man hadn’t managed to instil an almost child-like awe in Michael, he would’ve been a fool to take him lightly.

‘Councillor Blue Phoenix,’ the general’s voice was tinged with wry humour. ‘You seem surprised to see me.’

Michael went rigid again. Oh great, he’d noticed.

The Trouble With Joinstohm Part One

‘We’ve got a situation.’

‘What with?’

The voice on the other end of the phone line sounded bored. He wouldn’t in a minute, Michael thought grimly.

‘Code yellow in Joinstohm, reference 01TT.’

‘What kind of yellow?’

‘What do you mean what kind?’ Michael exploded. ‘There’s only one code yellow!’

‘Not anymore. The ruling passed in last night’s council session. Amber Yellow means the project has been paused due to unexpected circumstances, Canary Yellow means the target is not where they should be or is in a hostile environment and Dandelion Yellow means you require assistance or back-up.’

Michael ground his teeth. He’d not been out of Phoenicia for long, he dreaded to think what other changes they’d made in his absence.

He tried to control himself, running a hand through his short, butter-blond hair and telling himself that it wasn’t the receptionist’s fault. ‘Canary Yellow.’

‘Canary?’ The voice sounded bored again. ‘Just speak to the local Predgarians, I’m sure they can locate whoever you’ve lost.’

‘Just look up the reference,’ Michael grated.

‘I don’t think I like your tone,’ the receptionist replied, sounding greatly offended.

Michael had no more patience left. ‘I am the Blue Phoenix! You’ll be lucky if you’ve still got your job by the end of the day – look up the reference 01TT now!’

‘Y-yes Sir, of course, right away.’

Michael shook his head irritably and cast his eyes around his temporary apartment. The white, flower-patterned wallpaper and grey-green carpet were nothing special. He couldn’t have his charge staying in the best rooms, it would draw too much attention.

His mouth tightened, it seems they’d drawn attention anyway. All he could do was pray the Sarpiens weren’t involved.

‘Light above,’ the receptionist breathed quietly.

Michael turned his attention back to the small desk where he was sat. ‘As I said, we’ve got a situation.’

‘What do you require, Sir? Hoppers? Warriors?’

‘None of the above, just report the event to the High Consul. Our visitor from Terra doesn’t know I’m a medallion warrior, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. Put my warriors on stand-by in case I need them – but for now I’m going to do my best to sort this out quietly.’

‘Yes, Sir.’

Michael hung up and turned in the simple wooden chair, his eyes barely seeing the comfy sofa and small table in front of him. He stood and crossed the small space, entering the adjoining bedroom.

The bed was covered by a thick, white duvet. Michael sat on top of it and reached for his backpack. Unzipping it, he sought out a small inside compartment. He pulled out his heavy blue medallion, the large phoenix had its flaming azure wings outstretched and the spiral design around the coin’s rim identified it as Pharollin.

He lifted it by its chain and put it around his neck, hiding it beneath his white buttoned shirt.

Michael stared up at the ceiling briefly as he thought about the best course of action. The tourist from Terra was not where he should be, was not in the complex at all in fact.

He rubbed his forehead with one hand, Joinstohm was big, searching without thought or purpose would get him nowhere. It was likely he was still in the Capital, Michael sighed as he picked up his short grey jacket and put it on, buttoning it up. Guess he’d be paying the Predgarians a visit after all.

Leaving quickly, Michael navigated his way to the lifts easily, but paused before entering, wondering whether it would be better to leave from the lower or upper platforms.

He heard a snuffling behind him and glanced back. There were two brown-scaled individuals trotting leisurely down the broad corridor. Their long snouts, dark manes and four clawed feet reminded Michael of warthogs, but knew he shouldn’t underestimate them. They were Neshin – intelligent, cunning and also occasionally arrested for drunken hostilities.

The lift before him opened and Michael opted for the lower platforms. It would likely be less crowded. In the other districts it would’ve been different, but the Capital catered to the rich, it was the everyday worker which was the minority this close to the city heart.

