- June 5, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 24)
“Barbarians slaughter, citizens pay for executioners.”
– Malum Chun, 448 A.C.A.
There’s nothing quite so uncomfortable as being hungover in the morning.
Except maybe being hungover in the afternoon. Andy could tell you.
“Get up! We’re here!” Malum yelled as he banged on the door to the captain’s room again.
Andy lifted her head out of the chest of the woman she was sleeping on. “But I’m sleeping in tiddies…” she mumbled as she continued to press her cheek against the shifting breast beneath her.
Malum groaned, before slamming his fist on the door even harder. “Get up, stop drinking, and stop fucking your whore!”
“But she’s so soft!” Andy complained, right before said woman shoved her off her body and the bed.
In Susannan, the woman complained, “<I’m not getting paid enough for this,>” as she started putting her clothes on. As Andy reached towards her, the woman scrunched her lip and said, “<I’m… gotta go.>”
“Nooo….” Andy groaned as she watched the woman essentially walk out of her life.
The moment the woman opened the door, she screamed at the sight of Malum standing there in his big black cloak, and terrifying mask.
“Ugh, shut up,” he told her as he stormed in, only to notice how Andy was quite literally beginning to tear up, cradling her stomach and her head.
Malum turned to the lady of the night and asked, “Is she crying about getting up, you leaving, or being hungover?”
The woman arched her brow at him, glanced at Andy, then said, “Yes.”
Malum took out a small sack of coin he had prepared for her and set it in her reluctant hand. “The coin as promised for entertaining her and keeping her away from me.”
“Thank you,” she said as she took it, “please never call on my services again.”
“I don’t even know your name.”
“Asshole,” she called him as she left, leaving him alone with Andy.
He turned and looked down at her, wallowing in being abandoned by yet another partner she paid to be with. He moved and squatted down near her head. When she stopped rubbing her eyes and looked up at him, she was staring at his upside-down mask.
She groaned as he started to poke her.
This man was married. This man had someone. Life’s so fucking unfair.
Ugh, I feel like I’m going to throw up.
“She’s right you know,” Andy mumbled to him as he continued in his attempt to annoy her to her feet.
“That I’m an asshole?” he asked.
“No…” she said, before thinking about it, “well yes, but also that I’m not worth it.”
Malum flicked her in the forehead immediately. “I can’t do the depression crap with you right now.”
“What?” she said as she sniffled and rolled onto her side. She barely registered that she was flashing Malum, nor how he wasn’t reacting. “I’m not depressed, I mean I’m just not that good in the sack.”
Malum laid the bed’s sheet around her before standing to his feet. “I don’t need to hear this.”
He was walking out of the room as Andy complained to herself, “I never know if they really think I’m good or if they’re just pretending.”
Malum stopped with his hand on the door. He hung his head low as the wood started to bend under his grip.
He looked back over his shoulder to ask her, “Have you ever heard the phrase that the whore doesn’t love you?”
“But I want them to.”
“Are you still drunk?”
Andy shrugged, before pulling herself up by the bed. Malum looked away before she flashed him more that he didn’t want to see.
She waved him out, telling him, “Let me get dressed and we’ll find out how hungover I am…”
Malum shut the door with a sharp slam, one that made Andy cringe.
I think when we first met, I spent a long time wondering where he’s looking when I couldn’t see his eyes. After a while, I realized the mask was just the easiest way he could look away without being caught.
Andy then sat at the desk she was sharing with Lucy. She’s probably pissed I stole the room for the night again.
She nearly reached for the comb for her hair, but she hesitated just for she touched it. As she was about to, she realized that the buzzing feeling in the back of her head was more than a hangover. When she reached for the comb, it got stronger.
Fuck you, I decide when I want to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong.
As if in response, she felt the pressure on her mind increase, making her hangover-induced migraine worse.
Fuck you, and everything you stand for, she told herself, or whatever force was trying to guide her. It would have been a stretch to say she had an idea of what it was.
Seriously, what the fuck is a brush going to show me? What it’s like to get chopped down by an ax? What it’s like going through another gross bitch’s follicles? Lucy’s follicles?
