October 31st, 2018 Day of the Dead, Prosperitas, Mazidian Dominion The sky was full of stars both real and artifical, as ghostly lanterns and lines of electric lights criss-crossed the boulevards and narrow avenues of the great city, Prosperitas. The air was chill, but not too cold, and it hummed with the dancing and singing of a hundred thousand people or more. Auraria might have the largest Halloween Festival in Europe, but Mazidia's Dias de los Muertos was surely a worthy Occidentian contender. No cars or trams could pass through the usually spacious boulevards, so packed were they with revellers and calavera dancers. Huge, inflated balloons of Supay, the God of Death and Lord of the Underworld, gently floated above the streets, grinning skulls and serpent-entwined idols decorating every window-sill and porch-way. Far overhead even all this, hovered helicopters trailing shimmering, silvery banners inscribed with wards against bad spirits. Old and New merged seamlessly in the City of Pyramids of Stone and Towers of Glass. In the great Sol Plaza, thousands of painted-faces of all races gazed up at an enormous TV screen, suspended from the side of the Great Pyramid of the Sun, where live, bone-shaking heavy rock and metal music of Mazidia's top artists played. Vendors sold Anticuchos, the beef heart shish kabobs iconic to Mazidian street food. It was a day of celebration, of wild joy, music, dancing, drinking and eating. For Mazidia, the Day of the Dead was the holiday to enjoy life. Conversely, the Day of the Sun on the summer solstice was the holiday to hide indoors and fear the dawn. But that was six months past and six months away, and so the majority, poor and rich, young and old, lost themselves to the ghoulish revelry of Dias de los Muertos. Keeping a nervous, watchful eye on the shifting, twisting crowds were the blank-visored Tempestas Millitar, the armed and armoured police who kept order in the capital of the Dominion, and in its other large cities. The TM rarely brought in suspects for questioning. Those judged guilty were often sentenced to death on the spot. But tonight, such strictures were -mostly- relaxed. Sat high above it all on a balcony, was the Sun King Rodrigo Amaru himself. He was a middle-aged man of olive complexion, sunken cheeks and wide staring brown eyes. Long, oiled black hair, in the style of a Mazincan Lord of old, cascaded onto his immaculate shoulders. He drank from a wide glass, enjoying Pisco Sour, the national drink of Mazidia. "A wonderful holiday as always, don't you agree daughter? You can surely feel the energy and life even up here." Sat across from the Supreme Lord of the Sun was his eldest daughter. Her olive skin was lighter than his, and her eyes were a blank, unstaring sea-green, that saw no light at all. Her long, raven-black hair was done up in a coiff, and a simple bronze tiara held it all together. She wore her usual plain white one-piece dress, like an Incan peasant woman of old. She was traditional, unshowy simplicity next to his more modern opulence, her bronze tiara off-set by his gold watch, neckllace and many rings. Tanai smiled, a gesture she didn't normally make consciously, but one she knew that pleased her father, and her friends. She had been blind since she was an infant, when during her Presentation on the steps the priest had left her lying in front of the Jade Mirror for a few minutes. The few minutes had been enough for her infant eyes to drink in too much of the bright, reflected sun, and go forever dark as a result. The priest had been disembowelled for his incompetence, of course, but now Tanai was an oddity in Mazincan society- Highborn, and disabled. "I can indeed feel it, father." She replied softly. Her relationship with her father was often rocky. He expected her to live the strange, syncretic life of a Mazincan princess, a delicate trophy to reflect the merging of Europan and Mazincan culture, and nothing more. She had other ideas, and would not let a little thing like blindness get in her way. "The drums they beat...can you feel their vibrations too?" She asked. Empty conversation, but it kept her father happy, and more importantly kept him away from discussing her latest...transgressions. "I can. They are made from stretched llama-hide, and require two men a piece to carry them. They beat drums like this as far away as Pisac, and tonight all Mazidia dances to the