â€œYou know, I could teach you a real martial arts style.â€ Cathak Damian and Tepet Fokuf were slipping from their training grounds back into Fokufâ€™s quarters, their daily training complete. The regent shook his head at Damianâ€™s comment, with a slim smile.
â€œIâ€™ll have you know that Panic Monkey Style is an ancient and respectable art, with a long and glorious tradition.â€
â€œA long and glorious tradition of running around like an idiot.â€ Damian shrugged. It was an old argument. â€œYou look like a fool whenever you use it.â€
â€œIf I had a problem with looking like a fool, I wouldnâ€™t be the regent.â€ Fokuf grinned when Damian rolled his eyes. â€œBesides, itâ€™s useful. If I do get into a fight, and I win it, no one is going to come out of it thinking, â€˜That regent, heâ€™s sure a master of combatâ€™.â€
â€œNo, thatâ€™s certainly true.â€ Damian sighed. â€œMillennia of wisdom distilled into your Essence, and THAT is what you remember.â€
â€œUseful.â€ With that comment, Fokuf winked and slipped through the door into his chambers, leaving Damian standing outside. As he strolled out of his bedroom towards his desk, he chuckled. Despite Damianâ€™s dislike for the style, he truly did find it worth using. It never hurt to be unanticipated.
And speaking of unanticipatedâ€¦ Fokuf didnâ€™t have to feign surprise, for a change. It was rare enough for anyone to be waiting in his study; his guards usually discouraged them, even if they could be bothered to wait on him â€“ instead of the other way around. And these two had been completely silent, and sat far enough back that Fokuf had missed them entirely. He let out a slight yelp, spinning towards the source of the sound, to find Senator Cynis Majara sitting quietly in a chair with her manservant standing behind her. The senator, one of Cynisâ€™s grand-daughters and a recent addition to the Deliberative, was wearing her traditional green vestments, as though dressed to go riding, and she looked to be on the verge of tears. Fokuf had seen her many times before â€“ had even gone to the same primary school as . Fokuf carefully gathered his Essence around himself, and nodded to her nervously. â€œMadame Majara. What anâ€¦ unexpectedâ€¦ why are you here? Did I forget an appointment? Would you like some tea?â€
â€œNo, no appointment. No one knows that weâ€™re here. Tea would be lovely.â€ The man stepped forwards as Majara spoke, taking a cup from Fokuf and handing it to his mistress. The regent sat down thoughtfully, taking a careful sip.
â€œWhatâ€™s all this about, Majara? We havenâ€™t spoken in years, not sinceâ€¦â€ Fokuf trailed off, and Majara winced.
â€œSince your cousin died. I know. I justâ€¦ I donâ€™t have anywhere else to turn, and Paar â€“ thatâ€™s Paar, there â€“ well, itâ€™s sort of complicatedâ€¦â€
Fokuf kept a confused but pleasant expression on his face. â€œIâ€™m not sure what I can do to help, Majara. Do you need a bill passed to free him?â€
Majaraâ€™s expression turned stormy for a moment, and then she shook her head again, tears forming. â€œNo! I need to get him off the Isle, and quickly! And without anyone knowing! Fokuf, you have to swear to secrecy.â€
Increasingly mystified, Fokuf nodded. â€œOf course. But I canâ€™tâ€¦ Majara, I know that Iâ€™m the regent, but you must know what that means. I sign things. Thatâ€™s about it. Why do you need Paar here to leave, and why canâ€™t you do it yourself?â€
â€œHeâ€¦ I was attacked. He saved my life. Butâ€¦ there areâ€¦â€ Majara trailed off again, uncertain. â€œI canâ€™t protect him. Not from this.â€
â€œRight.â€ Fokuf raised an eyebrow. â€œAnd I can help becauseâ€¦â€
Paar finally spoke up. The young manâ€™s voice was surprisingly forceful; Fokuf would have expected something more passive from one of Majaraâ€™s boys. â€œI was told that you could help me.â€
â€œReally.â€ This was problematic. â€œBy whom?â€
Fokufâ€™s teacup clattered against the floor, spilling. He absently noted that it was quite sturdy. He also noted that while Majara looked horrified at the boyâ€™s statement, she didnâ€™t look surprised. After a moment, he found his voice. â€œThe Sun?â€
â€œTalk to it often, do you?â€
Paar didnâ€™t laugh. â€œTwice. He spoke to me. He told me you could take me to where I needed to be.â€
â€œHm.â€ Fokuf sat back, thoughtfully. â€œThis isâ€¦ unusual.â€
â€œI know.â€ Majaraâ€™s voice was barely above a whisper. â€œI know that I cut you off after Vallen died. But I canâ€™t let Paar die for protecting me. I donâ€™t know what you can do, butâ€¦â€
Fokuf stood, abruptly. â€œAlright. Paar, youâ€™ll be out of the city by this time tomorrow night. I wouldnâ€™t mind hearing what else the sun told you.â€ He looked over to Majara. â€œThis wonâ€™t be easy. But I think I can do it. Paar had better stay here until he leaves. If you have any farewells to say, nowâ€™s the time; I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll be able to engineer another meeting before he leaves.â€
Majara blinked. The sudden transformation caught her off-guard, but she nodded faintly. Fokuf stepped off to one side, politely pretending to read a scroll as the two spoke softly. When Majara nodded to him again, he walked back over.
â€œThank you, Fokuf. Anything you wantâ€¦â€
â€œWeâ€™ll see.â€ Fokuf smiled. â€œIf you really want to help me, a sudden conversion to Nagazzer wouldnâ€™t hurt.â€ Majara blinked again, and Fokuf chuckled. â€œNever mind. Be well, Majara.â€ She nodded, started to say something else, and then turned and slipped out the door. He didnâ€™t know how she had avoided the guards, but he imagined that Essence was involved.
With her gone, Fokuf turned back to Paar. â€œAlright. I have a suspicion, but this might go easier without her. Show me your caste.â€
Paar hesitated, and then nodded. After a moment, a golden sunburst started to glitter on his forehead.
Fokuf frowned thoughtfully. â€œHoo boy. This is going to be funâ€¦â€