I don’t need a lesson about how screwed up everyone’s life is, I’m barely surviving mine.
Rather than grab the comb, Andy grabbed one of the many bottles and flasks of varying emptiness around her. She undid corkscrews and caps to catch a bunch of tiny droplets, until she could reach her hand over her brush, and feel nothing.
That’s how she managed to brush her hair and get dressed that morning.
Then she strapped on her sword, one she’s had forever but means nothing to her, and walks outside. That’s when the day stopped and stood still.
Andy had been to Susanna before. She had been to Taiyang, Octogen, the edge of the Raze, and a bunch of towns in between, but she had never been to Sicaron. She thought she had been to Sicaron, but seeing it now, she knew there was nothing else like it.
As they sailed into port, Andy could do nothing but look up and turn her body to keep her eyes on the Silver Spires that touched the clouds. There were several of them, all taller than Castle Raydorn. The castle’s sharp peak just went past the clouds, but the bodies of these buildings reached into the clouds and then some, with platforms, and walkways in between them.
There’s a whole other world up there. I can’t tell which would be worse: if it were alien to the lives below them, or just prettier.
“You’re looking at a wonder of the world,” Malum said as he appeared next to her, as if from nowhere, and failed to spook her. She was far too enraptured by what was before her.
“I thought you said you were here before?” he asked her.
“I thought so too,” she said as she looked at the buildings that started so wide towards the bottom, and then rolled like hills, wide and thin all the way to the top.
She couldn’t see from where she was, but there were steel bars that came down around the shape that switched between concave and convex. The structure was rectangular in nature, but the aesthetic demanded something impressive, so the space that actually held people was not.
It wasn’t until they were sailing down the river, through the long, stretching harbor, looking for a free spot, that Andy took notice of those who lived below the sky. On the ground, around the Silver Spires, Sicaron was a fishing village that was the size of a city. The buildings were like any other in Susanna civilization, just more of them, built next to each other, some so close they shared a wall or were even touching.
They were made of dried mud, rough stones, and wood; they had their thatch roofs unless they shared a wall with a building that was on a higher elevation than them. In a different way, Andy found the ground level of Sicaron beautiful, with its familiar homes roaming unfamiliar hills. It felt foreign, yet not so, at least until Andy set her eyes on an establishment that no city went without.
“Stop the boat,” Andy said, as she started walking back, then shouted again, “stop the boat!”
The ship came to a slow stop, which had the assassin’s mentally stuttering with open arms. “What why- why are you doing as she says?”
Lucy shrugged from the upper deck. “Andy scares me more than you.”
Andy had found the plank and was already moving the tall and heavy piece of wood herself. With her short sleeves, perfect for the warm but moist weather, she was able to show off the definition of her muscles.
“I know where we can get information,” she said, as she squeezed the words out of her struggling lungs.
“What?” Malum said, as he followed her, trying to figure out what she’s doing. “We are literally one row done from a spot on the dock, can’t you wait?!”
“Nope,” Andy said as she placed the plank down, and immediately hopped on, running down the wood to the dock.
Malum watched her as she walked towards the establishments that bordered the river, trying to figure out where she was going, “Where are you…” when he saw what she saw, “you piece of shit, Andelyn Stella.”
Malum didn’t jump onto the plank, he leaped onto the railing then cleared the 15 ft gap like it was nothing. Many of the crew stopped what they were doing, shaking their heads in disbelief.
Lucy watched along with them, half her lip twisting at the sight. “These… fucking assholes.”
Malum’s cloak trailed behind him, lifting up and revealing his trousers because of how fast he was walking. People made way for him and his mask, letting him catch sight of Andy entering the exact building Malum predicted she would.
It took him seconds to barge in after her, and be met with the sounds of groans and moans from a collection of people. Inside, he found drunks at the bar, maids, and bouncers cleaning up after them, prostitutes staving off the early birds, and Andy being the early bird.
As he followed her deeper into the brothel, he appeared beside her as she looked between the different ladies of the night she could offer her coin to. Many of the women there were less ready for the new day than she was.
“You disgust me,” Malum told her as she shamelessly, gave her coin to the bartender and gawked at the women around them. “Have you been sober in the last 24 hours?”
