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Chapter 17 Plan of Action

 

Roshan warily eyed the flickering cressets staving off the night’s darkness. Having delivered his message, he waited as the Overchief, a great stallion of light-grayish skin with a trimmed golden mane, mulled over the information given to him.

As soon as he returned to the unicorn capital, he arranged for an audience with the grand ruler of the unicorns. Thus he was here, guardian unicorns on standby with their razor-bladed horns and metallic armor reddened by the torchfire. Instead of using the open space of his residence, a building resembling a simple, tiny palace with a layered roof shaped like tents, the Overchief preferred to speak with his messengers inside the walls of his courtyard.

And despite it being dark, Roshan had no problem with this. Nearby cubical hedges, the pitter-patter of a nearby water fountain, and delicately arranged flowers did well to soothe his queasiness while under the burning yellow eyes of the Overchief. Wasn’t that the point of the garden after all?

His foreleg went rigid as its hoof tapped the polished stone pathway for what might be the thirteenth time. You’re foot-tapping, he scolded himself.

At last the Overchief brought his gaze up, the tiny chuckle in his voice somehow putting Roshan further on edge. “King Brimir appears to have his claws full,” he said. “Such an amusing turn of events. Now how did I fail to learn about some young dragon who’s apparently given the Dragon Crown a run for their money for a few years?”

Such interest in this topic threw Roshan off. He had come to explain about the construct Ismat, whom the Dragon Crown had retrieved, and how he ended up set loose on certain conditions after a series of eye-popping events. The ‘intermediary’ dragon that the revered magic had taken along, although an interesting figure, wasn’t what Roshan expected the Overchief to comment on first.

“And now this strange dragon is a key member of an organization of mercenaries,” he continued, moving back to the main subject at hand, “supervised by this strange, strange construct. Are you certain you did not get this team’s name?”

Beads of sweat covered the creases in Roshan’s forehead. “Overchief, I repeat there was no mention of a name. It is a new party after all, it wasn’t registered at the time.”

“Hmm, very well. A letter through the phoenix mail system should suffice.” The Overchief strode to the left, caressing a large hedge. “Roshan, do you see the meaning of this?”

Of course, he blurted in his mind. While traveling back, considering all the implications became one of his pastimes. “As I see it, never has a construct taken charge of an organization of any sort. This challenges the norms.”

Of course, he blurted in his mind. While traveling back, considering all the implications became one of his pastimes. “As I see it, never has a construct taken charge of an organization of any sort. This challenges the norms.”

“Well said.” The Overchief kept his eye on the hedge. “Enchanted items that are left to their own devices are like how fruit juices ferment into alcoholic beverages. Rule-abiding natures turn towards dangerous and chaotic natures. Many an artifact, no matter what kind, has gone bad to such a point it causes destruction around itself, until it is called reviled magic — a note that its days are numbered.

“I should wonder, will this brilliant, well-intentioned construct of revered magic ferment the same way? Or shall he resist the entropy that unravels artifacts like him? Such a profound circumstance, one all of Fantasmyth will watch shrewdly.”

“Not only that, Overchief,” Roshan carefully put forward, “but nations all over will watch in wonder of how this group may shape politics.”

The Overchief turned his head, throwing away all interest in the hedge as he swiftly moved into Roshan’s personal space. The messenger unicorn resisted a shudder as the great chieftain’s horn hovered inches away from his own. It wasn’t that the great stallion in front of him was any larger than himself, or that he was more physically able. It wasn’t necessarily his power as a ruler either.

“Indeed, if this group lives on, it will lead to disturbances. We gain a group of rangers that could combat the likes of the Blodoggs, one that can lead to changes in how nations view and treat thinking magic, and so on. You are grasping this well, Roshan.” The pair of golden eyes shimmered in an acknowledging way, voice dropping to a whisper. “Son.”

Roshan let himself wince once his father — no, he was to be called the Overchief — returned to his position with a swish of his tail. There are only so many beings that may humble me so, he thought to himself.

“How the other nations will react should be interesting.” The Overchief grinned, a terrible expression coming from a horse. “Perhaps they will downplay this construct’s team of rangers, or try to sabotage them in secret? Frame this Ismat as a latent danger? But I am more inclined to think they would probe him, perhaps try to do business or turn him to their causes before resorting to such measures.”

