Lambian, Princess of the Haloed Bane
Bedecked in red streams flourishes, as if harried by a throng of piercing elves, this pier might finally live up to the name Martu Fall, now, a full 3,000 years after they were finally vanquished1. It can take a while for something to live up to its name, and when you’re born and your name is so far ahead it’s all you can do to catch up. And you don’t have that long, Lambian, you really don’t.
Princess Archbaroness Lambian Ransain stared at the staff hard as she bit down on a lock of her Crayola dream bubblegum hair, as was her wont when nervous. It felt like only a little while ago she had stepped out of the lake, dripping and salted, ears stretched and a tad short of breath, but she was dry and calm now. She didn’t mind waiting because it allowed her to think, and yet the thoughts that came were not exactly comforting. Not many would have thought her capable of this state of mind. Here she was in her halcyon days: Princess of the Haloed Bane, ruler of the rulers of the known universe, and barely 1,500 years old2. There was a hit song about her by Trendertronder no less. She had a breathtaking belle placed in Sully Fleet as grand counsel, a cushy position that lady certainly did not earn in the usual way but was proving to have a talent for, so that when it came to Lambian even her nepotism was praised. One could go on. True, she had no heir, as her only pregnancy was terminated by an awfully timed ascent to the second trinity, but that only meant she had no one to disappoint her…or for her to disappoint. Her legacy was all up to her. She knew she could handle it, but how?
This mace symbolizes power. Princesses come and go, but Selbein’s Mace remains. Its wielders come and go, but power is forever. The original is gone and this is a replica, one of many, but that’s just like us. That's me, that's Kobol, that's Durgaun…
As if summoned, the fuchsia-toned spymistress finally came into view. Princess Lambian let go of her hair and smiled. Fate made a mistake and gave her Durgaun’s own, or gave Durgaun Lambian’s rightful skin, one of the two. She felt she needed Durgaun immensely though, so she hoped Fate had made no mistake at all and had made them for each other. Not romantically of course! That color was simply not attractive to her. (Some dubbed Lambian the Last Fortress, thinking she was too much in love with herself to have time for others, but she’d argue that it was a matter of being particular about what she liked.)
No, what she sought in Durgaun was an ally. Besides, her own callsign was to be the paragon of cleanliness, or at least the public perception of cleanliness, so she needed savvy vixens like Durgaun to take care of the dirty work3. Such an intel-hungry vixen would not trust just anyone though, she would have to give to receive. And why can’t everyone benefit? They should under my rule.
Durgaun noticed the veins on Lambian’s mace hand. Plaintive doesn’t suit you, she thought, but she played it light rather than saying what she thought.
”You either mean to strike someone with that thing, or snap it in half. Which one is it?”
”Why not both?” Lambian responded smiling. “I know a few hard heads that would be perfect for the job...and well-deserving.”
”Our friend Kanmadein, say.”
”Ah, yes. What did she do now?”
Durgaun tapped the floor with the mace like she was trying to find a trapdoor. Abusing the stick like this pleased her. Talking helped too. She already felt better.
”Walk with me. I have something to show you.”
Durgaun walked quietly beside her, all ears as always. Lambian continued:
”I was talking of adjudicating more funds for the next jubilee, to stave off any -I don’t know- discontent over the cancellation of the toyhunts.”
”She’s in charge of the purse and your number one adversary,” Durgaun rejoined matter-of-factly, “She’s bound to oppose almost any such expenditure.”
”It wasn’t the money part that bothered her.” She looked down. “I was burying this doom stick in the mud, not on purpose of course, when I caught her looking at me with daggers in her eyes.”
Durgaun guffawed. “She’s a stickler for protocol.”
”She can go ahead and stick Selbein’s Mace you know where for all I care. By Tebrash, we were under water. How dirty could it get?!” She puffed. “Frankly, if there wasn’t a ban on morphing it, I’d have turned into an earring or at the very least made it follow me a few spans behind like a good little pet.”
