Authors: J. Aislynn d' Merricksson
Empress of Wolves
Evalyce - Worldshaper Book 3
J. Aislynn D' Merricksson
Copyright (C) 2016 J. Aislynn D' Merricksson
Layout Copyright (C) 2016 by Creativia
Published 2016 by Creativia
eBook design by Creativia (www.creativia.org)
Cover art by http://www.thecovercollection.com/
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author's permission.
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This book is dedicated those who are my life-blood
and strong, loving support:
To Brother Wildfire and Mercurius Greyeyes, my deepest inspirations.
To Jonas Merricksson, twice lucky one, my callowayla.
To Beth Finley, who inspired me to open the door to De Sikkari.
To Michael Calabrase, Goshen, my soul-mate and nemesis.
To Chris and Brandi Gore, anamcara and truest of friends.
To John and Sam Owens, my steady and strong support.
To Anish and Tania, who helped make this possible!
To my family of heart and soul,
To my blood-family and
To my bond-family-
There are far too many of you to name here! I love you all the same, each and every one.
In loving memory of Nina Clark
who taught me my own Dance
and fostered in me a love of learning.
May the One who is All And Nothing
forever guide your steps.
It was the
who greeted the travelers once more and it was the Admiral himself who flagged the ship. Kalla had no doubt the strike fighters, circling at a greater distance than usual, had warned the flagship of their approach. Who else might be traveling with wyvern, after all?
This is Admiral Karlgraffsson, of the Imperial Flagship
The borders to Argoth are currently closed. Please bring your ship into the
Kalla shook her head with a feeling of deja vu and wondered at the Admiral's formality.
“Acknowledged,” she responded, replacing the radio as Aleister guided the ship into the same bay they had occupied before. He snugged it in place as the wyvern landed, hanging back by the hanger doors. Kasai joined them. The hawk was tense and watchful, clearly considering this enemy territory and Kalla couldn't say she blamed him. An aide scurried up. His worried gaze took in the extra people, focusing on Vander's robes.
“Greetings, Lady kyl'Solidor. Lord kyl'Solidor,” he said with a bow. He led them to the same great-room that Ventaal had seen them in on their previous visit. Once more the Admiral waited within and, as before, waited until the aide was gone before losing the formalities.
“You've changed,” Ventaal said as he hugged her. “What's with the new look?”
Kalla laughed. “That is a long story, Ventaal. A very, very long story. But tell me, what is going on? What news of Argoth?” she asked. The Admiral heaved a sigh.
“That, too, is a long story. Shall we trade then?” he asked. He eyed the rings she and Aleister wore with a sly grin, as if he suspected what they were. “And who are your companions?”
“Aahh, yes. Admiral Karlgraffsson, this is Vander kyl'Solidor and Magister Inaba Kasai.
“Vander, meet the master of the
Admiral Ventaal Karlgraffsson. Ventaal also happens to be an old friend.”
“I am honored, Admiral,” Vander said, inclining his head politely. Kasai echoed him, still tense and watchful.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Ventaal said. “I welcome you both to my demesne, such as it is.”
The Admiral invited them to sit at the great burnished oak table dominating the room, then called the aide back in and asked for refreshments to be brought. They passed the time until the aide returned in idle conversation. After he left, Kalla delved into her tale in earnest, telling Ventaal everything, beginning with her last trip to Argoth and ending with the group's stay in Dashmar. When she finished the Admiral ran a hand through his greying hair. Tired eyes the color of well-aged ale regarded her with an assessing look.
“That's an awful lot to take in all at once,” he said after a time. “Hard to believe as well, though I can hardly deny that
has healed the land.
“Shards, Kalla! Waking Divinity and Empress of Dashmar? What have you gotten yourself into? But if you've truly done all of that, then maybe there is hope for us yet. Sykes does indeed seem under some sort of otherworldly influence. He is not acting himself. Hence the formality. Entry into Argoth is still severely limited. Glad I am that you approached from Zinlin. I don't think the other Admirals would have been as accommodating, especially our nearest neighbors. The Admiral of the
has become increasing surly of late. Kosten would have turned you away, magi or not.”
Ventaal went on to tell Kalla of all that had happened recently. Of Grosso's visits and the Emperor's increasing paranoia. Of Sykes' plans to attack Rang'moori. Kalla winced at that. They'd guessed right, but managed to get here before the Fleet had been officially mobilized.