Didn’t that messenger Alaisa mention a desire to look into this matter? Roshan whimsically thought. Apparently the fey thought the matter important enough that she chose to find out the name and circumstances of Ismat’s squadron, maybe even create a link between them and the fey government.

Good chance she was onto something there. It’d give her prestige with her higher-ups too if it paid off, an advantage in the inner competition between fey messengers.

“The magic hunters and bandits out there must be excited,” the Overchief muttered. “What a steal it would be, to capture a construct that can think like any other myith! It’s no wonder the Blodoggs got interested.

“And then there is us, the unicorns.” The Overchief gave Roshan an expectant look.

Roshan nodded with a faint smile. According to King Brimir, Ismat consumed fire and, more importantly, psychic mana. He had low amounts of the latter, and the unicorns had the corresponding pool.

There’s some profiting to be done.

If not for his current audience, he would’ve chuckled. There was something humorous about how the dragon king and a few messengers threw stares at him when Ismat’s details were brought up. Foolish, really. Brimir’s fault for parting with such sensitive information, he thought as the Overchief continued.

“If the potential of Ismat’s group is as I suspect it may be, working a deal with them would be useful. We could gain their preference when asking for aid, or when offering jobs. Brimir’s reaction when we ostracize him from his precious construct will amuse me for a good while.”

The great chieftain moved forward again, this time stopping a good few feet away and eyeing the nearby guards. “I’ll have you send a message to the nomads living at the foot of the mountains soon. I’ve a test in mind in seeing how effective Ismat and his current team may be. Understood?”

Roshan gave his affirmation, figuring out the meaning behind those words. It would be interesting to see how these mercenaries would fare in the Overchief’s plans for them. Though Ismat, being in hiding for obvious reasons, probably wouldn’t show up. Shame.

With a gesture the Overchiefs had him leave. That construct is bound to cause a stir, he thought as the guards escorted him to the courtyard gate. If he succeeded in that challenge of his, he would be a revered magic with neither an owner nor a protective seal over him, something no one could ever conceive of. What Brimir was thinking when he agreed to this, Roshan didn’t know.

The unicorn crossed the gate, the heaviness in his chest abating as they went shut. The clang of metal rang throughout the city.

 


 

Jakyra went from watching a phoenix put on a musical puppet show that a miniature Brimir for some reason was in — dreams were weird like that — to having her heart leap out at a thunderous roar.

Eyelids forced themselves open, the dragon whipping her head around in a frenzy. The soft glow of Ismat’s heart was nowhere around to combat the darkness in her small den.

She got up in a panic, sighing at the reassuring sight of Ismat’s body lying outside the cavern entrance. His neck twisted so he could see her from the corner of his eye. “I would scoff at your exaggerated reaction to my wake up call had I not understood why you acted so. No, I was not attacked. Or kidnapped, or anything else that means that I’m in danger.”

Before she could yell at him, he added, “Your friend is waiting.” His head readjusted to peer at what must’ve been a certain elf outside the cave.

Jakyra brought herself up, the light drip-drip a soothing melody that banished her irritation. Huh, it’s raining, she thought as she tested her groaning muscles and sore scales. Stepping outside brought her next to Ismat, wings tickled from droplets falling from the cavern overhang. Or at least, it was raining.

The gathered, gray clouds were reluctant to let down more water. Judging from the shallow, sparse puddles about, nothing more than a drizzle had happened. Jakyra rubbed the sleep from her eyes, figuring it must have been morning. Why again did she feel fatigued?

Oh yeah, yesterday. She took quite a beating from rocks and olitiaus, with her reward being—

“Stupid bird,” Jakyra muttered under her breath like some kind of curse, snorting at Ismat’s chuckle. “Oh come on, you have to agree—”

“That it was unfair? That a phoenix taking your precious artifact was an unforgivable injustice?” Even as he smiled, Ismat narrowed his eyes. “Very cute, mortal. How about we trade places? You confine yourself here for the next month and I get to enjoy being able to travel wherever I wish, without concern for magic hunters and thieves being after me.”

Jakyra shut her mouth. Who invited passive-aggressive Ismat?

“I prefer this attitude too,” Ismat responded, making her splash the closest puddle with all due exasperation towards the edge of the perch. “Oh come now, it isn’t hard to guess your thoughts. How will you when I regain enough psychic mana to literally read minds? Worse still, you didn’t even give your friend an acknowledgement.”