The two faction leaders laughed as they exited the pier. There were a few Councilors walking to and fro, but all in all it was a quiet evening, like most evenings in the appropriately titled Nanyare, or Land of Undeath. This tiny enclave surrounded by Oxytanian territory had been a popular vacation hideaway for the high and mighty long ago, but it had long lost in glamor at least partly due to multiple – quite frankly, exaggerated – reports that the place stank from all the Zeburajas in the vicinity. It was in fact a dull harmless odor, and not that hard to get used to. Then again, the sky was often overcast in this part of the planet, enough to place one in a funk. And there was just that much more to do in the Tetrad, it being the capital of the universe after all.
These days the most important spot in Nanyare was an artificial lake beneath which the five members of the Leadership Committee of the Incudean Council had their meetings. Recently they were down to four, however, and Durgaun waited patiently for the latest news on that front. After daydreaming out loud of what she would like to do to her rival Kanmadein, Lambian finally broached the subject:
”You’ll be surprised to know Councilor Impuin isn’t recovering. As tough as she is, it looks like she is in her final months, if not days. Orkuin made a motion to extend my tutelage of the sick woman’s vote for another week while we decide what to do.”
Lambian spoke rapidly and quietly, since talking of death, especially when combined with politics, was extremely distatestful to her, even if the news she relayed were on the whole positive for them both. Maybe that was the nastiest part of it. She finally said what Durgaun wanted to hear:
”I talked to Ulmain yesterday, I find her so much more approachable than Kanma. In any case, it seems they’re fine with you replacing Impuin on an informal basis until the next election. You know how they are, though. They insisted that I formally keep the two votes and that I keep you under my control.”
Durgaun clenched her teeth and tried to suppress a cry of joy. “As surprised as I am at Councilor Impuin’s situation, I’m even more surprised that our friends (she put special stress on the word, stretching and tearing it apart, then refashioning it to mean enemies) would allow me to join the LCIC, even informally. Still, I don’t get why they think I’d ever vote against you. And if I did, well, that would be cause for them to celebrate.”
Lambian looked at Durgaun with a smile. “Once you start attending these meetings, you will get a real sense of just how much work there is to do. Four people are not enough. Neither are fifty thousand, but this is how it is. They know just how clever you are. They fear you, to be honest. But keep in mind that although we might belong to different factions, we’re still one Commonwealth. Also,” Lambian gestured to the checkpoint ahead, so that Durgaun could prepare, “you’ll find we have guests every once in a while. It’s not always just us, and that sometimes complicates matters.”
Durgaun nodded, but she didn’t really notice the checkpoint ahead until they had arrived. She pressed the palms of her gloves and released enough liquid to make her ears shrink. Lambian stayed put and waited like a schoolfriend rather than pressing on ahead. She really didn’t act like a Princess at all.
It wasn’t a bonafide security station they were to pass through, but a cultural one, literally a “unity checkpoint” (irha shenerglarden). A device there would flag any rebellious types, and among the official list of rebel traits was keeping one’s ears long, an old prejudice born of elven myths. True, an Incula’s ears always grew when wet, but the pier was always rather windy, and the checkpoint placed at a suitable distance. Unfortunately for Durgaun, she had been born carnatic, which meant - among other things like her fuchsia skin – that her auricular situation was the reverse of the norm: her ears were usually long, and they shrank when she was wet. It was an annoyance for many Incuae, say for the young Councilors who would sport daringly short hairdos at the clubs in the Tetrad and then quickly grow the hair back when a mobile unity check swept through (only the Elomara High Priestess is allowed a haircut, and yes, the Uperjenathi, but they’re aliens). The difference was that these Councilors never actually cut their manes, they simply used the malleability of self to shapeshift, and then reverted back when there was a need. The checkpoints weren’t set to detect spells, but they could easily distinguish a carnatic as well as how hydrated she was and put two and two together, so a convenient magic trick could come under investigation Why they couldn’t simply flag carnatics when their ears were short, and leave them be when they were long, was, well, there was no answer to that question. Prejudice is prejudice.