“I have done my best not to be,” Andy told him, “where do you think this confidence is coming from?”
“Experience with shame?”
“Good guess, but no,” she said before taking another drinking, letting Malum see the glaze beginning to move back over her eyes.
He started talking, but it took less than a second for her eyes to drift towards someone else. Malum followed her eyes to a woman half asleep, helping to pick up the dishes. As she looked up and noticed Andy and Malum looking at her.
She gave Andy a little wave to which the foreigner almost swooned.
“Don’t you just love when women…” exist, Andy finished her thought in her head.
“I’m married,” Malum reminded her.
“Gotta get over the dead wife at some point buddy.”
“Are you…” Malum growled, almost allowing himself to be offended before he saw Andy begin to drink before noon. Then he saw her with a bag of coins he didn’t know she had. “You have a problem.”
I wonder if he’s talking about the alcohol or the lady I’m about to solicit for her time.
“I’m just here for information,” she told him, before trying to wave over the lady she had locked eyes with before.
Malum looked at the woman coming over, and looked back to the gold Andy was holding in her hand.
“No,” he said as he raised his finger, making the woman stop and find somewhere else to be. Then he turned to Andy wagged it in her face, “No. No no… no….” before stabbing the countertop with it. “No. You’re not to get your metaphorical dick wet.”
Andy went cross-eyed looking at his finger, before giving him a double-sided smirk. “You mean regular wet for me, right?”
“You’re worst than the most chauvinist of noble lords.”
Andy gasped with a hand over her heart. “How dare you? I respect each and every one by giving them a big tip…” She paused after she said that. “I didn’t intend to make that pun, but I’m not sorry.”
“You’re practically a man aren’t you?”
“No,” Andy tried to assure him with a gesture of her hand instead. “When a man tells a whore he loves her, he’s obviously lying, while I, mean it.”
“You know, I think a sick, empty part of you means that.”
That’s when Andy had a genuine smile on her face. “Doesn’t it make me better?”
“No, of course not, it makes you worse, and a little bit sad.”
Andy didn’t know how to respond to that, so she didn’t. She looked away, shook her drink a little, frowned a bit more, and then took a swing. When she was done, she said, “That was a mean thing to say.”
“Are you even going to get us information?” Malum asked her, noticing the slump he may have just put her in. “Do you even know what we need information on?”
“I was looking for the only whore that isn’t drunk or taking drugs to make it through the night, the only one listening. Once I do that, I’ll find the woman who will tell me everything about current events, like public executions, elections, assassinations, the works.”
“All of those things are so gross and don’t exactly happen here. Well, maybe the assassinations but very few.”
Is that naivety or his attempt at a joke? Andy thought to herself, struggling to tell.
Andy stopped paying attention to him and his justified but no less distracting decimation of her character. She did that to herself well enough on her own. She came here for a reason, several actually, so it was about time she did one of them.
The other woman might have only been a waitress now to think about it. I need to find the woman with the bags under her eyes, clearly down with life, but not bloodshot from the highs that get her through the night.
She laid eyes on a woman at least a decade older than her, but certainly not quite old enough to be her mother. My tastes are all very confusing, but that’s okay, pay for them with my self-respect and lack of money.
Andy smirked and told Malum, “I think I found the woman of my dreams… for today.”
“How are you going to get her to talk?” Malum asked as he crossed his arms under his cloak. He immediately reminded Andy of her brother when he said, “I’m not giving you any money.”
I’ll have to steal it later, but for now…
Andy reminded him of her brown sack of Susannan coin. “Haha! got enough money for the entry fee, I’ll pay the information toll with my tongue.” She stuck her tongue out and wiggled it at him. She stopped as she noticed Malum’s silent lack of movement.
“You say these things just to bother me.”
Andy smirked as she stood up, ready to make or break her day there and then. “Maybe you shouldn’t be so easy to bother and I would stop having fun doing it.”
Facing her back, Malum told her, “I despise you right now.”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”
When Andy came out of the room she rented for a few hours, Malum could smell her from across the room, he could hear the way her footsteps tattered their way towards the bar where he sat, but he could sense the grin on her face.
