THE TOME OF TRAVELS: A RECORD OF ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
THE SUNDERING DAYS, FOURTH ANNUAL, SEVENTH CYCLE
Firstly, let it be known that I am Nor Khebka, who was once a traveler-historian of the Covenant. Far and wide have I wandered the multitudes of stars, throughout the last three Ages; I've witnessed the splendor of the rainbow-skies on Chabeluse during the Seeding Season of the Continental Forests and walked the halls of the great hive-warrens of Palamok as a guest of the lines most ancient. I basked in the light of Zhoist's Ten Cities of Edification, when they were still whole, and roamed the flats of blood-ice on Clinth; I watched flux-liners with thunder in their wake race in storm-clouds in the upper layers of Chiiro, dove the turquoise depths of Hosnak with flocks of oebarths, and saw the Celestial Mirrors of Ulun glittering against the dawning suns. I've flown a feather-skiff through the Gods' Arches on Chinima, beheld sunsets on a hundred worlds and skimmed the event horizon of a dark star; far in the distant frontiers, I observed the strange orbital dance of the Wayward Moons of Kols and meditated with the Kraban Mystics upon the summit of Mount Yultma, foreign constellations wheeling in the heavens above. These and many more things beyond counting I have seen and experienced over my long lifetime.
My travels eventually took me to the Chikri-Merkaa Strand, which is a massing of stars in the realm of the Siakar Expanse, close to the peripheries of the former Covenant's celestial dominions in the spinward reaches of the Raan-Uchaal Bridge of the Great Spiral. The Chikri-Merkaa Strand was once a sub-realm unto itself before the Coadunation, and has now once again come together as a nation of its own. My path into their service, and the service of my lord Ileg 'Vernam, has been a peculiar one, but to spare you the details I was traveling in the Jewel-City of Terpen upon the world of Radiant Zenith, which is in Sangheili called Haht Jodjem, for it is one of the greatest of cities in the stellar domains of the Siakar Expanse, and I had long awaited to witness its splendor with my own eyes.
Yet it was then that the unpleasantness of the Great Schism came upon us, and there was much confusion and my life was placed in great peril, for many Sangheili had heard news of a great betrayal by the Prophets and wished to end my life in anger. Yet I am but a humble scholar, and like many others of my kind -- others less fortunate than myself included -- I had no part in the wicked machinations of the Hierarchs, cursed be their names. Nevertheless, I was taken before the lord of this world, the esteemed Arch-kaidon 'Vernam, who saw the truth of my words and spared my life though some of his kind wished me ill and continue to do so; as I write this I remain under his protection even as I lend his people my knowledge and expertise, and I dare not walk the streets without the protection of my steward.
But enough about myself. I write this so that the history of this great city and this world and its people be recounted here, for we must not look to the past now but the future, and even as we do so we should provide a record for the generations yet to come so that they may understand the circumstances that led to the present situation, and learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of our ancestors. I know not if the current order in the Chikri-Merkaa Strand, this confluence of disparate elements, is to last, for it is so very fragile; though it is my hope that peace will emerge, and understanding and prosperity can reign once again even after this time of tumult and uncertainty.
ON RADIANT ZENITH
Radiant Zenith is the capital world of the post-Covenant group known as the Chikri-Merkaa Conflux. Housing the Jewel-City of Terpen (pictured), well known of old for its splendor, and encircled by an expansive belt of orbital habitats and stations known as the Ring of Radiance, Radiant Zenith was first established by the Covenant in the 10th Age of Doubt, roughly twelve hundred years ago, as a trading and military outpost in the then-growing domain of the Siakar Expanse. Its brightness has somewhat waned in the recent centuries as outward expansion slowed at Siakar, but it remains a moderately important center of culture and political power in its interstellar neighborhood. Even now, Terpen is among the 14 largest urban centers in the Siakar Expanse, two of which are located in the collection of stars known as the Chikri-Merkaa Strand.
Zenith was originally founded in the most auspicious confluence of slipspace channels and interstellar jump points in its interstellar neighborhood, with future expansion and concerns both strategic and commercial in mind. While Glorious Proclamation was an already existing Sangheili colony nearby, its location was not as advantageous in regards to the slipspace lanes considered strategically important at the time. It was the location of the Chikri system as an advantageous crossroads that gave the Station of Auspicious Confluence, the "trade capital" of the orbiting Ring of Radiance and later the seat of the Chikri-Merkaa Conflux government, its name.
Another key system in that great network was to be Merkaa and its main world Jai Shua, which was in the later centuries devastated by civil war, and it would be some time before the trading outpost of Haar Nappar, several light-years coreward, would rise in its stead. In those times the sliplanes were slightly different from those used today, for what would become the Jaht Desolation as a result of the conflicts of the First Discordance at Siakar, was then a still-growing collection of colonies, as were other systems beyond, and the flows of traffic were quite abundant, only to be altered by the various wars and calamities that met the region; there were great worlds just beyond the Chikri-Merkaa Strand which are now but a memory. Wars and further colonization have altered the balance and landscape of the region and in the recent post-Schism years, Zenith has lost its status as the Strand's primary trade port to the Haar Nappar Freehold with the connection to the human sphere changing the traffic flows more to the direction of the stardusts of the Jjaibii Shroud.