Lambian, on the other hand, was upset. In my second or third term as Princess I’ll ban these things altogether, at least from the enarchies. Carnatism is a physiological phenomenon, not something people choose to express. Who in Tebrash can be blamed for such a thing? It’s all nonsense.
”You’d think as Princess I wouldn’t have to pass through one of these things, huh,” Lambian said to Durgaun, as they both entered the checkpoint tunnel.
Durgaun replied: ”Princess, not Tyrant or Benefactress.”
”The difference is debatable, they should at least let me clothe myself in chilly spots like this one!”
”Oh, you’re a rebel.”
”What’s the point of amassing such a large trousseau of outfits if you’re forced to go about nude five-sixths of the time?! I still get cold… But enough of politics for one day. I have something to show you.”
Durgaun didn’t say anything, but her interest was piqued no doubt. One thing Princess Lambian liked about her colleague was that she didn’t try to probe into her mind like other high-ranked seventh graders dared do. That right there showed more respect and more class than any obsequiousness a woman could offer. She didn’t jump up and down and try to hurry things up either, but waited to hear what the thing was.
”I bet you have one of these extremely fancy consoles with you, the invisible pancomm ones?”
Durgaun halted, then grabbed thin air on her left side, flicked her hand up and out popped the console. She showed three fingers to the screen and it split into three subscreens, one for each of the worldlines. Then she flipped it so Lambian could watch and control.
”Where do you want to peek into?” Durgaun asked.
”Third trinity, Ginaras…mostly.” She manipulated the device with ease. Once done, she flipped the screens back to Durgaun and added, “Not live eh, over a month ago.”
Durgaun almost asked her favorite question: ‘what am I looking at’, but what she saw on the left screen robbed her of speech.
In fact, the melee took place mostly in Ginaras as Lambian had said, but the star of the show kept blinking in and out of Halaron and Isis as well, so Durgaun made a gesture to push the console a bit farther away, thus getting a better view of all three screens, with Ginaras swapped into middle position. The warrior was cloaked all in black, like a Targan, and indeed the landscape was as barren and dreadful as Targa Oreon’s, but she was too short, and there was a suppleness to her movement that marked her down as one of their own, an Incula. A superb soldier, theoretically speaking, but Durgaun hadn’t seen or heard of someone fitting this profile, and she was sure she knew all of the top-class fighters in uniform, whether in Rear, Front, or Middle Army. She somewhat expected Lambian to interject with some background info, but the talkative Princess kept quiet, still doing the plaintive thing maybe. So Durgaun kept watching.
Cloak was fighting four sisters, miner types, all of them with spiffy FA thinguns and all of them heavily armored. Every so often there was a flicker of light near, very small and very brief, always in Cloak’s vicinity. One of these flickers finally stung Cloak in the arm, and Durgaun realized the lights were sentient, either Littors or possibly those tiny Sanyasatani pests. So it made sense that our warrior was keeping the fight to the left stemworld, to slow them down. The miners’ armor was even harder to penetrate there though, so she kept blinking into Halaron or Isis and taking them out one by one as they followed. Methodically, like following an algorithm (pull, pummel, blink, turn, kick, blink, shove, blink, etc.), but extremely fast, more like a machine than a flesh and blood being. The weapon she carried was either too small to see on the screen (possible), or too plain to notice (likely). Gradually, Durgaun came to the realization that Cloak was fighting barehanded. At such speed, and judging by the yelp of one of the miners as she fell to the floor, more than hands it was the fingernails that were doing the job here.