Conveniently Jakyra had then taken notice of Sauda, her face more obscured than usual by a hooded cloak half-hung over her eyes and dressed in loose casual clothing. The elf had been leaning beside an outcropping of stone at the edge of the elevation where the cave sat, making the dragon’s face redden. How did she fail to notice her the whole time?

Eh, her friend wouldn’t take it personally. Why was Sauda here again?

The elf tucked the hair sticking out her balaclava back in, leaving a small strand. Her blank eyes went towards Jakyra like a secret message only she (and Ismat, no doubt) would understand. A wave of shame-induced nausea forced the dragon to drop her head.

Darn, I forgot! the dragon thought. Today we’re supposed to get the Omniguards registered.

In her defense, Sauda didn’t talk much about that registration thing, but it was still bad of her to forget something that important. Muttering a greeting and an apology or two, Jakyra approached her friend.

Her body and mind throbbed in protest, but she ignored it. Yes, yesterday left her body in a rocky state, all puns intended, but pain wouldn’t stop her. She had agreed to go with Sauda to deal with this registration process, and no way she was backing out of an agreement.

Sauda didn’t beat the bush, giving a tilt of her head. Jakyra complied, forcing herself to kneel so the elf could climb on.

However, Ismat had much more to say. “I appreciate your get-it-done attitudes, it’s what I would have expected from you,” he said before Sauda could even move. “But it seems you may be getting ahead of yourselves.”

The weather? Jakyra thought, looking at the sky. Still cluttered with gray clouds, but they seemed to be dispersing. Then Ismat’s patient expression caught her attention.

“Not the rain.” The pseudo dragon’s tone became wistful. “Having to idly sit and watch from the sidelines sickens me, but I will not dare risk the attention nor the trouble I would gather roaming about. I reckon there is much to do in advance before we can establish ourselves.”

His talon pointed at Sauda. “Explain everything you will do for this registration process and afterward. As your supervisor, I must know of your plans.”

Jakyra furrowed her brows. Ismat wanted to work out a to-do-list for the Omniguards with Sauda?

I mean, we do need one of those, she told herself. A list of things to do sounded motivating. She hadn’t been too sure of what they would do after all, and this would finally get the ball rolling.

Sauda didn’t hesitate, like she intended to check with Ismat anyway. “For registration, setting up the team and listing its members and artifacts in possession. I would try not to say much about you in respect to your privacy, but that is impractical. They will insist on knowing all details, and the rumors will give you away.”

Ismat was unfazed, like he had already come to expect this. Then again, Jakyra had informed the construct of some of the rumors, having overheard them in the last couple days from the nearest dragon settlement.

To their discomfort, a few of said rumors were way too accurate, even detailing the wealthy dragons who purchased the construct after he was unearthed from Scal and before the Dragon Crown took him — A detail Jakyra had all but forgotten about. His ability to mimic a dragon form and his appearance amongst the dwarves were also known. At least no one knew what became of Ismat afterward.

Still, it was quite scary. Maybe the Dragon Crown leaked the information? But that would be forfeiting the deal with Ismat, and none of them would be so stupid as to do that. The Blodoggs, though, had the magic, the cunning, and the shamelessness to figure it out.

“I’ll handle finding jobs,” Sauda continued. “Not too tough, but enough to foster a good reputation. The registry usually has a selection. Once we have enough funds I’ll look into finding mana suppliers.”

Great, then Ismat’s skills in deducing others’ thoughts can upgrade to literal mind reading, Jakyra dryly thought to herself. He’d be a full-on creep once he got his coveted psychic mana.

“So about those tasks,” the construct said. “Will you select them in consideration of Gunnar’s circumstances?”

Sauda deliberated on this, giving Jakyra a look in the process. “Yes, I did explain the situation with Ismat,” the dragon said. “He knows the terms we gave Gunnar and is fine with them, we’re just waiting for Gunnar’s parents to give their own input.”

Bills must have informed them of how negotiations went, she figured, and that their son would be inducted as a partial member. Now it was just a matter of waiting for their reaction. Maybe they would insist on changes in the conditions, or prevent their son from joining outright.

“Some low-risk jobs then,” Sauda decided.

Ismat hummed. “That will do. Funny, I never fancied myself a magic teacher before.”

