Ashari rode to the city beside the sea like a queen upon a pilgrimage of fire. The sea of Azar glowed blue like a jewel in the red sun, the shadows of its waves violet as imperial porphyry. The stars reflected in the waters and the sails of the ships that crossed it shone white as wings. She smelled the water so close and breathed it in, an air so different from the great eastern sea beyond the empire.
On the white shores the city of Irdru rose like an idol carved from living ebony, the walls and towers gleaming black and polished so they shone. The city spread along the seaside in a great expanse she would not have believed had she heard the tale. It was as large a city as the imperial heart at Zur, though not so well-fortified. It looked like a city that lived and breathed, rather than a fortress of conquest. The towers were rounded and tipped by graceful spires, and she liked the look of them.
The road to the great gates was white stone, and thronged with the crowds of people who came and went and scattered before her. Astride the great form of her Mokol, she reared high above any who they encountered, and men and beasts alike hastened from their path. Her dragon left a trail of scattered flames on the road, as his burning venom dripped from his jaws. His heavy tread shook the earth, and she heard the screams of children and of beasts as they beheld her coming.
In her wake rode the Horane warriors astride their long-necked beasts of war. Eager to enter the city in their finery, they wore their richest war-gear, hung with gold and polished bone, their spears glittering in the sun. Behind them came the rest of the clan, moving with the pack animals and a vanguard around the women and the aged. The chief himself rode at the center of them, as a man in a dream.
They came to the gates, and the crowds parted to escape her path. A line of soldiers was there to bar her way, spears held read and tall helms drawn down over their faces. She sensed the fear in them, as did her steed, and he gave a growl of belligerence that shuddered the stones of the gatehouse and he spat fire upon the stone where it burned like a brazier beneath his dagger-toothed jaws.