When she sat down next to him with that shit-eating grin, he told her, “You need a shower.”
“That costs money,” she said.
“Did you… did you finally run out?”
“It was money well spent.”
Malum groaned as he raised his glass of water towards his face, and lifted up his mask a bit to wash down the dry itch in the back of his throat. At least now she’ll focus.
He put the glass down as she was facing him. He expected to find her eyes, but it was on the glass instead. “I can ask for a pitcher,” he asked her, but she cringed at the idea. “It’s just water.”
“Oh, yeah, I would like that.”
The hangovers hit hard when you’re not twenty-two anymore.
The assassin gestured to the bartender and got them a pitcher of water and Andy her own glass. He waited for Andy to hydrate herself before asking the obvious question. “Did you actually learn something or did you just get fucked for the past few hours?”
She laughed and spit up some of her water. “Fuck, don’t say shit like that while I’m drinking, jerk.”
As she cleaned herself on her sleeve, Malum rested his head on his hand and started tapping his fingers against the wooden bar. “Well?”
“You’re not gonna believe me,” she taunted him.
“Apparently there’s an execution slated to happen under the orders of some… archmage,” a title that makes Malum’s fingers stop tapping, “and you said you didn’t do that here.”
“Things change under war.”
“Excuses, we’re all barbarians, you can say it,” Andy taunted him, challenging the pride he holds so close to his chest.
“Barbarians slaughter, citizens pay for executioners.”
That made her spit up her water, but she didn’t laugh. “Shit, that’s… okay.”
“Is that all you found out? That the archmage is going to execute someone?”
“She said its public knowledge to be a spy, but she also said not to expect it. Spies tend to get their executions postponed, and I think you know why.”
That I do. It seems Hùnxiě is still trying to break my shadow. Impressive that he lasted this long, even the most amatuer of torturers can break someone in a few months. Unless he was delayed.
“We’ll likely never find him before his heads the block so we’ll have to get into the execution,” Malum told Andy, already thinking of how he was going to investigate.
Malum gave Andy the side-eye under his mask. She really does like dragging everything out.
“I may have a way for that too.”
“I’m sure you think you do.”
“Don’t be mean, dickhead.”
“Then stop holding me in suspense.”
“She told me there’s going to be a Solistan, something you would know about?” she asked, still smirking unaware of the surprise she hit Malum with, or how she pronounced it wrong. She was still teasing him, “Want to what we were doing when she told me?”
“There’s… a Sol-i-ton?”
They’re looking for a new Dynastan?
Malum’s head was dipping, looking off into space, which Andy responded to by dropping her need to tease and placing a hand on Malum’s shoulder.
“What’s wrong? Sounds like I gave you bad news telling about the Sol-i-ton?” she asked him but he held up his head for a moment to think. She didn’t quite give him one before she started shaking him by the shoulder, “Hey, I have no idea what a Sol-i-ton is, but she said it’s been a while since you all had one, like not since before we were born.”
Malum held up a finger to stop her. “Firstly, it’s pronounced Solistan, and it’s a competition… to select the next Dynastan, which means…”
Andy’s hand slowly backed off him. “Harati died…?” she muttered. While she may not be Susannan, this was the leader of the three nations of Gronina dying during a war. A hundred thoughts were going through her head but only one went through Malum’s.
I never did get the chance to see him again.
“In Solicki’s name, I… I can’t believe it,” Malum muttered as the bartender walked by. He slammed his hand down on the counter, scaring the life out of her.
“<Ma’am,>” he began his question in Susannan as if she wasn’t suffering from a mild heart attack, “<I’ve been out of the country for a long time, when did Lord Harati die?>”
The bartender’s head twisted a bit in confusion. This man’s accent was strange, familiar but not in a voice so young.
“<A few… a few weeks ago…?>” she managed to answer him, but sounded unsure to the assassin’s ears.
“<How?>” he pressed further.
Andy asked him, “Malum, would she even-”
“<Tell what you can,>” he interrupted her to ask the bartender.