Jakyra let herself laugh. Part of the agreement was that Gunnar would get some tutoring with Ismat, and despite initially hesitating the construct’s intrigue at the idea won out. What the construct could even teach about magic to a dwarf fearful of him, Jakyra had no clue, but it sure would make for some silly drama.

“I believe you also want more members.” Sauda stared at the gray clouds, their ranks thinning ever so slightly. “I’ll do my best, but I know nobody who’d take an interest.”

“No rush.” Ismat fiddled around with a puddle he inched towards, swirling it around with his talons with newborn curiosity. Sauda kept quiet.

“This all seems to be in good order so far,” he eventually said. “But I must remind you of our challenge with the Crown. I expect you two to see what you can dig up about the ethereals and Iye. More focus on Iye since he is the easiest of the three groups to deal with, especially with his magic broken for now — but otherwise our attention must be on the Blodoggs. While I’m biding my time here and unable to use my dangersense to find the whereabouts of Iye and the ethereals, members of those thieves should be the least troublesome to locate.”

“And they’re more infamous?” Jakyra pointed out.

Ismat grumbled agreeably. Past that, it was quiet, with only the chirps of overhead birds to disrupt it. The clouds seemed to be parting now, a glimmer of sunlight warming the rugged crags and hills that flanked the dirty pathway of Ragget Pass below.

“Then that seems to be all.” Ismat whirled over to Jakyra. “Except for one last thing, intermediary. Weren’t you supposed to ask me about what it meant to be the intermediary by the way?”
Oh. That. Jakyra awkwardly chuckled.

“Shame, shame. Let me make this simple.” Ismat’s wings extended, their tips aimed at Jakyra like he was poised to smother her with them. “You are my intermediary, Jakyra, my spokesperson and advisor. My right hand, to put it one way. You serve as my voice where I cannot.”

Not the literal definition of the word intermediary, but she still could have inferred just as much. “So what I already am doing,” Jakyra teased. “Unless there is something else you want me to voice on your behalf?”

Apparently Ismat did have something for her to do, considering his smug look. “Do your other master—” he waved his claw towards Sauda “—a favor and keep track of the list of goals we set up. Do you remember them all?”

Jakyra rolled her eyes, relaying the information. Tasks, Gunnar’s situation, gathering recruits, looking into cavern fixer-uppers, intermediary’s role as Ismat’s right hand — it wasn’t that hard to remember. If she could fit in her noggin details of draconic laws and their loopholes, she could keep track of this list with little trouble.

“And of course, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to win our bet with Brimir and the Crown,” she said to wrap up her summary, “Which will be hard since we’re practically throwing darts at our targets with a blindfold on, but it’s a good thing one of them happens to be an easy-to-hit bullseye!”

No movement. For a while Ismat and Sauda’s bodies were so rigid Jakyra questioned if they were dead enough for that doll artifact to animate.

“Was that a web of puns?” Ismat slowly said.

“Don’t think about it,” Sauda warned him. Jakyra laughed.

And Ismat groaned, making the laughter worse. “If only I didn’t, but my artificial mind quickly processes information. Intermediary, on the order of your two masters, stop listening to your third master.”

“My third master?” Jakyra said in between laughs.

“The blasted pungeon master policing your messed up prison of a mind.”

At that the dragon lost it, collapsing like a liquid. All sensation vanished, the pain in her body a distant reality. Oh, the horror of the words she strung together! It was so awful, and yet so good!

“Darts, target, bullseye,” Ismat muttered. “Blindfold, bullseye. EYE.” He spat the term, waving Jakyra off as if sending her off to an executioner. “I chose my intermediary poorly. Get out of my sight before I decide to prematurely cremate you.”

Putting a stop to her giggles, Jakyra complied. Sauda climbed onto her, tapping the scales on her back.

“What hurts me is that I liked that one,” she said in a soft voice.

It took multiple attempts before Jakyra could squelch the second wind of laughter roaring in her throat. Her final chuckle sounded more like a grunt when she finally composed herself, flapping her wings to take to the sky.

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About the author

SaadTheConjurer

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Bio: Peace be upon you.

You've met a madman with a fondness for ducks, striving to write high-quality stories.

Currently writing a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fanfic on fanfiction.net and AO3 (not posting it on Royal Road just yet). Needs to write more original work sooner or later.

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