When the last miner went down and the lights fled who knows where, Durgaun stared at Lambian. The Princess was delighted. That look was more than curiosity, it was utter distress. The queen of intelligence hated not knowing something. Yet the whole point was to heal this wound she had just inflicted, so Lambian spoke:
”She’s one of my agents, had her for over a decade now4. I've inserted her in the Education Ministry here, but I do arrange for her to be dispatched to trouble spots all over to deal with rascals and the like. Taramisado was getting out of hand.”
Durgaun pointed to the screen and said: “They’re not getting up, milady.”
Lambian raised her arms. “Because they’re dead. As I said, things were getting out of hand over there. Those were former Fronties, and purveyors -up to that particular day- of abominatechs. No worries, my agent is a great cleaner. It’s all on the recording if you want to keep going.”
”No,” Durgaun replied as she made her left hand into a fist to close the console and fade it out of sight. “I’m already more than impressed. She has training as a blinker?”
”She’s had all sorts of training, but not through regular channels. She’s a natural, she learns fast.”
”I can believe it.”
”So, the reason I’m showing this to you today is that I need your advice.” Lambian moved closer to Durgaun and even placed one hand on her shoulder. There were a few passersby, though not within hearing range. ”A couple of weeks ago,” she explained, “she ascended to the fourth grade. Good for her, right? But it’s a problem. Silver Education in the fourth trinity is too small and too full of clever sisters to employ her there without blowing her covers. I’m wondering where I should put her, or if I should put her anywhere at all. I guess I could keep her in the shadows… In any case, she’s destined to be a great asset for our faction, and I wanted you to be in the know.”
Durgaun looked down and thought and thought. After a while she looked back up and placed her own hand on Lambian. The thought of what the gossipmongers could do with that image if they were lurking about bothered the Princess, but Durgaun didn’t seem to notice.
”Send her to the Beacon.”
Lambian opened her mouth but didn’t say anything. The Beacon was the All-Incudea crime suppression unit. Sure, the agent in question would excel at crime suppression; it was basically what she had been doing all along. However, the suggestion only made sense if you were totally ignorant of Incudean politics. The Beacon was under the thumb of the Kobol faction, Kanmadein’s coterie. Durgaun and her were Kaga faction. Here she was thinking of concealing this fourth-grade gem more than before, and her associate was asking her to place it on her rival’s finger.
Durgaun did not need to use magic to read her mind. She kept her voice low and made an earnest effort to make the ridiculous sound persuasive. Her voice was legendary for its charm.
”Think of the intel she could gather for us over there. You said she’s a natural. I know you, and I know you’re a good judge of character.”
”Still, it’s a risk, a tremendous one.”
”She seems up to it. You know the Beacon always competes in the permanent weapon experiments. Far better training that beating up on rogue miners, right?”
”She is no Ransain, but she is amazing nonetheless”, Lambian said, pulling away from Durgaun. “The problem is people like her are not truly self-aware, they need to be directed to greatness. My arm -Kaga’s arm- is ever so long, but I don’t know that I dare stick it there, not yet you see.”
Durgaun smiled. “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but the great hero Ransain was not all that. I bet you this agent of yours is three times smarter, maybe more. Ransain had the luck of the Goddess, end of story. And that doesn’t rise up to the surface anymore, so we need to make do with what we do get. As the saying goes: for lack of gryphons, blood.”
Princess Lambian extended her arm as if testing its reach, then flinched and pulled it back.
”She’ll have to be on her own for long stretches. Poor Sinduin.”
”Is that her name then?” Durgaun asked.
1. "3,000" in senary, which is only 648 years in your decimal. They were actually vanquished much earlier but the Martu Fall Incident served as closure.↩
2. Again, this "1,500" needs to be translated. She's actually 398 in decimal at this point.↩
3. In time, but not before her fall, she discovered that it was not as good of an image as being seen as dirty and industrious. To the citizenry of the seventh decamillennium, being a leading councilor and not trying to do everything to hold on to that status seemed rather a sign of frivolity.↩
4. Seven years decimal.↩