Thea walked into the embassy building first with the rest following in behind her.
It was a rather small building compared to the Noble houses nearby, three floors tall just like them but only a few rooms wide. Druvian flags flew outside and within the building, marking it as a place of diplomacy, while the rest of it matched the surrounding buildings in both colour and style.
Cheap, was the first thought that came to Thea’s mind as she glanced around, then walking up to the front desk where a single clerk was going through several scrolls of paperwork.
She cleared her throat, gaining the busy clerk’s attention.
“Oh-Oh! Mis-L-Lady Selene! You’re here earlier than we expected!” the woman cried out in surprise, she was human but visibly of Sinbeni origin from her darker skin tone, bright green eye colour and accent.
“I’m surprised you recognise me so easily?…” Thea said awkwardly, not used to being well known.
“Oh, I do apologise,” the woman stood up and forwarded her hand, “Kate al-Yasin, I worked with your mother years ago, I must say you look awfully alike!” she said after introducing herself. Kate was a middle-aged woman with black hair bunched up into a bun, wearing a set of bright wooden glasses and a warm smile.
“T-Thank you…Is ambassador O’Connor in still?” Thea asked, seeing as the sun was setting.
“Yes, yes of course! That man barely leaves his office these days, oh how I pity him.” Kate said, then rushing around her desk but suddenly stopping, she glanced at the three others that stood behind Thea. “And who might they be? Oh, well, I recognise that troublemaker Alan over there but the other two not quite.”
Alan waved at her with an awkward grin, “Hey Kate.”
Kate ignored him.
“These two are colleges of mine from the Crimson Guard, Nerick Damion and Erik Fire…born.” Thea introduced them, (“We need to work on your last name…Saying it is getting awkward.”) she then said to Erik through their mental bond.
(“I don’t see why, I’ve heard stranger names.”) Erik replied, nodding at the clerk as she looked Nerick and him over, seemingly missing Erik’s tail entirely and is more caught off guard by the wyvern which she previously thought to be a scarf.
“Ah, very well, excuse me for asking but it’s been a precarious few weeks.” Kate explained, “Right this way, he’s not quite expecting you but surely will be overjoyed to see you!” she said while leading them out of the small entry hall and into a larger hall decorated with all kinds of art. “This way please, I must lock the door behind us, regulations you see.” She said as she waited for each of them to walk inside before locking the door.
“So how have things progressed?” Thea asked as they followed Kate up the staircase.
“Horribly, the council is at odds with one another as usual but…” she paused for a moment, “Oh Clayton can explain it better than I can, it’s a dire situation I’m afraid.”
“When is this country ever not in a dire situation?” Alan said with a chuckle.
“Usually when you’re not in it!” Kate bitterly responded as they reached the second floor but ascended even higher.
“Old flame?” Nerick asked the adventurer in a whisper.
“I’ve been alive for a while, I admit I got around, she never forgave me.” Alan whispered back.
Reaching the third floor they found themselves in a room just as small as the entrance, but with only a single door laying opposite of them. Very little decoration lay around, only a couple stone busts next to the staircase and three paintings on the plain lime green walls.
“Empty isn’t it?” Kate then asked, noticing Thea and Nerick’s glanced at their surroundings.
“I mean…yeah it is a bit.” Thea admitted, embassies back in Druvia were far larger and much more decorated than this place.
“I’m afraid how you Druvians see us is not how Sinbeni sees you,” Kate said with a sigh, “And the rift between our two kingdoms has never been greater. Dire these past months have been and worse still I expect things to get.” She said with a weak chuckle, “Enough chit-chat though, you’ll find him drowning in papers in there.”
Kate gestured at the sole door just as a loud crash came from within. “Oh my, Clayton?” she called out.
“Stay back, we’ll check on him.” Thea said as she and Alan took the lead, quickly but cautiously approaching the door.
(“I only sense a single individual inside.”) Erik said, as Thea slowly lower the handle and opened the door.
Revealing piles over piles of scrolls and many more sheets of paper, a disaster having occurred within the generic looking office. At the very far end of the office and surrounded by the scattered papers was a single wooden desk, similarly generic as the front desk below.
Behind the desk was a pale man, a half-elf with short light green hair. He lay on his desk, hands folded before him with his head resting upon them. He seemed asleep.
“Ambassador O’Connor?” Thea asked as she entered, the rest walking in behind her.