“I will radio the
telling them that the Dashmari ruler wishes to meet with Sykes. If we are lucky, Grosso will not yet know that his puppet has been deposed. You can get close enough to the Emperor to do something,” Ventaal said.
“I thank you, Ventaal. Any help would be appreciated. That's a good idea, one I didn't think of. With Aleister's help, we can disguise ourselves. I just hope killing Sykes isn't necessary, but then, I have no need to challenge him as I did with Kartoff,” Kalla replied. She turned to Vander.
“Think you can pull off being the Emperor of Dashmar?” she asked. Vander blinked.
“Me? You want
to do that?”
“Well, yes. You are Kartoff's son after all. I don't think I can quite get away with playing the part of a male.”
“What about Kasai or Aleister?”
“Our job is to protect you and Kalla. It would look very strange, should things go wrong, for the Emperor to put himself in danger to save a mere soldier,” Kasai said.
“Yes… I guess you're right… it's just… it will be strange, to try and pretend to be Kartoff.”
Kalla put a reassuring hand on the War Mage's shoulder. “You'll do just fine. Don't worry.” She looked to Ventaal. “Admiral?”
Ventaal punched the intercom button.
Yes, Admiral Karlgraffsson?
“Commander Kierksson, contact the
. Tell them the Dashmari ruler wishes to meet with Emperor Sykes, to discuss a mutually beneficial partnership. Ask if we may send them in with an escort from the
” Kierksson replied.
“Now we wait. It may be some time before the
responds,” the Admiral said. He favored Kalla with another assessing look. “
, hmm? Congratulations, Kalla. Melaric would be proud.” He turned his gaze to Aleister.
“Of you, too, son. I knew I'd seen your ship before. It's good to know what happened to Melaric. I never thought he could have been so careless, storm or not. Take good care of both of them! Kalla and the
“Yessir, I intend to,” Aleister replied, a bit sheepishly.
Ventaal laughed, a deep, genuine laugh, the first Kalla had heard from him during their visit.
“We should make our plans,” Kalla said with a scowl. They were deep in discussion when the intercom crackled to life once more.
Admiral Karlgraffsson? The
has given permission for the Dashmari leader to pass the borders. The
is to escort them in. Orders have been relayed to the
to widen their patrols.
Ventaal raised his eyebrows at this news. “Very well, Commander. Lay in a course for Argoth,” he replied.
Yes, Admiral. Anything else?
“No, Commander, that will be all.” Ventaal clicked the intercom off and looked to Kalla. “I guess you will be our guests until we arrive at Argoth.”
Kalla and her companions spent the final distance to the great skycity with the Admiral, on the
bridge. Before they had left the great-room, Aleister had cloaked them in illusion, changing their clothes back to the uniforms of the Donnerkeil and once more altering his and Kasai's appearance to that of the Dashmari and Vander's to that of Kartoff's.
As they approached, Kalla could sense something different about the skycity. Things seemed ready for quiet and efficient action at a moment's notice. Activity along the Wall had increased and the guns tracked even the
as she approached. Where the Healer had seen the
during her last visit, the
now loomed, beautiful and terrifying at the same time. The Grand Flagship was three times the size of the largest flagship and held enough strike-fighters to be a city in and of itself. The
alone would be enough to deal with Rang'moori, never-mind the lesser flagships.
Ventaal escorted them to their ship. The hanger crew had changed, and word of a Dashmari presence on the ship had spread, so no mention of their change in appearance was made. The Admiral bid them farewell and wished them the best of luck. With a bow, Kasai made his way back to Thiassi, while the others boarded the
. Kalla shared a final look with Ventaal before she disappeared into the shadowed depths of the ship and the doors slid shut behind her.
* * *
The Healer sighed as Aleister brought the ship down at a military paddock much closer to Imperia Argosia than their last stop had been. It would be but a short trip from here to the Imperial capital. Kalla was nervous. Though Aleister had disguised the group, there was little disguising the wyvern. She hoped no one would connect the red wyvern with the one that had accompanied the Argosian mage several months ago. Both wyvern coiled protectively around the strike-fighter after everyone was off.
They were greeted by an official procession, more impressive than the last. The Argosians all bowed deeply to the group, focusing on Vander. Clearly someone had told them what to expect of the Dashmari Emperor.
“Greetings and welcome to Argoth, Emperor Kartoff,” the lead dignitary said. Vander's eyes narrowed dangerously. He gave a stiff nod back.
“I thank you. However, I would know how you knew my name?” His voice was ice. The dignitary faltered.