The wind of the busy city blasted him as he stepped out of the lift and onto the wide, semi-circular platform. He glanced upwards briefly at the various ships whizzing past, on their way to all sorts of places.

Michael turned his attention to the task at hand. As expected, there were several dull-grey transport vessels waiting for customers. He headed to the nearest, a torpedo-shaped vehicle with short stubby wings. When he was closer he saw the ship owner leant against its side, smoking something long and thin.

Michael tried not to breathe it in, it smelled of two-week old fish. The figure, its cobbled skin a shiny silver and its face holding a suspicious-seeming snakish quality, smelled him with his forked tongue.

Taking in its loose brown dungarees, mostly bare but oddly human chest and the bony dome on its head, Michael decided he was looking at an Iraji.

‘You require service?’

The alien’s tone was slimy, and slightly suggestive. Yes, definitely Iraji.

‘I need to get to the Predgarian Centre.’

‘You in trouble?’

‘That’s my business.’

The Iraji let loose a hissing chuckle and jabbed at the number pad on the side of the ship with three pointed fingers.

‘Come then. I can get you where you want to be.’

Michael followed him on-board, wondering if he should’ve got a bus instead. He didn’t like dealing with the Iraji, he was always left wondering whether he’d come out of it all right afterwards.

‘There be two Predgarian places here,’ the Iraji informed him. ‘The lower and upper – which one you want?’

‘Upper,’ Michael replied instantly. He knew the upper centre would have more experienced warriors.

‘Very well.’

Michael sat himself in the chair next to his driver, staring rigidly out of the cockpit window. These small ships could only carry one passenger, but they still got a lot of custom. He belted himself in, Iraji tended to be good pilots, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

As the Iraji started the engines and casually lifted off into the traffic, Michael noticed the reptilian alien glancing at him with a beady eye. He decided to concentrate on the busy sky in front of him.

‘How you want to pay?’

‘I have an Imperial card,’ Michael assured him.

The Iraji gave a toothy smile. ‘There be more than one way to pay, friend. Iraji back home would give much for a face like yours.’

Michael gave him a sharp look. ‘I don’t trade in genetics,’ he told the alien, making his voice as firm as possible.

He blinked, noticing the two small packaged syringes on top of the cockpit control panel. Michael glanced back at the Iraji’s face and seeing his grin had turned hard he swallowed. He might not get out of this.

Joinstohm Part 2

We’re nearing our destination. You might want to brace yourself. I think it’s true to say that there is no other place on Courin quite like Joinstohm.

Take a look out of your window, you can see it from here. The sprawling mass of bulky, multi-storey warehouses, giant commerce towers and floors upon floors of apartments is a sight to behold, I’m told – even for someone from off-world.

It didn’t used to be like this. Joinstohm used to look more like any other province. After all, no one living on Courin had ever considered a building with more than four levels before.

Even from here you can see the bustling traffic – again, unlike any other traffic on the planet. The ground floor of the city has been given over to farmland and the very poor. It’s been that way for almost eight hundred years now. When Courin joined the Asterion Empire, it was required to have a centre, a place where visitors from other worlds would come to trade, teach and sight-see.

Joinstohm, the heart of the Lowlands, was the perfect candidate. Unicia had no desire for any increase in visitors, so there was very little argument.

The city changed dramatically in a surprisingly short space of time. The Asterions are very efficient. The high-rise buildings went up, and the city was modernised, technology being introduced almost immediately. Even the harnessing of electricity was unheard of back then, but the Asterions sent us the best teachers they had, and less than two hundred years later, technology was an every-day occurrence to us.

Where market stalls used to dwell there are expansive shopping malls, where goods used to be transported via horse and wagon, there are now airborne cargo carriers.

There is no ground transport whatsoever in Joinstohm. You will find family-size air-wagons, streamlined jetters – both the rickety pre-owned ones and the sport high-jetters from Olphara in Neba 6. Workman cargo carriers, I still don’t know how they manage to operate. They’re supposed to hold about fifty but customarily carry about eighty, or so I’ve heard.