The half-elf did not respond, he simply snored for a brief moment before going completely silent again.
“Sleeps harder than a rock,” Kate sighed as she walked past them, expertly avoiding the minefield of paperwork to reach his desk. She grabbed a nearby bunch of notes and rolled them up before suddenly slapping the half-elf over the head with them.
“W-Wah-What? What?” Clayton said in surprise as he woke, glancing around in confusion briefly. “Uh, what can I do for you?” he then asked, blinking several times before wiping his eyes, purple bags of weariness clear beneath them.
“Lady Selene, newly named ambassador as yourself, has arrived.” Kate announced official-like, as she unrolled the notes and lay them back to rest.
“Oh,” Clayton said as his eyes finally focused, then suddenly rising up from his chair. “O-Selene! You’re here!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“I just said that.” Kate pointed out.
“Right, right.” He sighed in relief before sitting back down, “Thank the gods you’re here, but, wait how are you here so early?”
“Does that really matter sir?” Kate argued.
“No, no. You’re right,” Clayton groaned as he wiped his eyes once more, “I apologise for the mess and…my state, I spent…”
“Three days, sir.” Kate filled in.
“Three days yes, awake and going over everything that’s been happening. If I were to explain in a short phrase of how much s*** we’re in, I’d say just look at my office floor!” Clayton exclaimed jokingly.
“What is going on exactly? I’d appreciate it if you filled me in on the details.” Thea asked as she and the others approached the desk, trying very hard not to trip or step on the scattered papers.
“Yes, yes. Please, take a seat, all of you.” Clayton offered, “Woodwork” he quickly chanted while waving his right hand ahead, vines suddenly growing out of the paved floor and forming four chairs. “Must have been an exhausting trip to have arrived so soon.” He said as they all took a seat.
“We slept, unlike you Clayton.” Alan said with a chuckle.
The half-elf waved him off with a weak smile, “Anyway, err, Kate what day is it today again?”
“The eleventh of Opal, sir. Would you also like to know the year?” Kate jokingly asked.
“No, thank you Kate. The eleventh? Two weeks left then.” Clayton mused as he lay back in his chair, “I’ll cut to the chase then, the council of thirteen will convene in two weeks’ time at the capital city of Abu Katra. I thought my trials and tribulations were in vain but you arriving so early might have saved us all. Alone I can only beg and plea but with the both of us here we hold the King’s name with every word we speak and promise we make.”
Clayton began to explain, “I’ve done my best to push the meeting back, it was difficult but luck seems to be on our side, somewhat. We have two weeks to prepare for what is to come. You see for the longest time have three members of the council been aggressively lobbying to cut ties with Druvia. And they’re nearing success if nothing is done at this next hearing.”
“Who’s our opposition and how far have they gone?” Thea asked.
The ambassador sighed, “Well, the crown seat pushing this is Samir el-Sylla, but he’s nothing more than a child puppet. Our true enemies are the two council members behind the child, Inaya al-Nawaz of the second greatest sea-faring trading company in this world and Warlord Ramzi al-Salem. They’ve quite literally been paving the way for Sinbeni to completely cut ties with Druvia as an economy and society.
Inaya for one has been breaking off trade deals with Druvia and instead making new ones with Seeri for metals and precious ores, New Druv for livestock, grains and other organic resources, also somehow brokering a contract with Dark’Mor for many different things.
I believe most of this has come to fruition due to Ramzi, as he is on very good terms with both Seeri and New Druv from his slave and weapons trade. He has also been using his…entertainment facilities, and Lord el-Sylla to popularize hate against Druvia and ingraining the thoughts of expansion over the Lost Lands over the pond. Promising riches, the opening of new businesses and a major decrease in Sinbeni’s clogged up population.
Which, I’m afraid he’d be correct to presume so.” Clayton explained in full.
“But in turn it would cause major unrest back at Druvia,” Thea then said, “Not only are those lands ours but a country so corrupt gaining more territory and access to our resources while moving closer and closer to home…”
“The duchies would immediately call for war.” Clayton agreed with a slightly amused grin.
“A war we’re not prepared for,” Alan added, “Azruxan hit us hard and with everything he had. The army is spread thin and the guild even thinner. The crown had to employ several large and small mercenary bands for aid.”
“Add to that an economic crisis.” Clayton then said with a loud groan, ”Sinbeni pulling back from trading with us and increasing their trade with other lands will in turn decrease trade between us and those kingdoms.”
