Hetasa, the merchant city, had a long tradition of independence despite owing ostensible fealty to many entities over the years. It had been everything from a kingdom in its own right to a de facto empire, a province of the Empire to a subject of the Emirate, an free city to a unit of a much larger territory. But to the Hetasans, all that was strictly secondary. The city, and the House of Iora that ruled it, were eternal and unchanging.

Tales are still told in dark alleys and nurseries of the time the great Emir decided to remove the House of Iora from power and replace them with a satrap of her own choosing. The guilds and associations and merchants had worried the satrap to premature age and death from a heart attack inside of a year; the Emir, frustrated, had restored the House of Iora to power after it swore fealty to her. The city had quickly calmed, and when the Emirate collapsed Hetasa had endured almost unchanged.

The House of Iora took power in the earliest days of the city, overthrowing the noble house of Xyri and bringing the other nobility into line. The Iora had revived the ancient traditions of the Assembly of Nobles and the Assembly of the Humble, and used the illusion of participation and consensus to forge a rule more ironclad yet more unobtrusive than any a would-be despot could hope to establish.

Two things about the House of Iora excited mild interest and off-color jokes among outsiders: the fact that the ruler was styled “Last Among Equals” even though the reverse was clearly true, and the curious coincidence that the ruler of Hetasa and the head of the House of Iora was inevitably a woman. Unlike the Empire and the Emirate, where large families fought amongst one another over claims to the throne, there was inevitably–no matter the ruler’s consort–only a single heir born into the house every generation, a daughter. Sequestered in a temple during their minority and only presented to the public on coming of age, the Iora women were invariably highly able–a fact some attributed to the strictness and isolation of their upbringing. Some argued that no line could sustain such ability over the long term, and that some of the Ioras must have been adopted, but the strong family resemblance they demonstrated generally buried such concerns.

But, in truth, there was far more to it than that. If, during the reign of Iora XXVI, one had managed to penetrate into the temple sanctum in search of the young Iora XXVII, they would have found only empty rooms and a staff with their tongues cut out. Similarly, the grand marble effigied tombs in the City Palace hold nothing but a few motes of dust.

Hetasa has, in fact, been ruled by the same being since the Xyri were overthrown nearly one thousand years ago.

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