“<I’m… I’m sorry, we havent heard much. He’s been sick and he was old, it’s not really surprising.>”
Old? Malum asked himself. Have I really lost track of so much time? His children must be adults by now.
“<Which son is ascending the throne?>” Malum asked her, before continuing with a flurry of questions. “<Do you know whose their champion? They could represent themselves but->”
“<Sir,>” she stopped him, holding a hand to him, gesturing for him to calm down behind his mask, “<I’m sorry, I have work to do.>”
Malum stared at her, and without the ability to see his face, she stood still. Andy rested her hand on his shoulder which turned his gaze. Andy nodded for the bartender to get going.
“I learned more about Solistan that may answer your questions,” she told him, having seen that this news was more than just shocking to him.
“<Yes, yes…> what else did you hear?”
“Well, she said his son is the one up for the throne, then she complained about having a little boy on the throne.”
“That… that doesn’t make any sense, Harati had several sons, if they had died my shadows would have…”
Andy hesitated to speak as he trailed off. “I’m guessing you’re realizing that they wouldn’t have told you, this is your home, it’s a sore spot, and now you’re realizing they’ve been hiding it from you.”
“You don’t need to explain what I already know.”
Andy raised her hand and flicked him in the head to make him look at her again. “I know you think that mask of yours hides everything, but the people who know have gotten by, we can figure out what you’re feeling.”
“So? Am I supposed to like it?”
“No,” Andy scoffed, “who cares if you like it? You don’t care that we would like to see your face when we talk to you.”
“You think that translates, it doesn’t.”
“Agree to disagree.”
Sometimes, she is so frustrating I wonder how I haven’t lost my mind yet. Maybe the boat ride numbed me to her biting words more than I thought.
Malum didn’t look at Andy when he asked, “Did you learn anything else?”
Then Andy got uncomfortable, waving the last thing off for her own reasons. “She went on about the boy’s champion, some guy named Foster Lao. You’d think people would know its a turn off to talk about eating off some guy’s abs.”
“Foster Lao…?” Malum repeated to himself, a name he couldn’t quite place.
“You know him?” she asked him.
“I don’t think so, his name sounds familiar but Lao isn’t exactly an uncommon surname…” Malum was rubbing his chin as he wracked his mind for who this man was. His subordinates couldn’t have hidden everything from him, certainly not the names that became important leading into wars.
How much was Sigma controlling behind the scenes? Was she only hiding things from me about Susanna? Do I even know the real climate of any of the thrones?
What if this wasn’t some misguided way to protect me from the pain of exile. If she wanted to rise up, to take control of the shadows without having to kill me, this would be it.
And I’ve given her plenty of opportunities to take control since the tournament, with all of my adventuring…
“I’ll give this guy one thing,” Andy said, which drew Malum’s attention.
“What is that?”
“His name, ‘Foster Lao,’” she said, “it really rolls off the tongue, what does it mean?”
Heh, I guess not every thought we need to have has to be so… calculated.
“Clay and black tea,” he answered her, to her chagrin.
“Oh, it sounds cooler than it is.”
“Oh,” Malum said with a sideways look, “and what does your name mean?”
“If you ask my parents’… probably disappointment… or gem. They’ve never been the most suave of people.”
Malum could feel the spite in her voice, but didn’t press. It would be rather hypocritical to press into a friend’s… a comrade’s past when I don’t share mine.
Rather than ask her if she’s alright, he asked her, “Is there anything the whore said worth knowing?”
“Oh? Oh yeah,” Andy said, remembering one more thing to tell him. “the Solistan thing, the first round is in two days.”
The room could hear the creek in Malum’s neck as he slowly turned his neck and glared at Andy. “You didn’t lead with that?!”
“I’m still kind of hungover.”
The archmage had litany of skills and techniques to his name. Smithing blades had become one of them in his pursuit to recreate Siwang.
At this point, he was finished heating the steel and had now begun to hammer it into shape. He was barely beginning with the process, but here was the most important part.
From the incomplete blueprints he had studied, and the places he had filled in, he was to carve and hammer out the compartments that would hold the poison and connect to the storage in the hilt.
