Lodaris looked around the table, and repressed a sigh. Twice-Forged Steel was leaning back, his feet propped up on the tableâ€™s edge. Corpse Scented With Jasmine sat to his left, her attention fixed on Lodaris. Citrios and Alina were sitting opposite one another, and neither could quite look the other in the eye.
All in all, it was not exactly a smoothly-functioning team that he saw before him.
â€œRight. Letâ€™s begin.â€ He leaned forwards, looking at each of his companions in turn. â€œWe now have five and a half months before Calibration, at which point we will have to deal with Dukantha and whatever Lintha he chooses to bring with him. The militia is developing very well, and will be able to hold off a Lintha crew, but they will be as wheat chaff before a skilled supernatural opponent.â€ He smiled. â€œMore interestingly, I have received a pair of letters from local outcaste asking to be trained in the ways of the Glorious Dragon Paths. I think, if they are willing to defend this island, it would be a wise choice to allow them to come.â€
Jasmine nodded after a moment, her voice low and earnest. â€œThe essence cannon is now fully functional. It took me longer than expected to reconnect the baseâ€™s power sources, but the result is acceptable. There are few ships that could survive even one hit from such a weapon.â€ She shrugged. â€œIt will, of course, be a very large target when battle comes.â€
Steel opened one eye, glancing around the table. â€œThe Lintha are pulling back at the moment. Havenâ€™t fought one on the last two trips. I think theyâ€™ve decided to wait for their glorious leader to show. This is good, because we can get supplies easily. Itâ€™s bad because Iâ€™m bored out of my mind.â€ He grinned. â€œOn the bright side, itâ€™s left me time to start sorting through all that crap in the base. You know there are automaton soldiers down there? Jasmine might be able to get them working again.â€ Jasmine nodded after a moment, and Steel closed his eyes again.
Alina shook her head. â€œWe havenâ€™t head from Nganto since she left. I hope she joins us. Even with our weapons, weâ€™ll be hard-pressed to handle Dukantha without her.â€
â€œHave you had any visions?â€ Citrios spoke up quietly, still not quite looking at her, and Alina frowned.
â€œNothing useful. My dreams have beenâ€¦ odd. I keep hearing that â€œa storm is comingâ€, which we already know.â€ She paused. â€œMy dreams are getting more fractured, lately, like they were before I Exalted. I havenâ€™t heard the Sunâ€™s voice in days.â€
â€œThat sounds worrying.â€ Lodaris leaned forwards thoughtfully. â€œI spoke with Sindalin. She said that as the Lintha are Yozi-spawn, she is bound by ancient oaths not to harm them directly. She can give us clear weather for battle and not much else.â€
â€œJoy.â€ Steel opened his eyes again. â€œSo, to summarize, weâ€™re royally screwed, and losing our edges one at a time.â€
â€œWe havenâ€™t lost yet.â€ Citrios frowned at Steel. â€œThe cannon will help hold back the Lintha, and all of us togetherâ€¦â€
â€œWill get flattened by Dukantha if heâ€™s ready for us.â€ Steel swung his legs down and shook his head. â€œI donâ€™t like these odds. Have we considered moving everyone on the island somewhere else? The Lintha donâ€™t give a crap about us. They just want that damned gate.â€
â€œNot an option.â€ Alinaâ€™s look dared him to object. He didnâ€™t take her up on it. â€œDonâ€™t you have any allies you can call on?â€
â€œNot a chance.â€ Steel shook his head. â€œAll of my old allies either died or want me to die. I have a massive heap of soulsteel lying in my house, ready to be used, but thereâ€™s just Jasmine and I to use it.â€ He frowned thoughtfully. â€œWhat about this watcher fellow that you two met? Can he help out?â€
â€œI have no way to contact him.â€ Lodaris sighed quietly. â€œAnd to be frank, I do not trust him. He clearly acted to put us here without support, and I canâ€™t help but wonder as to why.â€
â€œSwell.â€ Steel stood up. â€œWell, if this encouraging strategy meetingâ€™s quite done, I do have one thought. Probably wonâ€™t work, but you never know.â€
â€œOh?â€ Alina raised an eyebrow.
â€œYep. Jasmine, hun, weâ€™re going to meander down into the Labyrinth and see if we canâ€™t recruit a few ghosts to lend a hand.â€
There was a pause before Jasmine spoke. â€œAre you sure that is wise?â€
â€œNot even a little. But Iâ€™m not the sort to cut and run. Come on.â€ With a faint sigh, Jasmine stood, and the two left the room. After a moment, Lodaris sighed.
â€œI will return to training the militia. I feel that we will need them.â€ Nodding to the two younger Exalts, he stood as well and walked out.
Alina stood. â€œI should go, too. I need toâ€¦â€
â€œWait.â€ Citrios stood, stepping towards her. â€œAlina. Iâ€™mâ€¦ Iâ€™m sorry.â€
Alina fell silent. Citrios took another step. â€œI was afraid, Alina. I thought that I was in control of my life, but I never realized how much I had come to depend on you. When you leftâ€¦ it was like the light had gone out. I didnâ€™t know what to do.â€
â€œCitrios.â€ Alina stepped forwards, letting her hand brush his cheek. â€œYou know I would do anything for you.â€
â€œI know. That, I always knew.â€ Citrios sighed, and took Alina into a hug. â€œBut someone told me something recently, and I realized it was true. You shouldnâ€™t do anything for me. You should have your own life.â€ He smiled sadly. â€œDo you know, I donâ€™t even know your family name? Five years, and I never asked.â€
She laughed. â€œI donâ€™t have one. Never did.â€
â€œThere you go.â€ Citrios stepped back, and Alina let him. â€œI want us to work, Alina. But the truth is I hardly know you. Can we start from the beginning? Properly, this time?â€
â€œI think we can.â€ With an impish smile, Alina stepped towards the door. â€œI can start by showing you around the town properly. Youâ€™ve been here, what â€“ a week now?â€
â€œA little over that.â€ Citrios grinned. â€œLetâ€™s go see the sights.â€
Arm in arm, they strolled outside.