The most prominent of Radiant Zenith's initial settlers were a mix of traders, artisans, builders and warriors as well as anything in between, and mainly hailed from worlds in the Sangheili middle rim. The world's initial settlement was part of a Ministerial initiative to form a strong basis for security and prosperity in the Siakar Expanse, which included the settlement of well-established Sangheili populations in the crossroads of major sliplanes by way of providing strong incentives - resources, power, wealth - for clans who took up the offer. This was a particularly popular way for budding cadet branches and other lesser nobles to expand their influence and fame by breaking free of the shadow of greater houses and making a name for themselves in the untamed peripheries. While lower-caste species could simply be forcibly relocated by Ministerial decree, it was often seen as preferable to offer them incentives as well - whether real or illusory. While it was also nearly a given that the serfs and laborers bound to Sangheili houses traveled with their masters, additional labor was usually required for the large-scale construction and infrastructure projects in newly-settled regions.
As the Unggoy had yet to be assimilated to the Covenant in the 10th Age of Doubt, most of the initial labor force for Zenith and other worlds of the Strand consisted of Yanme'e and Mgalekgolo colonies bound to the most prominent Sangheili clans. In addition to hives established on Radiant Zenith and other colonies in the region, entire worlds were eventually dedicated for the Yanme'e and Mgalekgolo to supply the needs of the Chikri-Merkaa Strand and beyond. The Kig-Yar, who were relative newcomers to the Covenant at the time having been part of the hegemony for only a century, would come soon after as well, though at first out of their own initiative and only later by Ministerial edicts as they became more established within the Covenant's social order. Over time, the Kig-Yar would also become quite involved with the matters of the Strand and nearby regions, particularly where commerce and industry were concerned, and became instrumental in the local economy.
In its early centuries, Zenith was more militarized, serving as a local fortress world and waystation for further-flung colonization, though the military aspect of the world would gradually diminish as the different worlds began to specialize in different trades, with the Aachse and Shik systems in the neighboring Apex Firmament becoming the focal military centers of the region. As with most other key Covenant worlds settled by Sangheili, Zenith would retain a significant military presence such as it was integrated to the local clan structure, but with the surrounding frontier largely tamed, it was no longer the primary reason for the world's existence nor what it became most known for. Zenith's state as a haven of philosophy and high culture was mostly incidental, and stemmed from the world's general prosperity, the progressive trader mindset, and the many new ideas flowing through the region. As a result, the world has become known for its great statesmen, orators, philosophers and artists, and the Zenithers - in a generalized sense - are the most open to new ideas among the Strand's Sangheili populations.
With a population of 8.9 billion, with several tens of millions more living in its orbital communities, Zenith's population makeup represents a kind of microcosm of Covenant society as many such hub worlds do. The planet is home to at least as many Kig-Yar and Unggoy as Sangheili, as well as Yanme'e worker sub-hives -- formerly in a largely subservient capacity, though this is changing with the fall of the Covenant and its caste system.
ON THE JEWEL-CITY OF TERPEN
The city of Terpen lies next to the great Lake Chilge in the Varros Lakeland, an expansive region of Kars, a crater-pocked supercontinent that makes up most of Radiant Zenith's landmass. The city's further-flung districts, of more recent construction than the core city, are partly built on great limestone pillars at the edges of the nearby Rahgri Highlands, where great disc-buildings, some as unto small cities in their own right, sprout from the mountains like fungi. Wealthy, influential or otherwise important individuals - mostly Sangheili and a handful of Kig-Yar - own estates and retreats further in the mountain range and even the expansive mountain glaciers over a hundred kilometers away. Meanwhile, the coastline of Lake Chilge, as well as nearby islands, are littered with manors and great keeps owned by Sangheili of great prestige. The river Terpine descends in great cataracts at the Rahkiri waterfalls and crisscrosses amongst the hundreds of rock pillars before running down along the gentle delta plain upon which much of the city is built and finally into Lake Chilge. Several dozen kilometers out lies the vast Chenru Archipelago, a more rustic region where many Sangheili often retreat to fish and hunt.
Despite being located near the planet's equator, the Varros Lakeland is merely a temperate environment for much of the local year, though like most of the inhabited regions of Radiant Zenith it sees quite severe winters and inclement weather overall, which is partly kept in check by storm-catchers and other means of climate control. Elaborate canal systems on the Terpine delta keep the river's floods from overrunning the city's lower levels during the spring season, though occasional incidences of flooding in poorer (largely Unggoy) districts remain an unfortunate reality.