He had studied under many different master blacksmiths and weapons crafters to learn how to do this. Despite not wanting it nor needing it, they gave him their praise, assured him that they had nothing left to teach him, and then when he would attempt to forge a copy of Siwang, he would fail.
The archmage would go back to each one of them, he had gathered them together, debasing himself to their help to unravel the mystery.
How did his predecessor make the first Siwang?
They all told him it could not be done again, for it must have been an act of god.
As if we would ever need help from the pretender, Hùnxiě bemoaned to himself.
Fuchou and Huibao were dependent on the type of metal they were crafted with. Without the sky metal, there could be no second. The same could be said of the other Jitari Blades, like Yuanfang, with which the element that allowed to fire endlessly was lost in the mountains.
Siwang was the one and only that was not reliant on a material that could not be found again. And yet it alludes me until now…
Hùnxiě brought down the hammer, as carefully but as hard as he needed to.
He did so for hours, trying to sculpt the innards of Siwang, the way the original must have worked as he told those old fools. There was no other way for this blade to function, than by holding the poison inside. That is how all the greatest of snakes are. They hold their poison deep in their chests, near their hearts that never beat, and release it through their fangs.
Siwang is a sword not unlike a viper’s bite, and there is no sharper bite than mine.
As the innards took shape, and he thought the hammering process near done for the first time in a long time, his hammer took its final swing.
The blade snapped in half, and its broken top lined nicely along the hollow portion he hammered and sculpted.
Susanna blacksmiths and weapons crafters have heralded Siwang as a sword that could only be forged by their All-mother herself, but archmage Hùnxiě refused such tithings. The great science of Susanna is unmatched, we need no goddess to make our greatest achievements for us.
Siwang was crafted by the hands of men, and it will again. Even if I have to rip apart the original and its thief, I will craft it again, and many more-
There was a chalice-like fountain in the archmage’s forge. The forge is the only place where he has the only key. Not even his office was inaccessible tothe Dynastan, having his own key to it. The forge was deemed too unsafe for the untrained so it remained Hùnxiě’s alone.
That made it safe for him to have a chalice that allowed him to receive calls from outside of Susanna.
Hùnxiě threw away his tools. They were like his assistants, gone after one failure, thrown into the fire. When he reached the fountain he was devoid of the smut of the forge, relieved of his mask, his gloves, and even overshirt he wore for protection.
He looked over into the fountain and scoffed, “What does she want?”
Despite such a response to being called, he stuck his head into the fountain to answer it.
Hùnxiě found himself floating up towards the earth, trapped underneath it, but he did not panic. He held his hands together at his side, his face expressionless as he broke the surface, to a world on fire.
“Amidala, what do you owe the displeasure?” he asked the warlock, as she sat upon a throne of fire, surrounded by the image of Hedone.
This little middle ground, the Purga, as they called it, was a place few knew of, five mortals in the world to be exact. It was how the masters of magic around the world spoke to each other. It was an ironic invention to have for such a small group of people who didn’t like each other.
“You know, no matter how many times you say that,” she sniped, mocking a smile, “it quite got funny. It’s not even all that mean anymore. You’d think with all that concentrated, unrefined rage you’d have better opening insults.”
“I have better things to do,” Hùnxiě stated as he started his walk towards her, unfazed by the flames.
As he did so, Amidala snapped her fingers to make the landscape change from the fiery underworld, to a golden chalice, astrew with naked men and women fondling and moaning at his feet. Hùnxiě hesitated only to make sure he didn’t step on any as he walked over them.
“Gods, nothing fazes you, you’re so boring,” Amidala complained with a roll of her eyes, before snapping her fingers, trading the orgy and the throne for a neverending green field and a small table with tea.
Amidala was already sipping on the imaginary drink as she gestured Hùnxiě to sit. The archmage refrained, and gripped the back of the chair with this hands.
He asked the warlock, “What… do you want?”
“What do you think I want?” she asked between sips and a barely contained smile.
Why does she do this? Why can’t these fucking plebian fucks and their stupid magic shit leave me the fuck alone so I can do something other than cheat my way to success? Hùnxiě thought to himself.
Rather say any of that out loud, he just told her, “I have things to do, so stop playing games.”