Asterion merchant liners are common here in Joinstohm too, you’ll see the bulbous things floating around trying to hook people in with their strange, flashy adverts. I’ve even seen the odd Iraji science unit. Piece of advice, if you’ve not encountered the Iraji yet – don’t. Just don’t. It’s not worth it, ever. And if they offer you any sort of deal, then proceed to pull out a syringe, run.

Anyway, Iraji aside, you’ll also find the public transport flying around too. No hoppers here, we’ll have to land on the outer rim of the city and then bus in. Hoppers aren’t allowed within the limits of Joinstohm. Hoppers being capable of short-range teleportation, are quite dangerous here. One wrong co-ordinate and you might materialise right on top of something. There’s so much flying around in Joinstohm compared to anywhere else.

Yes, I did say bus earlier. The bus service runs around the clock, stopping at the several different levels of platforms jutting out from the apartment skyscrapers, transporting people to the commercial towers and shopping complexes around Joinstohm.

The buses, though flight-worthy, are tubular in shape, and lumber along in quite a sad fashion. It’s much better to use the taxi service or buy your very own city ship if possible.

The development of Joinstohm has made it easy to get from one end to another, though there are some places you wouldn’t really want to visit. The last two districts which I told you I’d mention once we arrived, are two such places.

Prior to the Asterions, back when everyone here still lived on the ground, the Joinstohm government decided to move their headquarters. They expanded the outer limits of the city in the north, and built what is now known as Joinstohm Proper.

It was beautifully designed, intended to out-shine both Unicia and the inner city of Steiron. It was a home for the wealthy, of course, the houses lavish, bordered on all sides by well-kept gardens and monuments.

In the centre of these was the new council chamber of Joinstohm – the fortress rebuilt, as they liked to refer to it.

The Nildoth quarter hated it. They complained that if there should be a new district built for the leadership of the city then it should to be to the south, where the original inhabitants of Joinstohm resided.

The Lords of Joinstohm grew tired of their whining and told them that if they wanted it so badly then to go and build it themselves. So Nildoth did.

The district Thaxor resides to the south of Nildoth and is known by the southerners of Joinstohm as “the real proper.”

It is nowhere near as grand, actually it’s fairly ugly, the council refuses to maintain it and over time Nildoth’s care of it has waned. Cheap to rent though.

All of this was proven pointless in the end. With the arrival of the Empire, Joinstohm had to make itself as accessible to the Asterions as they could, and the council house was re-located back to Joinstohm Capital. Now Joinstohm Proper and Thaxor Real Proper are nothing more than places where the extremely rich and poor become even more divided.

We’ll stay here a while. I’ll take you to an Arena show if you want. It’ll be at least a week before we’re through with all the shops, sight-seeing tours and entertainments. We’ll leave next Wednesday, to Steiron.

Joinstohm

Well, we’ve managed to avoid eating any Taerhkayd, and stopped you signing a document declaring that Terra considers Sziph the most prominent city on Courin.

Seriously, these people need to step back and take a look at themselves. Anyway, we’re moving off. I’m going to take advantage of the hopper service again, and get us out of here.

I’m taking you to Joinstohm, the largest, and some say greatest, city in the world. I’ve already given you some history on Joinstohm – or Nildstohm as it used to be called.

Nildstohm had been close allies to Arljak, the great nation that set out to conquer all of Thirshakalt. They had hoped to reap the benefits of Arljak’s success. When Unicia put a stop to the advance, Nildstohm came the new powerhouse of the Plains – but feared Unicia, so curbed their lust for power.

Nildstohm gathered together the scattered remnants of Arljak and created Joinstohm. Such a gathering had to be done carefully to avoid conflict of different ideals, morals and ethics.

It would be nice to say that Joinstohm years later is reaping the benefits of so many different peoples coming together. Sadly, the segregation which was first put in place and created racial discord within the city has not lessened with the passage of time.

