“Oranell didn’t have specific knowledge of the assassination attempt, but according to his codebook, he was supposed to pick up two passengers. Toron Ell, our assassin, and Sienne.” Cheya and Iniri sat in one of the private rooms of her tower, one that she’d already inlaid with extra runes of privacy and protection. “Everyone else was ignorant. According to Captain Usaer, there’s always a House man along on any trading vessel and what they do is their business.” Cheya grimaced. “It’s not a surprise, but it’s a little terrifying to think about how large their agent network is. Not so much on Orn, but on their home continent? They must practically rule Ulael.”
“Then we’ll send the captain and crew back to Ir once things settle here,” Iniri decided. “Oranell, I’m not sure about. He hasn’t done anything specifically, but I do need to make a point to House Anell.”
“I believe a severed head is customary,” Cheya said dryly.
“If we still have Toron’s body I might well do that,” Iniri said. “Oranell himself could deliver it. Directly to House Anell, if Blue or I can swing it.” She found it hard to know how much Blue cared about her, considering that he couldn’t speak to her directly and aside from assuring her that Blue was upset by it, he hadn’t been particularly verbose about his opinions. Part of her had even wondered whether he really cared. But he’d gone out of his way to find the ship and the logbook, being so eager about it that it reassured her that she really did matter to him. It was just that he was very bad at expressing it. Unfortunately, House Anell was beyond their reach for the moment. If it were just Tarnil, she would say entirely, but with Blue involved she wasn’t going to bet on House Anell.
“We do. I had it preserved, just in case,” Cheya said. Iniri didn’t ask exactly when that had happened, since Cheya had been gone at the time, but it didn’t much surprise her.
“Did Blue ever tell us what the ship was carrying to trade?” Iniri asked. Shayma hadn’t said anything to her, but for unimportant things like that didn’t always come straight from Shayma to her. Sometimes they didn’t come from Shayma at all, with Blue just doing things and trusting that she’d figure it out. It was equally parts infuriating, that he didn’t communicate everything, and reassuring, that he felt he could rely on her.
“Food,” Cheya told her with a laugh. “Casks and casks of flour from Ir. Blue dumped it right into the quartermaster’s warehouse.”
“Well, useful anyway. Normally I wouldn’t hold with seizing a ship and cargo, but House Anell doesn’t get any sympathy from me.” It wasn’t just Anell that was affected. The captain and crew didn’t really deserve to be held accountable for what their masters had done. “When we return that crew make sure Anell pays for them. They can have their own ransom, we don’t need it.” Satisfying as it was, it was ultimately a small issue in the face of the oncoming force of mage-kings. Something that had taken up most of her attention ever since Blue brought it up.
She glanced at her schedule, then at the clock. Even if the prior day’s interruption hadn’t taken up much time, it had still discommoded a number of people. One of them was Andis, which she didn’t feel too bad about, but she wasn’t quite sure why he hadn’t left yet. Not to mention the Chiuxatli, who were later in the day. She’d learned about them and seen some of them once, in Ir, but never talked to them herself. Even now she wouldn’t be doing so directly, since they needed an interpreter. Rather like Blue did, when she thought about it. By that point she actually had some idea of what Blue was wanting even without Shayma.
“I suppose I need to get going,” Iniri sighed. “Thank you so much, Cheya, but believe me that I am not going to try and pit you against the whole of House Anell’s machinery. I think for now we should focus on reconstituting our infrastructure – and your networks – and leave House Anell to Blue. I don’t think they’ll be worrying about subtle for a while.”
“I expect not,” Cheya agreed. “That doesn’t mean I won’t keep an eye out. Under the circumstances I may be rather more heavy-handed than usual. I expect you won’t mind.”
“Not for this,” she said grimly. There was no negotiation to be had with House Anell, not until Iniri was sure that she or Blue could force them to terms. There was only eliminating a danger within her country. With all the cities locked up in Blue’s Caldera, it was a perfect time to properly audit things.
Iniri rose and gave Cheya another nod before touching a strand of silver embedded in the wall, moving herself to her meeting room with [Swiftray]. The page there jumped as she appeared, still not used to Iniri popping in from nowhere, but bowed and hurried out to inform the appropriate people that she had arrived.