“Guess,” she teased him, like he was her little brother and hers to do with as she pleased, “play a game with me, it gets boring in the Tower.”
“Must be if you’re talking to me.”
Amidala shrugged with her whole chest, “You said it not me.”
Hùnxiě looked back to the portal, considering whether or not he can go back. This conversation should be more serious than it is. In the middle of a war with only fools for kings, Amidala and I are the most powerful people on Gronina. If the rumors about the Kronish Emperor are true, the same extends to Lato. We could convene and end the war right now, and two or three of us, and yet…
I feel like she called me up for a playdate. Knowing her, and the way she flaunts her cheapskate magic, negotiating peace probably is only a game to her.
Fine, let’s play.
“Okay,” he said as he pulled out his chair to sit, “let’s think…”
“Didn’t realize you could do that,” she mocked him, as if they were both half their age.
“Hah,” he pretended to laugh as he stared at her with unblinking eyes. “Well, if recent events with the war effort have proven anything, is that the nations are at a standstill.”
“Krone and Susanna are at standstill,” the warlock corrected, stopping from sipping her imaginary tea to say it. She leaned over the table to mock him, “Being leaderless does that to you.”
So the rumors are true about the Kronish Emperor. He’s dead or on his way out, and his only heir is gone.
With an annoyed nodding of his head, “Save for Raydorn, yes, which means that if you were going to surprise us with an assault, you should have done so by now.”
“It’s so boring how your mind works.”
He pointed his finger at her, as if a sudden attack on the capital would be Amidala’s own doing. “So nothing of the sort for Susanna, and Krone neither?”
“Ugh, like I’d want to go there,” she complained, waving her hands around, unable to spill imaginary tea, “what would I even do there?” She crossed her arms as she thought to herself, “I guess I could pay Lato a visit, see all the nothing he’s doing.”
“And here I was hoping you’d propose an alliance that would end the war,” Hùnxiě complained.
She could be lying right now, but this has all felt too made mundane to be a lie.
“Now why would I want that? When there’s war, there’s reason to leave the Tower. When there’s reason to leave the Tower, I have the chance to do things.”
“And yet you’re not,” he pointed out as the realization came to him.
Amidala’s smile fainted a bit, becoming a bit more real as a smirk. As if became something more real, she stopped flailing her arms around, and brought them in closer to her chest. “No, I suppose not.”
“Which means you need something that will let you do…” and with an open gesture of his hand, he guessed, “something.”
“Do you have any idea how incredibly vague that is?”
Oh, but it gives me so much to work with, witch.
“You must start wide at the bottom to reach the tip of the top,” he told her. “Considering recent actions, particularly your orchestrating of the Senso Tribus Eilean-”
“Eilean Senso Tribus-” she tried to correct him.
“Fuck off,” is how he responded to her correction. She raised her eyebrows as she looked her tea. “As I was saying, after you orchestrated that, took out the mercenary army, you must still be missing something.”
“They had the ability to end the war early and I needed the war to keep going,” she said with a shake of her head and a shrug of her shoulders. “What else was I to do?”
Now, what does the war allow this one wicked witch to do?
“The war does empower you to move about the world with no one asking questions, but if things were going smoothly until your plan went off without a hitch…” Hùnxiě’s mouth slowly stopped talking, and slowly started laughing as he began to realize the only thing that could have happened. “Oh, oh that can only mean one thing!”
Hùnxiě leaned back in his chair so far back that it would have fallen over if they were speaking someplace real. “You fucked up, clearly, you fucked your long-term plans up so badly that the ongoing war is no longer a needed distraction. There was someone among the Black Legion who you needed, wasn’t there?”
Hùnxiě loved how those lips of hers formed a fine line rather than a smile. It was nice to see other people fail now and again.
Then she made a passing comment he would not miss. “I don’t understand why you’re using past-tense.”
Where I come is starting to come into focus.
“Ah, there’s someone you need among the remnants. How do you know who you need survived?”
“The same way I know she’s coming to see you.”
Hùnxiě’s mouth closed, and his smile disappeared. It only took Amidala Kain a sentence to steal any pretense of verbal victory from his mouth.