Every morning, Unggoy workers travel to work in the city in gravity barges from the methane districts along the plains of the Terpine river delta, as well as further inland, and Sangheili commute into the city from manors and estates along the coastline. The core spires are primarily the domain of the Sangheili, with the larger ones primarily occupied by local nobility. Beneath the city, like most cities of Sangheili construction, lies a robust network of warrens and shelters built into the underlying bedrock and radiating from the landmark structure that is the central spire-keep Jahl Terpen, commonly known as the Gnomon, and mighty defenses lie concealed across its spires, promenades and concourses; the base of Jahl Terpen, in addition to being a vast city-structure, also houses many of these defenses as well as the armored reinforcement for the underground shelters. Above, many skyhooks and platforms as well as a sky-lift connect to the orbiting stations of the Ring of Radiance.
The Great Library in Terpen's Ruunril Spire is one of the most extensive collections of ancient texts within the Siakar Expanse, and since the Schism, many tomes and databanks rescued from High Charity by dedicated Loremasters, Deacons, and even a pariah San'Shyuum scribe have been copied there. For higher learning, Sangheili from the other worlds of the Conflux -- primarily Amaranthine Resplendence -- often seek attendance in the academies of Radiant Zenith, for they are the most prestigious in the Chikri-Merkaa Strand.
In the above figure, one can see the center of the city of Terpen as viewed from the commercial districts of the Kelcinth City-Disc, situated at the north-west at the edges of the Rahgri Highlands. The individuals pictured are as follows, from left to right: the Kig-Yar merchant and explorer Jheg Vrul; Sangheili Tuav 'Asasommil, employee of the Norsam Mercantile trading concern; and Unggoy Skab, gardener in the Kelcinth City-Disc.
ON THE AFFAIRS OF STATE OF THE ZENITHERS
The main governing body of Radiant Zenith and the Chikri system is known as the Zenith Lordship, based out of Terpen and comprising the ruling city-state of Vernam and their several dozen vassal-states and provinces, including orbital ports run by Kig-Yar, Unggoy freeholders as well as clans on off-world colonies within the Chikri system. The Zenith Lordship is the greatest and most influential government in the entire Chikri-Merkaa Strand, with its claim to nearly two dozen barren systems in addition to the vassals under its rule (many of which include colonies originally settled by Zenith's earlier inhabitants). The House Vernam is very old, rising to prominence on the Moons of Tar Chatta of the Qerkossian Shore all the way back in the Covenant's first millennium; Zenith's founders had already been removed from Sanghelios by two generations of colonies by the time the worlds was settled. Clan Vernam has strong historical ties to the ruling families of the nearby colony of Amaranthine Resplendence, whereas their connections (cultural or political) to Glorious Proclamation, the oldest world in the Strand, have never been quite as strong, and there is even animosity and envy among some of Glorious Proclamation's inhabitants toward what they see as newcomers who are yet more wealthy and powerful than they.
The current Lord of Radiant Zenith is Archkaidon Ileg 'Vernam, who governs Terpen, Radiant Zenith and its off-world provinces out of the Gnomon. The Archkaidon is fairly young, having assumed the position after his predecessor was killed in the Devastation of Joyous Exultation, but he is usually wise enough to listen to the counsel of his Elders, Oracle Masters as well as High Speaker Sossak Kar 'Usoi where his own lack of experience fails him -- as well as to ignore them when their old ways hold them back in this new age. His youth may have been an advantage in the post-Schism world, however, as those more set in their ways may not have been able to adapt to the new order as smoothly as he has.
For now, Radiant Zenith and its surroundings have remained relatively stable as the Chikri-Merkaa Conflux is located far from the focal point of the ongoing ex-Covenant civil wars and remains economically robust for its size. However, the long-term effects of the surrounding unrest and cultural upheaval on the region have yet to be determined. Militarily, the CMC remains a very small player compared to major warlords, and partly due to their location and alliances with several other comparable groups they are fortunate enough to have experienced no large-scale fighting, aside from a number of battles on the other worlds of the Conflux.
I originally meant this to be the main image for my full description of the Chikri-Merkaa Conflux, but since DA's submission system is absurdly primitive and doesn't permit more than 64kb's worth of text, I had to dump it into a separate submission and leave just a tiny tease here. So, in the unlikely event you'd like to learn more about the faction that controls the pictured location as well as its interstellar neighborhood, please click HERE. Then again, it did allow me to go into a bit more detail on the city in this submission.
In short, I created the Conflux to patch a hole in post-war lore. We almost never see the Covies' civilian life or how they go about things like trade, yet the few glimpses we do have imply such things do exist. For what we see of the Covenant, one is confronted with questions like where are their versions of Ilium? Or Corellia? Or Omega? Their empire was vast and ancient (nearly 20 times as old as humanity's interstellar empire), so you'd be bound to have many flourishing centers of trade and culture aside from just High Charity. For every posturing warlord, you'd still have plenty of places who just want to keep themselves secure and weather out the storm.