Andis bowed himself into the room, and she waved him to the seat across from her. He’d stopped using whatever Skill it was that made him glow and look almost inhumanely handsome, but there was still a sort of glimmer to his presence. His nose was back to normal, so far as she could tell, with no sign that it had been erased by void magic only a few days ago. His companion in injury, Tulk, still wasn’t back to duty, but reattaching an arm was a little more difficult.
“Your Highness,” Andis said, in lieu of any actual opening conversation. Since he didn’t seem to want to broach whatever had made him stay, she decided to just proceed with her own agenda.
“I’m sure you’ve heard it elsewhere in court, but the mage-kings are on their way here.” Iniri told him, not wishing to try any conversational gambits. “They should arrive in four days, give or take, so I’m advising everyone not a resident of Tarnil to leave.”
“I have heard that,” Andis admitted cautiously. “It is concerning. Ir has asked me to enquire further.”
“No doubt.” Iniri eyed him. At least that answered why he hadn’t left yet. “I won’t ask Ir to commit to a defense, considering the timing and the lack of any official relations between us, but I do wish to raise the fact that this is being done without any official declaration of war. At the very least Ir should object to that state of affairs.”
“It is a violation of the civilized rules of warfare,” Andis admitted. “But I couldn’t possibly say what Ir’s response would be.”
“I expect the other countries on Orn will be looking to Ir for guidance.” Iniri smiled tightly. If nothing else, that was an angle she could push with no fear of reprisals. “There is also the matter of House Anell’s assassination attempt. Not only did he attack me, he injured you, a prince of the Empire of Ir.” Andis glowered at that, and nodded, in agreement there at least.
“So, I am asking Ir’s support in my pursuit of that matter.” She pushed several rolled missives across the table to Andis. “While I must reject your personal advances, I don’t believe you lack integrity. You need to leave so you aren’t trapped while the mage-kings attack, and I trust you to deliver these to Emperor Wright. When we destroy this second attack by the mage-kings, we can revisit our diplomatic relations.”
Andis’ eyes flickered in thought as he regarded the missives. Though it wasn’t what he’d come for, changing the reason for leaving from her simply kicking him out to her sending home all the visitors for their own safety at least saved him some face. While playing messenger wasn’t what he came for, it did mean that he had some purpose when he returned to Ir, and wouldn’t be totally empty handed. It was as big a carrot as she could offer that would also get her what she wanted.
“I’ll bring them to the Emperor myself, Your Highness,” Andis said at length.
“Thank you, Prince Andis,” Iniri said formally. “I suggest you leave at once. While I am confident the mage-kings are headed directly for Meil, it wouldn’t be a good idea to be caught in the open ocean when they arrive.”
“Then I shall do so,” Andis said, clearly not enjoying the idea of having to face the mage-kings himself. “Until we meet again, Queen Iniri.”
“Good day, Prince Andis,” Iniri said, and let him bow himself out of the room. She leaned back in her chair, letting out a breath. The meeting, short as it was, had been more stressful than she’d thought, at least by anticipation. But he hadn’t been difficult at all, so maybe the importance of events had impressed themselves on him. Or maybe he just was grateful for having his nose regrown.
The next meeting was bound to be a little stranger. She wasn’t much familiar with the Chiuxatli and neither was anyone else in her court. It didn’t help that they’d been either reticent or simply obscure about what they wanted to talk about, save that it had something to do with the mage-kings. Iniri had no idea what politics were involved, or if the mage-kings had attacked someone other than Tarnil. She just didn’t have any relations with any kingdoms that far away. In fact, she wasn’t even sure she could pronounce the name of their land properly; Tlaxilchique was a mouthful even on paper.
She waited for the page to finish pouring her a new glass of tayantan juice before motioning for him to fetch the Chiuxatli and their interpreter. It wasn’t like she needed the extra bit of restoration tayantan juice provided, but it was delicious and one of the few fruits that they actually had enough of. True, it wasn’t exactly traded publicly, but it was still a luxury she could indulge in and not feel too bad for doing so.
The door opened again, letting in the two Chiuxatli and their interpreter. The particular meeting room she was using looked out over the courtyard, and was screened by climbing vines and flowers but still brightly lit by the sun. In such bright light the Chiuxatli were almost blindingly brilliant, a riot of colors in reds and greens, shifting to deeper, burnt shades as their interpreter bowed deeply.
“Huyaceotl Four-Wind and Nixaceti Eight-Flint greet Her Highness, Queen Iniri of Tarnil.” The Chiuxatli genuflected, and she waved for them to rise. “You can ignore me and just speak to them, Your Highness,” the interpreter added parenthetically and in an undertone. “They understand their names may be troublesome, so they may be referred to as Huey and Nixie if you prefer.”
