The day was nearing its end, the sun’s last rays coloured half the sky in a fading blue, while the other half began to shift ever darker, with the first stars beginning to appear.
Rhae-Ming was at her house, in her night gown and treating herself to a fresh cup of green tea while observing the sunset. She was sat down on her chair in front of a pair of opened double paper panel doors, through which she had a lovely view of the city beneath her, with the warm evening draft in her long black hair. As the last of the day’s light vanishes from the city of Beihai, and the moon’s light takes over the darkened starry sky, she reflected upon past events.
Just the previous day, she had lost a snow elf to a pirate in the court of law. ‘‘What has this nation come to?’’ was not exactly the question she was asking herself, as she was the one to retract her claim. The pirates that visited her the other evening made it clear to her that this one elf is definitely not worth her trouble, otherwise she might have won. No, she had other things on her mind. Sad stories such as that of the snow elf are a dime a dozen when it came to slavery in today’s day and age. She was more intrigued by the fact that such race of people even existed. Keeping that thought in mind, she went to bed.
The next day, she got up early to reconvene with her companions that had accompanied her to the kingdom of Nigardheim on their previous expedition. They were to meet at the Beihai university where the Grand Master, along with her team and a number of cartographers, would document their journey in as much detail as they could. Previously, Niirai traders would not venture past Akhaliqia and the Sea of Sand, and Niirai sailors would never venture westwards past Tescana, which was already swarming with pirates at the time. Their last expedition reached further north than any Niirai ever made it before them, at least officially. Along the way, they had acquired regional maps from the locals as well, using the money they were granted at the beginning of their journey, they were never in financial crisis. Though, many of the maps they had acquired were second grade material, inaccurate, and in some cases, way outdated. As their own journey did not provide much geographical change for the majority of its length, which was mainly sand followed by more sand, they took what they could get without gaining unwanted attention.
The primary goal of the expedition was, of course, to determine the origin of Xia’s black powder smuggling operations. Exploration and mapping was always a secondary priority. In the end however, the expedition was declared a failure, as they did not uncover anything that would relate to the black powder smugglers. They did discover Nigardheim who used black powder weaponry, at least, and have noted the existence of yet other kingdoms who used weapons of the same principle further west, which meant the smugglers could be from any one, several, or all of these nations, and they themselves might not even know about it.
Over the course of a year, and after a couple of shorter follow-up voyages, she and her team would adequately detail Xia’s closest neighbours, while leaving the rest of the world, such as the north and the far west, ultimately unknown. As neither Xia’s influence nor traffic extended past Tescana and Akhiliqia, the powers that be did not feel the need to send their own kind in to the great unknown with the succession issues of the time. What DID intrigue many scholars was the existence of other elves which were encountered in Nigardheim. The Niirai united under their Xia empire thought they were all there was of elven kind in the world, but apparently, they had other elven brethren further afield, and many wished to connect the dots between their and Niirai ancient history. And as such, the first Xia historians came in to being, scholars who not only took note of events as they passed by and recorded them, but who actively sought to uncover unrecorded passed history as well, through dedicated research and archaeology.
What peaked the curiosity of her Grand Master however, was Rhae-Ming’s report on her encounter with snow elves. She detailed their sorry condition when she first encountered them, being sold at the port of Nigardheim, and how many passed away along their journey until only one remained, not due to being malnourished or wounded, but purely because of the warm climate. They concluded that this race of elves were most likely accustomed to a much colder environment and their bodies did not take to well to the distinct change. When news got out, the scientific community was up in arms to gain more funding for a second expedition to the north. For historians and cartographers alike, Rhae-Ming’s last expedition was not a failure, but a massive success, which deserves way more attention, and a second attempt, but this time, merely to explore and document. Their plea was inevitably granted, and Rhae-Ming was put at the head of a second expedition. She was granted her own ship, a team of scholars to accompany her, and a security detail. She was given a copy of Xia’s most modern map of the world to aid in navigation along with two smaller escort ships to ward off pirates. None of her old companions were to come with her however, as they had their own assignments.
It was over a year since her first expedition, and if their theory was correct, that these snow elves were indeed comfortable living in cold regions, then her best bet would be to venture north, past Nigardheim, in to the Northern Reaches, otherwise known also as the Northern Wastes to find them. Assuming the Niirai would experience a similar reaction to the change in temperature as the snow elves did when coming south, they brought along adequate clothing.
With them, they will be bringing a chest of treasures as gifts for any King or Queen they would come across as leader of these snow elves, to gain their grace as proper diplomatic guests.