“When meeting with those in positions of authority, I have often found it beneficial to remind myself of the singular fact that they are nothing more than humans, no matter how much power may be invested in them.
Yes, at various times, I have been required to seek concessions from those with the capacity to make my life a living hell, either directly or through indirect means such as depriving me of opportunities or associations I have greatly desired. That, however, does not mean that they are in any sense ‘more important’ than I am.
At best, those in power, are significant side players on the stage that is my life, and at worst they are obstacles and impediments. For the former, it is often useful to understand them as individuals and work around their hopes and concerns, as one would with any other reasonable entity. For the latter, well, obstacles exist to either be smashed down or snuck around now don’t they?”– Xindir Harshek Doxle of the First Flame offering a verbal defense to charges of expediting the subversion of Noble Authority over the distribution of grain and fresh seed.
Jalaren was not happy to see us. This was not surprising. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been happy to see us either. Well, I wouldn’t have been happy to see me. My brain was still doing all sorts of funny chemical stuff at any and every thought of Idrina.
“I see you have chosen to darken my doorstep. I had hoped that expulsion would preclude such an event, and yet, I am reminded of who your pact mentor is and as such can not claim to be surprised,” Jalaren said, not even bothering with the sigh he was clearly holding still holding in.
It was comforting in a sense that he knew he was likely to need it later.
“We do not pay you this visit as students,” I said, attempting and probably failing, to speak with the proper formality of a Great House leader.
That, if anything, seemed to upset Jalaren even more.
“Close the door,” he said and added. “As a courtesy please.”
Idrina, who’d been standing behind me as a sort of honor guard, shut and traced a sigil on its handle which presumably locked it?
“He put you up to this, didn’t he?” Jalaren said, dropping all pretense of formality as he drew a bottle of amber liquid from his desk. There were four glasses on a shelf behind him, but he only retrieved one, which was probably for the best. Whether the alcohol was a rare vintage or pure rotgut, I wasn’t about to let it dull my sense even if I’d had to imbibe it for some reason.
“Our Advisor has provided counsel but the course of action we undertake now is solely of our own choosing,” I said, under the delusion that fancy phrasing was going to get anyone to take me more seriously.
“And what, I and the heavens must wonder, inclined you to choose a path where, from the reports which have managed to cross my desk already, involved you – wait let me read this verbatim.” He shuffled through a few papers which seemed to be on the legal precedents around noble inheritance and drew forth a single sheet of paper with ink which looked to still be drying.
“According to this account you rendered seventeen members of the student body non-violable for performance of their standard class schedules, including seven with injuries severe enough to warrant a multi-day stay in the healer’s ward and at least one who will need to be put on long term rehabilitative league and prosthesis training.”
“We do not deny that accounting,” I said, since it was a rather important part of our plan that people be aware of what we’d done and that we were the ones responsible.
“You don’t? Well that’s quite convenient. The High Council will be able move directly to sentencing.” Jalaren said that without looking up from the sheet.
He knew what was coming.
He didn’t want to deal with it.
In fact, he wanted to be as far from it as possible.
Which put him in the same club as all of the rest of us. Well, except maybe Narla. She seemed to be pretty excited about the whole thing.
“That would be convenient,” I said, choosing to play along a little more before forcing him to confront the mess we were tangling him up in, if even just in a peripheral manner. “We will likely ask that their sentences be of a mild nature and duration, given that a fair portion of justice has already been delivered to them.”
That was enough to draw out Jalaren’s sigh.
“You’re doing this then? You’re really doing this?” he asked, massaging his temples with his fingertips.
“This has been done to us,” I said. “That is rather the issue at stake.”
“Just..please…he really didn’t put you up to this?” Jalaren asked, and poured himself a second glass after quickly downing the first.
I decided to relent a bit and relaxed back into my chair. From how his expression sank, I think that might have been exactly the wrong move to make and it took me a moment to recognize that I’d adopted basically the same slouch that Doxle often used.
Eh, I decided, there are worse influence I could have in my life.
“He really didn’t,” I said completing the transformation into informality. “We, my house that is, went over a bunch of options, and this is the best of them.”
“And what, exactly, do you think this,” he gestured at the report of our ‘rampage’, “is going to do for you.”
“Ideally? Get Lightstone, Grayfall, and hopefully a few others to officially declare war on us.” I said. “Oh, I know none of the students who were with Nelphas were from Grayfall. There’ll be another report showing up pretty soon on an Imperial Guard patrol from Grayfall we encountered. They’re going to need, uh, let’s call it a longer medical leave, than the students. In my official capacity I will not be seeking additional justice be done on them. Unofficially, I would like to extend an apology to their leader. Dropping him was unkind.”
Jalaren had paused with the second glass halfway to his lips.
“I’m sorry. I believe I…an Imperial Guard patrol?”
“They interrupted a private negotiation,” I said, lapsing back into a bit of formality.
