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 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 the Ten Cities of Edification on Zhoist, only seven of which now remain, and roamed the flats of blood-ice on Clinth. I watched flux-liners race in storm-clouds in the upper layers of Chiiro with thunder in their wake, dove the turquoise depths with the oebarths of Hosnak 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 future generations to understand the circumstances that led to the present situation. 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. 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 Jjaibii Shroud nebular region.
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.
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 across the region began to specialize in different trades. 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 has historically been a Covenant world first and foremost; the world 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 in the Varros Lakeland, next to the great Lake Chilge, and its 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 city-discs 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 great glaciers over a hundred kilometers away. Meanwhile, the coastline of Lake Chilge is 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.
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 radiating from the central spire-keep Jahl Terpen, and mighty defenses lie concealed across its spires and promenades. 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 great Spire-Keep of Jahl Terpen. 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.