beat of the dead." "I wonder what the Calavera looks like." she said idly. "I have felt the smoothness of bone, but I can't imagine how a painted dancer could... "look" like a skeleton." Rodrigo chuckled lightly. "Sometimes I am glad for your strange insights, daughter. You have a way of putting things that is...refreshing." Tanai felt and heard the arrival of someone else on the balcony even before their waiting attendants announced his arrival. "Your Highness, I present Zoltan Reyes-" "I know who it is, thank you Chaca. Ah, Zoltan! What brings you here on this day? Bored of the revelry below, perhaps?" Rodrigo said with humour. Tanai kept herself facing away from the new arrival, but she could hear every word all the same. "Your Highness. I am sorry to disturb you. Princess." he said curtly, nodding unconsciously in her direction. The slight shift in tone told her that his head had moved in this way, even though she couldn't see it. "I bring grave news. About our little investment in Europe. It seems the Aurarians will be buying out Stonecastle Finance afterall." The King pouted. "A shame. I know you thought it would be beneficial to our state portfolio to have a foothold in Gallo-Germania. Still, we have plenty more silver, do we not? Let the Old Aurinos have their german debt." "It is more than that, your highness. It's a snub. A reminder that they do not take our aspirations to world prominence seriously-" "Oh, Zoltan! Must you -always- go on like that even today? Relax. Chaca, bring our esteemed friend here a glass of Pisco." "I prefer not to drink, your highness." Reyes said stiffly. Tanai allowed herself a smug smirk at that. No, she thought. You prefer other vices, don't you? "Highness, I know matters of finance are dreary, but perhaps you will reconsider my other proposal-" "I said no, Reyes." Rodrigo said sharply, his louche attitude dropping for a moment. "Frankly, it is pushing the limits of our friendship for you to ask this more than once." Reyes nodded. "Forgive me, your highness. I apologise. But you must understand-" "Yes, yes. I understand. Rare earth metals. The Northern Frontier. Lost Cities hiding treasure greater than gold. Neodynium. Mazidium*. Ytrium. Fourteen others I can scarcely remember. Lots of "ium"." Rodrigo waved the matter aside airily. "This is the Day of the Dead, Zoltan. The day when we celebrate what it is to be alive. I'm sure your proposals can wait another day. Those metals aren't going anywhere, are they?" he chuckled. Zoltan kept his face blank, though even Tanai could feel the tenseness in his frame. His posture screamed discomfort, even to a blind girl. "No your Highness." "There. Now, relax. Ah, Chaca is back with your drink. I'd offer you one, Tanai, but you are only fifteen. We wouldn't want you falling afoul of the law." He chuckled at the idea. As Sun Princess, Tanai was above the law. "Now, lets enjoy the atmosphere a while longer. Though-" Rodrigo sighed heavily. "I'm sure our Court below wishes our presence. The poor dears can't go fifteen minutes without trying to impress me or beg my favour." Finishing his drink, Rodrigo carelessly threw the empty glass over the balcony, to fall two hundred feet onto the revelling crowds below. Tanai stiffened, imagining what the consequences of such an action would be. But her father could never understand. Noone in the palace really could. But Tanai always sought to understand. That was why she had been sneaking out, more and more, with only her bodyguard for company. To understand the world beyond, and the consequences of the life she had inherited. Tomorrow she would visit the State Hospital. She had heard that it was always busiest on All Souls Day, the day after the Day of the Dead. She had assumed that meant many hangovers and cases of alcohol poisoning. But the truth was so much worse. The real reason, she had learned despite her father's efforts to shelter her, was because of all the rape victims. In the dark alleyways below, the drugged and inebriated young girls, some still in their calavera face-paint, would stagger home. Some would not make it, as demons both real and painted took hold of their prey. She shuddered at the thought. Is this truly the Kingdom I will inherit? She thought, for the thousandth time. But a darker, more paranoid part of her also thought. Assuming they let you. *=The Mazidian name for what is known as Europium in our world.