“And you…,” he put glass down. “No. I don’t care. It didn’t happen here. It’s not my business. I…I don’t need to care.”
“I might owe you an apology too,” I said grimacing at pulling him in even deeper than I’d planned. “They are, hopefully, undergoing treatment for their injuries over by the Metalwork Hall.”
He closed his eyes and seemed to be focusing on breathing for a few moment before he spoke again.
“May I inquire as to whether there were any fatalities in the altercation?” he asked at last.
“Thankfully no,” I said. “All of the Imperial Guards were left in a viable, if not precisely functional, state when we were done with them.”
“You mentioned dropping the leader?”
“Yes. From the top of the Metalwork Hall.”
“From the top?”
“Of the third tallest building in the Academy?”
“That would be the one.”
“And you were atop it because?”
I did not actually have an answer for that beyond ‘it seemed like a good place to scream at him at the top of my lungs’.
“The altercation was a highly mobile affair,” Idrina said. “In attempting to impress on the Imperial Guard that they had violated their mandate, we were required to seek refuge in unconventional positions,” Idrina said.
Jalaren gave a little giggle at that.
“Unconventional? They’re calling it unconventional.” He looked at the glass he’d put back down, and then at the bottle, clearly torn between which of the two to empty first. “They’re going to fire me. In a kiln. If I’m lucky. Or perhaps they’ll get unconventional. That would be amusing I suppose.”
He probably wasn’t wrong about that. If things were allowed to proceed as they normally would, Jalaren and the Academy as a whole would either be caught in the splash zone when the Great Houses rained down fiery vengeance upon me, or, if destroying me wasn’t enough to satisfy them, he would likely serve as a convenient additional scapegoat.
“No one will be firing you,” I said. “In a kiln, or from this position.”
“You think you have a say in the matter? Do you understand what you have done child? This is not a game you can play at. You’ve called down the wrath of the most powerful people in the world, and you think hiding under the shelter of a House they’ve already managed to kill is going to shield you due to some technicality you’ve discovered?”
The amusement I felt at seeing Jalaren lose it was probably a little mean. He’d never done anything directly antagonistic to me, and I didn’t feel I owed him payback for anything. On the hand though, he was part of a system which routinely murdered the children of commoners and anyone the Great Houses felt like eliminating, so maybe he deserved the stress I was bringing to him.
“You’re mistaken,” I said and then did not elaborate, because that’s annoying and I’m occasionally like that.
“I’m mistaken? Really? Am I the one who wasn’t happy with being annihilated by House Ironbriar? Am I the one who decided to make a glorious show of by getting all of the Houses to condemn me? No. I don’t think I can claim that honor.”
I let him rant. It seemed like getting it all out was helping him find some equilibrium again.
“The only honor I’ve claimed was what was mine by right of inheritance,” I said, careful not to claim that it was by right of either birth or blood, since I’d never bothered with the former and only held a replica of the latter.
“Oh, yes, forgive me. How foolish to overlook the title you’ve born for – has it been a full day yet?”
“It’s been a few days,” I said. “What I lack in experience however does nothing to diminish the authority of the position.”
“The High Council will not concern themselves with that,” Jalaren said. “Oh, certainly while they are in session all of the proper forms and procedures will be followed but you will never get to see them. They’ll give Ironbriar leave to strike first, but even if by some miracle you survive that, the assassins which follow will be alert and aware of the stratagems you employ. No one can survive an unending string of attempts on your life, and history suggests that you’ll be dead before the third is complete.”
“History provides a lesson to us all,” I said. “You may want to keep in mind that it’s only an example of what can happen though. The future is not so limited.”
“You, I am sad to say, aren’t going to have a future. Nor will I.”
He seemed so certain of his words that it felt almost criminal to take advantage of them. Doxle’s my mentor though, so of course I did.
“Would you care to wager a lifetime of service on that?” I asked, feeling a devilish thrill sparkle at the end of my fingers.
“What? That you’ll survive?”
“That we both will,” I said, baiting the trap a little better.
“And what would I win if I’m right? I can hardly enjoy my victory if I’m dead.”
“If you’re right that the Great Houses can slay me, you’ll gain Doxle’s protection and his aid in obtaining passage out of the Empire to somewhere beyond the reach and even notice of the Great Houses.”
“Exile in place of death? It’s not the worst deal I’ve been offered,” he said.
“Excellent! I need quite a lot of staff and someone used to managing them,” I said.
Jalaren shook his head at that. “Ah to be young and delusional again. But tell me, why did you seek me out.”
“Oh, that’s very simple,” I said. “We wish to officially request a private tutor be assigned to House Riverbond so that once the small matter of the wars we are embroiled in are settled that the members of the House will be eligible to continue their education as cadets.”
None of us had any interest in that of course, but it was a legitimate request to make and that was all that the plan needed.