“From the Admiral, of course,” he stammered in response.
“Interesting. I did not take the Admiral for one gifted in magick,” Vander said.
“Magick, Your Grace?”
“I don't recall giving the good Admiral my name. He must, therefore, have magick to have been able to tell it to you. Such a shame that his talent was lost to the Kanlon,” Vander replied in the same icy voice. The dignitary swallowed hard, confused and muddled by 'Kartoff's' reaction.
Kalla laughed inwardly, enjoying the trap Vander had sprung. Ventaal had never once mentioned the name Kartoff, so how indeed would the officials know.
Vander waved his hand in a negating gesture. “No matter. No matter at all. Please, do lead on. I look forward to meeting with Emperor Sykes.”
The dignitary let out a slow breath, relieved at not having to explain how he had known the Dashmari ruler's name. More than any other nation, Grosso would want to hide his involvement with Argoth, a nation that could potentially be a threat to the Kanlon itself.
“Of course, Your Grace. Please, follow us. There are carriages waiting to take you to Imperia Argosia. The trip will take about an hour. Is there anything you wish before we leave?”
“I trust my ship will be in good hands here?” Kartoff' asked.
“The best, Your Grace. If I may ask, how is it that you came to be in possession of an Argosian ship?”
“I confiscated it from a pair of magi foolish enough to challenge me,” he said. The officials blanched at his words, but said nothing.
“And my wyvern? Is there a place for them to hunt?”
“We… ahh… we can let them hunt in the woods near here,” the dignitary said nervously.
“Very well. I would be most displeased if anything untoward were to befall them.”
“No, Your Grace. They will be just fine here. You have my word. If you please?” The dignitary gestured towards the gates.
Kalla started to follow Vander, but the familiarity of an agitated voice pulled her around. Kasai must have told him she was distracted because the War Mage turned back to her, following her gaze to where Manny kyl'Malkador was wearily arguing with a military officer. Apparently the young Mage was not being allowed to leave the military compound and continue on in his quest for a magister. Argoth's condemned criminals were held in the Golden Court, the main prison, within Imperia Argosia. Vander dipped his head close to hers, speaking in a very soft voice.
“Invite him to come with us? He seems to be having problems,” Vander murmured.
Kalla nodded. Since she was acting as Kartoff's aide, she was the one who walked over to Manny, Aleister keeping pace with her. She bowed to the Healer as she approached.
“Pardon my intrusion, Lord kyl'Malkador, but I wonder if I might trouble you for some of your time?” Kalla asked. Manny turned to her, a frustrated look on his face, unhappy at the interruption. His eyes widened slightly in puzzled recognition at the sound of her voice.
“If it please you, my Lord, Emperor Kartoff would like to speak with you. We have been looking for one such as yourself. Perhaps you would care to join us?” she said, cutting him off before he could get her name out. Manny's eyes narrowed. He gave a slight nod, playing along with her.
“I would be honored,” he said. She bowed again and beckoned him to follow. The Healer fell in step beside her, his body far vibrating with the desire to ask questions. Vander gave him a respectful nod as they approached.
“I am delighted to see that you accepted my invitation,” he said. Manny returned the nod with a bow and Kalla chuckled inside. He was still young and sheltered enough to be intimidated by a ruler. Kalla wondered how long it had been since she'd felt that way. Her first experience with such a sovereign had been with the Khan Arkaddia when she had traveled with Hauss to heal the plague. She had acted the same way, much to both Hauss' and Nobunaga's amusement.
“I thank you, Emperor Kartoff. You are most generous,” Manny said.
Vander's mouth turned up in a very slight smile before he turned back to the waiting dignitaries. They stood with crossed arms, deep frowns creasing their faces.
“I trust there will be no problem with my choice to have the mage accompany me?” he asked.
“No, Your Grace,” the lead dignitary said in a slightly disgruntled tone that Vander chose not to acknowledge. Kalla wondered how long they had been stalling Manny. She sighed softly. They would have to teach him to throw his weight around. Magi had Pass Rights everywhere, just as the Harpers did. To refuse them was a grave offense to the Kanlon.
The 'Emperor' fell back in step with the officials, with Manny just behind him and the rest of them following behind. They were taken to a pair of carriages and, at Vander's insistence, his group was allowed to occupy one together. It was clear to Kalla that they wanted to separate Kartoff from his soldiers and from Manny, considering the two male Dashmari a greater threat than his female aide.