That’s someone I have to kill later.
“So I see,” he said calmly, as if he wasn’t thinking about murder, “you want me to capture them for you.”
“So you can use context clues.”
Listening to Amidala go back to her mocking and twisted words made the back of his head tingle. He had to make a conscious effort to keep his eye from twitching.
“And why,” he asked, “would I do that?”
Amidala’s smile grin as she put down her tea and rubbed her hands together. She spoke a language Hùnxiě couldn’t understand and refused to learn, a language that made her hands glow blue and create a sword out of nowhere. “Because my magic can make your crafting work. Don’t you want to make another Siwang? I can make that happen.”
Hùnxiě sat forward, with his hand on his knee, and made a flicking motion of his hand at her. “Really?” she asked him. “Acting like children now, aren’t we?”
“As if I would let your disgusting taint any where near my pride and joy.”
“Not a whole lot to proud about, and nothing is actually making you happy.” Amidala threw her sword to the side, letting it collapse into dust as she stepped out from her chair. “You won’t make another Siwang without me, you know,” she told him as she walked around the small tea table. “You can hammer away at your tiny swords all you want, but even if you had the original, you still wouldn’t be able to replicate it.”
As she came up behind him, he asked her, “Oh, and do please tell me why that is?”
Then she leaned over and whispered into his ear, “Because your swords are not the product of technology.”
“Hah!” he genuinely laughed as he threw up his hands and made their whole little world lose color. The field remained, but it was only white with black lines around them. They were standing on canvas after the sketch was finished.
He waved his finger in her face, a gesture she did not respond unless you count apathy.
“Now that actually was funny, another magician trying to claim responsibility for the success of science. Next you’ll tell me that all the blacksmiths secretly ask Eritusi to fuck herself on their blades, and-and for Thassia to spit on every boatbuilder’s ship so they float across the sea.”
As he waved his arms around and his voice got louder and louder, Amidala arched her brow and scoffed to herself, “Oh, what a therapist could do with that sentence,” but from the world around, she could tell that enough was enough.
The warlock wiped her hands of him, and walked right through him, which left him with all kinds of feelings.
“Stay in your little echo chamber,” she told him, as her little pond appeared and began to suck everything in it. “Just think about this, for everything you want, you only have to give me one thing and one thing alone.
“The final fallen star of the Faedrielle, Andelyn Stella.” The pond had ground into a pool and was beginning to drain everything in Purga away, right in time to leave him with the bill. “You’ll have the glory you think you deserve if you do this, or you can settle for what you’ve stolen, whichever life you prefer, archmage.”
“That’s warlock to you,” she said, ever one to have the last word.
She left Hùnxiě in the whiteness of Purga, alone long enough that their imaginary world saw how real his ire was, before he sank into it.
He left Purga the opposite way he came. Where he rose through the earth to get to their false world, he fell down into it, towards the dark bottom to leave it.
“Ha,” he gasped as he ripped his head from the water, and flipped it around.
Amidala’s words hung in his head, promises of what he wanted, and insults to what he already had. Of everything she said, one thing stuck out to him, and enraged him beyond all else.
Better to deal with it now than to let it keep going on.
Hùnxiě pushed his wet hair back so it fell down his back rather than continue to cover his eye. He then walked towards his broken sword on the ground, one that had hardened and cooled in the time he was in Purga. He put on a glove to protect his hand, because despite being cool, it was still hot.
Then he went to the door.
“Mao?” he called to his assistant, who should have been waiting nearby in case he ever needed anything.
The old man came running, asking, “What do you require of me, master?”
“It’s not what I require of you,” Hùnxiě told Mao, as he stepped to him and stood over the old man. “It’s what your country required of you, and you did not give it.”
“What do you-”
The old man never had a chance to speak before Hùnxiě slit his throat.
The old man fell forward onto the ground, clutching his throat in one hand and reaching for Hùnxiě’s leg with the other. Hùnxiě pulled his limb away, complaining, “Ew, keep your hands to yourself,” right before turning around and going back into his lab.
As soon as he shut the door, blood began to spill in from underneath. “So hard to find loyal help these days,” he complained.