Red Sky is continuing, never fear, but I'm doing that thing where I start one story long before I finish the previous one.
This is the same "Creation" as Twilight of the Second Age and Red Sky At Night, but yet another location. And there is a metaplot looming!
Peleps Duradin knelt before the Regentâ€™s throne, keeping his expression serene with some effort. His robes of state, the symbols of his house and family stitched with silver thread into the cerulean fabric that pooled around his feet, made him look like a river that had flowed into the palace and set itself at the Regentâ€™s feet. â€œYou see, your Excellency, this petition will help our navy thrive in these dangerous times. The money is already set aside, and ready to be used.â€
Regent Fokuf pretended to study the parchment for a moment before rolling it up and setting it down next to him. â€œI didnâ€™t realize our navy was in trouble, Duradin.â€
â€œWell, it isnâ€™t, sire. Yet.â€ With careful emphasis, Duradin let Essence fill him, lending emphasis to words. He studied Fokufâ€™s absent expression for a moment, knowing that only the barest minimum effort was necessary. Of far more concern was Ragara Jarrus, the advisor currently standing to the Regentâ€™s right, wearing the browns and whites of his house in contrast to his pale skin and hair, the breeze twitching his own robes on the floor in time with his heartbeats. It had taken careful planning to ensure that Jarrus would be the advisor present for this petition, and he didnâ€™t intend to waste it. As he spoke, lowering his head as a sign of supposed humility, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Jarrus took up the petition and turned to study it more carefully in the light of the roomâ€™s flickering candles. â€œBut these are most dangerous times, and restrictions on our ability to hire more ships that existed in earlier times are no longer the benefit that they once were.â€ He paused, and decided to take a risk. â€œThe Empress herself began the process of loosening these restrictions before herâ€¦ departure. Iâ€™m surprised that she did not leave instructions for this to continue. Or perhaps such instructions might have been lost?â€
â€œOh, I imagine so.â€ Fokufâ€™s vague expression had sharpened momentarily, but then he smiled innocently. â€œAfter all, there are so many instructions, arenâ€™t there? But if we donâ€™t know for sureâ€¦â€ He paused, and looked inquiringly towards Jarrus, falling silent. For a few moments, the tension in the room grew, as Jarrusâ€™s jaw clenched slightly. Duradin wondered what the problem was, tense. The petitionâ€™s true purpose, of course, was to give House Peleps the right to conscript ships from the merchant marine into their fleets â€œas neededâ€. In practice, it could be a valuable aid to start cutting off Vâ€™Neef support, and Jarrusâ€™s distaste for Vâ€™Neef was well-known. Given that two of his superiors had assured Duradin that the advisor would not oppose House Peleps on this, he had expected this to be a simple stamp, followed by a quick passage into law. Instead, Jarrus was studying the petition closely. Something had gone wrong.
â€œMaster Fokuf has always been a proud admirer of the Peleps fleets, havenâ€™t you, Regent?â€ Jarrusâ€™s words were simple, but Fokuf latched on to them like a desperate child, hoping to break the uncomfortable silence that had descended over the room.
â€œOh, yes. Seeing the banners flying as the Water Fleet sails forth from Arjuf was one of my great pleasures, Lord Duradin.â€ Fokuf smiled broadly, and Duradin forced himself to smile back, holding onto the thought that Fokuf was not, in fact, a complete idiot. Contrary to appearances. â€œIt is a shame that I have not been able to visit there in the past few years, Iâ€™ve always thought.â€
â€œIt is not the sight it once was, Your Grace.â€ Duradin kept his head low, eyes fixed on the floor, as his mind raced for ways to suggest to Jarrus the importance of this petition. â€œSo much of the fleet is deployed in the West, and the rumors are dire indeed. Admiral Peleps Aramida only recently defeated a deadly Anathema in the Far West, at the cost of three Dynasts and a pair of ships.â€ He heard Jarrusâ€™s thoughtful breath at the reminder, and kept the smile from appearing on his lips. With a rustle of fabric, the Air-aspected lord walked forwards, handing the petition back to the Regent.
â€œThe decision, as always, is yours, Regent.â€ The smooth lie was understood as such by all three of the men in the room. â€œHowever, I believe that Duradin is quite correct. This would be a poor time for our fleets to be unsupported in the West.â€
Duradin let a smile portion of his victorious smile shine through, looking upwards partially, as the Regent spoke. â€œYes, I would agree. We canâ€™t have anything happen to our fine fleets.â€ Bringing out his seal, he firmly pressed it into the wax that had been set aside, and then signed the petition. Jarrus took it smoothly from him and handed it to a page.