Modern Joinstohm is split into seven districts, and each one is very proud of its heritage. In what is known as the Inner North, you will find the most prominent of the districts – though many in the great city would disagree with me on that. It doesn’t have a name as such, being referred to simply as “The Capital” most days.

This was the location of the Nildstohm fortress back in the old days, and even though the old stone castle no longer exists, it still remains the location from where the ruling body delivers its orders and makes new laws.

Joinstohm’s government is controlled by the wealthy and prominent. The city-state is technically democratic, but since most of the politicians filling the seats on the governing council enjoy continued eminence due to bribed votes, it might as well not be.

In the east district you will find Xoran. It used to be a small province east of Nildstohm, now just one of Joinstohm’s various districts. It has prospered and is known as the best commercial outlet there is.

The Order city of Phoenicia disagrees with this claim naturally, but that’s no big surprise.

In the Inner South is Nildoth. As the name implies, this was the district where the original inhabitants of Nildstohm dwelled. A varied mix of commercial, industrial and housing estates, on the face it presents a well-rounded district with good law-abiding and productive people.

Waiting for the catch? It suffers from elitism. Almost two thousand years after the event they still consider themselves the paramount of civilisation and the saviours of the Thirshakalt Plains, believing that if not for their generosity the other peoples of the south would have died out.

This has caused more than a few problems since joining the Asterion Empire.

Next on the list, in the south-west of the Inner, is Niqua. These people are the friendliest in Joinstohm, or the shadiest – it really depends on who you ask.

Niqua are proud of their heritage for several reasons. They consider themselves the closest city-dwelling relatives on the Plains to the nomads, (though in truth, that title goes to Kian.)

They also consider themselves the best tradesmen in the land, and this second claim is probably true. The people of Ishetta on the Ortholkim Highlands are sharks in trading, as are the nomads, but none quite equal the Niquans.

Their ability to get the best of almost any deal has led the other districts of Joinstohm to dislike them and quite regularly bad-mouth them to any who will listen. Despite this, the Niquans remain an open, friendly and often charitable society.

The Ashan district, found in the north-west of the Inner, are a breed apart from the rest of Joinstohm. Close in relation to the Ischaclappe Islanders, they have hung on to many of the warlike ways of the past.

They’re considered the best fighters in Joinstohm and make up a considerable portion of the city’s armed forces.

These days, Ashan is known as the entertainment district. In a time when the world is holding its breath in fear of the Sarpiens and their evil masters – people want entertainment, the chance to forget about alien invasions.

Amongst the various playhouses, the gambling pits and the um, nice places to meet pleasant young ladies, you’ll find the Arena.

Considered the best and worst entertainment on Courin, the Arena is a large, circular stadium, littered with debris, foliage and all manner of traps. The scenery changes on a weekly basis, ready for the next challengers.

Teams of five compete for fame, wealth and the privilege of saying they’re an Arena player – the best fighters Courin boasts outside of the five Orders of Light.

I can see the hopper arriving so we’ll stop there for now. When we arrive I’ll tell you about the two Outer districts, and how the integration of the Asterion Empire has drastically changed the face of Joinstohm.

Sziph

The Unician Order have agreed to give us an escort through the mountains. They’ll take us to the border of Sziph. We’ll be met there by some Dakkonin.

The Unician Order aren’t allowed within Sziph’s borders. The small province allow the other four Orders, and are especially fond of the Dakkonin (possibly the only province on Courin that are.)

There’s nothing wrong with the Dakkonin, of course. They do a much-needed job, but, well…maybe I’ll go into that another time.

Let me see, is there anything I need to tell you before we arrive? Sziph is a city-state, possibly the smallest on Courin, but that doesn’t stop them being vocal.

It all started well over fifteen hundred years ago, before the arrival of the Empire. There was some debate over ordinances to the Light. I believe the proper vestments was an issue as well.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but Unicians take their culture and faith very seriously. There was a small group of Unicians which thought the unicorns should play a bigger part in the larger celebrations and rituals, rather than getting fat on their grassy plateau.