Iniri gave him a nod. As a rule, she set protocol, but she was happy enough to not have to even try to get her mouth around those pronunciations in order to be polite.
“It is rare that Tarnil gets guests from so far away,” Iniri noted. “I do look forward to establishing relations with your homeland, but unfortunately you have come at a bad time. The mage kings will be arriving in just a few days, as I’m certain you’ve heard by now, so I am advising everyone to leave for home or for Ir. Though I am confident in our victory, I cannot absolutely guarantee your safety.”
The colors on their feathers had changed slowly as she spoke, but now they flashed rapidly, rippling in mesmerizing patterns. If it weren’t for the fact that she could see they weren’t throwing out extra mana she could have believed it was some sort of mind-affecting Skill. She had a blink a few times at the sheer dazzle of it. Fortunately, it didn’t last long.
“Huyaceotl is aware of the impending attack, but would prefer to stay here if he could prevail upon Your Highness to do so.” Ironically, her experience with Shayma speaking for Blue made focusing on the avian as if he were the one speaking much easier.
“I am curious as to what reason you have to stay.” Especially one that would keep them there through a war that wasn’t theirs. The most alarming possibility was that they were exiles or political refugees, come to beg asylum, something which could result in even more enemies for Tarnil whether she granted it or not. But these two didn’t have the air of refugees, and such exiles probably wouldn’t have a clearly confident, comfortable, and well-paid translator.
“We’re interested in how you fare against the mage kings,” Huyaceotl said through the interpreter. “Our lands are directly opposite their islands in the other direction, and while our lands are rather more hostile to human-kin than yours, we have worries about their attitudes.”
“I admit I’ve not been a fan of their attitudes myself,” Iniri said dryly, then shrugged. “It’s not a secret that we are under the protection of the Power Blue, and that we could not repel the mage-kings with the strength of our Classers alone.”
“Yes. While we would not presume to claim a Power’s might for our own, we have some hope that by staying and witnessing the battle we may understand more about a potential threat. And potential help.” There was some discussion between Huyaceotl and Nixaceti in brilliant, flashing colors before the interpreter resumed. “We also have come pursuing certain rumors that reached us about a cure or immunity.”
Iniri let out a breath. She had been wondering when that would come up through diplomatic channels, as it was hardly a secret even if they weren’t advertising it. But she’d always thought that it would start with people closer to home, in neighboring countries or even in Ir. Having it come from such foreign people as the Chiuxatli was a surprise.
“I can shed light on that rumor,” Iniri told them. “There is a Depletion cure, and it renders one immune to any further depletion. But it is not mine to dispense and it’s not something that is even available to everyone. Blue is the one who has that ability, but there are major caveats that come with it. He can only bestow it by sex, and only to women.”
Again the colors flashed at the Chiuxatli conversed amongst themselves, or at the very least did the equivalent of sharing a glance. Though she couldn’t completely tell, she thought they were both male which excluded any possibility of dealing with their issue right now. Still, she’d be sending them to Blue soon enough, she was sure.
“That is unfortunate. We were hoping for some more broadly usable knowledge, but some hope is better than none. Is Blue also the source of the intense wind Affinity magic we have sensed here in Tarnil?”
“Yes.” Iniri considered what to tell them. “Blue’s protection extends over Tarnil, as does his mana. We naturally have quite a bit of wind and nature mana, thanks to the Wildwood, but Blue has made it far more intense as of late.”
“Is there any way we can discuss things with Blue? We desire to know if it’s possible for him to do the same with our lands.”
“I certainly can send you to him,” Iniri told them. “This is certainly his matter. I am surprised, though. I would have thought you would have plenty of wind Affinity mana in your homelands.” Their wings certainly suggested it, at least.
“There is, but…” More discussion, feathers strobing wildly. “Perhaps you have not noticed here, since you have a Mana Spring. But for the past hundred years or more the strength of air Affinity has been declining and the incident rate of Depletion for those with air Affinity increasing.”
“I did not know that,” Iniri said, sitting upright. That was a horrifying notion, to think an entire Affinity was fading away. “Do you know why?”
“We do not. But it seems to have become worse as the mage-kings grow more powerful.”
“I think you definitely need to talk to Blue.”