â€œTake this to the Deliberative to be voted on.â€ The page bowed and hurried from the room. Duradin stood and bowed, and Jarrus bowed back. Both shared a triumphant smile that the oblivious Regent ignored.
â€œThank you for your time, Lord Duradin. You may go â€“ I have many personal matters to attend to.â€ Duradin managed, with some effort, to keep from laughing at the Regentâ€™s choice of phrase. With a second bow, he turned and left. Victory was his.
Three days later, at a royal gala held by House Sesus, he was cornered in a darkened alcove by Lady Mnemon Imodine and Lord Peleps Jareth, both livid. Imodine, her face for once as red as her fiery hair, waved a newly-passed law in his face. â€œWhat is the meaning of this, Duradin??â€
Duradin raised an eyebrow. â€œWe discussed this, milady. The weakening of Vâ€™Neef was something that Mnemon and Peleps agree on, and it tied Ragara ever-closer to our alliance. What is the problem?â€
Imodineâ€™s face turned purple, and she became too choked to speak. Jareth, looking not much less annoyed, took the law and handed it to Duradin. â€œPerhaps you should read the specifics of your little law, Duradin.â€
Duradin raised an eyebrow and took the paper, reading over it. As he did, he grew pale, and his eyes widened. â€œWhaâ€¦ the wording has been changed! Here, and here!â€ He flipped through it at increasing speed, finally stopping to look up at the others. â€œSo subtleâ€¦ and yetâ€¦â€
â€œAnd yet, this gives the merchant marines the right to conscript sailors for defense. Vâ€™Neef has been strengthened, not weakened!â€ Imodine practically snarled the comment. Duradin considered the scene in his mindâ€™s eye, and his jaw tightened.
â€œJarrus. He distracted me with that idiot regent while he altered the wording. And now it is too late to change it!â€ He stood, looking to the others. â€œMake sure that the others know how Ragara has betrayed us. We will punish them for this.â€ The other two nodded, and the three conspirators parted. Duradinâ€™s thoughts were murderous.
Two days after that, Sesus Nagazzer read over reports and whistled softly to himself, lying on a pallet in a quiet room. His great form almost spilled over the edges, and he bore a smile that was more satisfied than most would believe him capable of since his disfiguring injury confined him to be mostly motionless. â€œTwo Ragara shipments that have â€˜mysteriouslyâ€™ vanished, a flurry of Peleps opposition in the Deliberative, and no one knows why. The pending alliance between Ragara and Peleps has been all but shattered, and Vâ€™Neef is stronger than ever.â€ He looked over at his companions, who were studying a Gateway board intently.
â€œTrue enough, my friend.â€ Cathak Damian, Chosen of Serenity, looked back at Nagazzer with a smug smirk, then sighed. He was wearing the garb of a minor functionary, and a small purse hung at his side, but the blue stars in his eyes were unmistakable to Nagazzer. â€œBut it is only one step in the greater game. And the stakes are higher than ever before.â€ Lifting a finely carved auroch, he moved it three spaces forwards. â€œAnd while my stake in this is great, both of you are in far greater danger. You must move cautiously.â€
The last of the three men in the room grinned, sending a yeddim forwards through Damianâ€™s ranks. â€œNot to worry. It was simplicity itself to make sure that every senator reading that bill saw what they wanted to, and theyâ€™re all blaming each other instead of looking for the true source. And who would suspect an Eclipse Caste so highly place in the Scarlet Dynasty, anyway? Also, I think you will find that I have you captured, Damian.â€ Damian studied the board a moment, and then shook his head helplessly at his comradeâ€™s move.
â€œAmazing, as always. But eventually, someone will notice what is happening. Sooner, rather than later, I think. The Gold Faction cannot deny your use, but we cannot hide you from the Bronze forever. And in the eyes of most of the Realm, this will be treason most foul.â€
â€œI know.â€ Nagazzerâ€™s voice was soft, remembering his own horror two years ago when he had first been approached. â€œBut I have chosen my fate, consorting with a pair of Anathema, as you put it so well back then. There is no turning back now.â€
There was a chuckle from the gateway board, as Regent Fokuf turned away from his victorious game. â€œThat is quite true. Enough games, for the moment, Damian. We have a Realm to save.â€