It was rare that the Mala’kar, the Bladeless Masters of the Areth’kon, met in formal Conclave. When they did, however, it was a time of tremendous ceremony and celebration. Graduates, soldiers, and Elc’atar alike crowded the walkways and steps, the balconies and windows; they filled the parade field and its every entrance just to catch a glimpse as the Masters passed. Everyone had their favorite champion, and all were quick to recite their hero’s various accomplishments and records. Arguments were common and vociferous, though ensuing fights were few. The following of a particular hero was easy to ascertain, as thunderous roars of voices and striking shields welcomed the bravest, the fastest, the most cunning, the most attractive.

Most arrived at the Gates alone, walking or astride their great lo’el. Some entered with a small entourage around them. Others came in groups of two or three with their subordinates mingled together. They were stoic and silent, their eyes never still nor fixed on any one spot. If they enjoyed the tumult that greeted them, they gave no sign. No one in the crowds ventured too close. Though not many in number, they carried themselves with the calm assurance that they had an army at their command.

The roar that greeted Shane Rhen’val was loud in particular. He arrived just shy of noon, and the midday meal was close to beginning. The clamor lingered, swelling like cresting waves as he passed on toward the command center. The youngest of the Mala’kar, Shane bore a general popularity due to his skill, his looks, and his family pedigree. He was descended from Sui Rhen’val, the fabled founder of the Areth’kon who had lived during the reign of the Apostate.

To Shane’s right walked his grandfather, Thoreau, the Commandant of the Areth’kon. That he entered the Gates complex without ceremonial escorts told everyone present that the Conclave had not yet formally begun. It also indicated that other business would be discussed that day. To Thoreau’s right walked the Field Marshal, Shane’s father, Dugal. Both Shane and Thoreau had the shining silver hair unique to House Rhen’val, whereas Dugal’s was dark like House Fel’Mekrin. As the Commandant passed, the soldiers bowed low in respect, only to erupt
in cheers and whoops as they passed on. The trio crossed the parade field in silence, though their energy signatures showed that they were deep in conversation. Their lo’el walked behind them, scanning the boisterous crowd. All this fueled the speculation as to the reason for Thoreau’s early arrival.