The Unician monarch, Queen Iressa, I believe it was, nipped that idea in the bud. However, the opposing faction would not let up, and the queen had no choice but to ban them for a time from the capital. They were causing riots.

The Unician government were adamant that the unicorns would remain where they were, not wanting them to be exposed to an entire city of people, and especially foreigners. They’ve changed their thinking a little now, being more forgiving of the other peoples of Courin – they had to after joining the Empire.

After a failed attempt of “rescuing” the unicorns, this small faction was permanently exiled. Instead of wandering southwards though, they travelled to the eastern edge of Unicia and made the coast their home.

Sziph, in the Unician tongue literally means “wronged,” and they’ve been shouting about the injustice done upon them ever since. Even after the arrival of the sclithe and the Sarpiens, Sziph refused to allow any Unicians onto their soil.

Thankfully, once the five Orders were established, they were happy enough to allow delegates from the other military bodies access.

Sziph likes to make its presence known, often sending dignitaries to the larger cities, wanting to have its opinion heard. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they’re so friendly with the Dakkonin. The Dakkonin might not be the most friendly bunch, but they are very respected.

Unfortunately, some of their more recent actions have made it difficult for other provinces, such as Phoenicia, Steiron and Joinstohm to take Sziph seriously.

They tried to emulate the capital of Unicia, make a city for themselves to rival its beauty. However, the marble quarries are deep in the heart of Unician territory. So Sziph made use of the resources to be found on the cliffs around them. They built the inner city of granite. Well, half of it. They ran out, so the rest of the inner city and all of the outer city is made of limestone.

They’ve tried to cover the city’s mismatched appearance with flower gardens and hanging baskets, but since the eastern border of the Unician Mountains is severely affected by the harsh winds from the ocean, such fragile plant life tends to be quite stunted.

The other absurdity is how they choose to be known. Back when Sziph was first formed, they referred to themselves as Il’Sziph. That translates to “The Wronged.” They eventually decided that this was a bit melodramatic. So they decided to call themselves the Sziphinese.

Since the term “ese” is only applied to the people of Courin as a whole, they decided after a while that this made them sound pretentious, a tiny bit arrogant. So they then became the Sziphans. Some of the small government’s citizens complained this was very mundane however, and they are presently known as the Sziphians.

All this being said, expect a very warm welcome when we arrive. They’re very excited at the prospect of meeting you. You’ll be given the highest quality Konae, a type of green tea. It’s traditional to be given to visitors in this part of the world. Before noon you’ll probably be so full of fish you won’t even be able to move.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. Sziph is famous for its fish market. They also specialise is eel, clams and mussels. Don’t eat any taerhkayd – trust me. Taerhkayd is a fish, you won’t be able to miss it. It’s always served whole and has dark grey scales. Hm? Oh, Taerhkayd is Unician for death’s head.

Unicia Part Two

Here we are. Unicia. There’s a lot I neglected to mention before arriving – mostly because I wanted to see your surprise.

Joinstohm might be the largest city on Courin, but this is by far the most beautiful. The roads are old, made of worn, off-white marble. You will find hoppers in designated areas but you’ll find no land transport here. The unicians had access to an awful lot of marble, and took advantage of it. Everything around you is made of the stuff.

Beautiful, even awe-inspiring – and also very inconvenient. The unicians don’t want to damage what has become something of an iconic trait in their culture. So it’s illegal to come into the city on anything with wheels. That includes cars, delivery trucks, battle tanks – and even wagons.

They’ve cultivated some broad rivers for in-city travel though. They also have a public hopper service for jumping quickly from one end of the city to another. Other than this they tend to walk everywhere.

In the capital, the pearl of Courin, as some refer to it, you’ll find much to occupy your time. There are multiple scenic parks for reflection, shrines to Sorin, the water ways. Then there are the Pools Tranquil, a must-see when visiting Unicia. Only Unicians can enter the pools, but if you want to see the holy people replenishing their magic, that’s where it happens.

In the centre of the city you’ll find the temple. You can see it from here actually. See that massive white dome in the distance? The dome inside and out is carved with unicorns and suns. The temple is an interesting place, a lot happens there. It’s split into two, the front half is open to the public, the largest temple of Light in the world.

It’s also the headquarters of the Unician Order, you’ll find a lot of warriors there. The back half is protected fiercely by the Unician Temple Guard. They’re also Unician medallion warriors but are charged with protecting the royal family.

The royal family of Unicia reside in the back half of the temple, that’s why access is restricted. The queen is not only the ruler of Unicia but also the head of the Order. The Order is split into two categories – warriors and healers. Since the queen is very busy, these two branches are headed up by her two trusted advisors. The general leads the warriors while the high ambassador leads the healers. Together the three of them make all the decisions concerning Order and State.

Another point of interest, one which most people visit while here, is the Forest Wild. You’ll find shrines to Sorin there too, as well as a few old, but still inhabited, small temples.

This is where the modern medallion warriors of Courin first started. Back a long way in history, the forest was where the first ever shrines and temples to Sorin were built. The location was picked carefully, the worshippers of Sorin wanted somewhere quiet and secluded to reflect upon their protector.

Some wanted to dwell near the unicorns but the first queen of Unicia forbade it. The first disciples of Sorin slowly became reclusive, finding fulfilment with their isolation and their communion with the earth and wildlife around them.

Not much was thought of them until the Draconians first made their hostile intentions clear. The disciples of Sorin, firmly believing that the bloodline of the throne was directly linked to their god, came out of the forest and proclaimed themselves the monarchy’s guardians.

Some scoffed at this, until it was realised that the holy monks had developed and honed Ki-arl Goh – which means “to fight like the wild.”

It is a form of martial arts, turning one’s body into a weapon. It was part of the monk’s way of communing and gaining closeness with the wildlife around them.

The holy monks of Unicia are some of the finest fighters Courin offers, though many of them choose to take up medallions now instead of staying hidden in the forest. The modern medallion warrior uses Ki-arl Goh, integrating it with several different armed fighting styles.

It was the monks who were given the task of making medallions however, an art that to this day continues. It will do so until the Sarpien threat is defeated.

I suppose I’d better tell you a bit about medallions while we’re on the subject.

The Unicians make what is known as the “Courinese medallion.” There are several different types of medallion. The most well-known, is the Guardian medallion. There’s also the Courinese variation, which relies on animal essences for the catalyst. Another planet in the Empire, Beoluufen, has similar medallions. They use an animal catalyst too, but their medallions have a bit more punch since their bodies can withstand more power input than ours.

I don’t know that much about Beoluufen medallions so I’ll move on. I can tell you that there are degrees of power and rank to be had with the normal Courinese medallion. The first ever medallions are now referred to as “the founding medallions.”

When Courin first joined the empire a couple of Guardians arrived and taught the Priesthood of the Light the making of medallions. Working together, they produced five. It took somewhat longer for them to find five people who had the strength and compatibility to hold and use them safely.

These five warriors became the founders of the Orders. The founding medallions are special, more powerful than the average medallion – made with Zybal. It’s a common deposit on Beoluufen and is a good material for medallion-making. Unfortunately, what the Guardians didn’t realise when they brought the material was that we Courinese aren’t as strong in mind or body as the average Beoluufen. A different metal alloy had to be found before any more were made.

That’s about all I can tell you about medallion making. I don’t know how to make one myself. Only Unicians are taught the art. I suggest we take a stroll through this park, sit by the fountains and maybe find someone selling food – I think I’d really enjoy some fresh Unician Haisha’al lorra. Don’t worry, it’s nothing strange – just some stir-fried rice and vegetables, but the seasoning they use is gorgeous!

Don’t worry though, this tour is far from over. I haven’t told you a thing about Sziph yet, and a tour of Courin wouldn’t be worthwhile if we didn’t journey to Joinstohm and Steiron. After we’ve visited those, I’ve got a nice surprise for you. Let’s just say there’s a couple of places on the map who don’t have many visitors that actually want to meet you.