“But that’s if Seeri and New Druv favour Sinbeni over Druvia?” Thea argued.
“New Druv definitely will, they hate us. And possibly Seeri too. Drak’Mor not so much, and we’ll still have some trade with Pepputia and S’Sern.” Clayton assured, “But, trade with New Druv and Seeri is far more important for Druvia at the moment, even compared to Pepputia and S’Sern.”
“Why is that?” Thea asked.
“Lady Selene, where does Druvia get most of its imported metals?” Kate solemnly asked.
“Sinbeni and Seeri,” Clayton answered in her stead, “We import little from Drak’Mor and have a few mines of our own but, issue is, almost all of our mithril, platinum and copper comes from one of those two. Without mithril and platinum we’ll be forced to resupply weapons and armour as basic steel, and without copper we’re limited on how much bronze we can make, forcing construction to rely more on iron and therefore slowing down our steel production.”
“That…does sound like a problem.” Thea agreed.
“Indeed, not to mention that certain herbs are only grown by New Druv. Certain very important herbs. How does a life without medicine for the common flu, sound? How will we clear our water supplies from rodents without the specific plant we import from there, that is poison to them but harmless to us? Yes, we could possibly start growing them ourselves, but it might be a bit too late by then.” Clayton explained in a grim tone.
“That’s…insane, how can Sinbeni affect us so much? Why haven’t we began growing those plants ourselves?” Nerick then asked, eyebrows raised in shock.
“Because of the miasma,” Thea was the one to answer, “It has corrupted our fields and even began to starve our population. With the demons gone we’re starting to deal with it now but…before we’ve had no choice but to rely on other kingdoms for certain supplies.”
“Now that’s with the thought that Seeri and New Druv only decrease their trade deals with us, what if they were to also completely cut us off?” Clayton then offered, “The purist Elves would do so in a heartbeat if it meant spiting their Druvian cousins. Seeri? They won’t exactly work with New Druv, they’d honestly rather go to war with them instead but, Seeri and Sinbeni might as well be one kingdom. Those north-dwelling Dwarves absolutely hate Elves, and if they were to pick a side between Sinbeni and Druvia?…Well, we know what their choice would be.”
“Ambassador, what are you suggesting?” Thea asked, but knew his answer.
Clayton’s expression grew dark as he gazed down at his desk, “It is farfetched, but Druvia is weaker than it has ever been since…S***, since the dawn of the destroyer. All New Druv would have to do is pull out from trade, Sinbeni and Seeri alone would be enough to consist a major military threat.”
At those words Thea suddenly realised something as she glanced at Erik, was he even able to follow this conversation at all?
And was surprised, when he finally spoke.
“Alone Sinbeni could make claim to some land, but alongside Seeri, both could claim far more of the lost world than they ever could alone before Druvia retaliated. Also if they remain together, Druvia’s retaliation would come still, but much slower as the military would at first falter. Until, the populace’s unrest urges them into action.” Erik mused out loud.
Thea was surprised at first, as she seemed to sometimes forget who Erik was.
But she remembered.
He was the Destroyer, the being who’s destructive power, tactical cunning and loyal servants brought most of the world to its knees.
“Y-Yes, exactly! Uh, apologies but I don’t believe we’ve met?” Clayton asked, turning to Erik.
“Oh, right. This is Erik Fireborn, Crimson guard mage and a consultant of mine.” Thea introduced him.
“Hmm curious, I thought all crimson guard mercenaries were to wear the uniform while on official business?” Clayton pointed out as he met the drake’s blue gaze, his own green eyes narrowing with doubt.
“He is also a close friend, ambassador, and a professional study of the magical arts.” Thea offered awkwardly, but her words did nothing to topple the half-elf’s stern gaze.
“My robe is enchanted, and for several reasons I’d rather wear it than some symbol, when visiting a possibly hostile environment.” Erik said, meeting the ambassador’s stare but not quite showing off his draconic one. Yet.
“Symbols are powerful things, master mage. It is the Druvian flag which kept our people together during the Dragon Wars.” Clayton argued.
“Did it? From my understanding, it did nothing to keep half the Elven families and most of the Dwarven nobles from fleeing the land.” Erik countered, “If this symbol you speak of truly was powerful, then please explain the failures that resulted in Seeri, New Druv, Sinbeni and Nurin. Each was in some way created from groups that divided themselves from Druvia.”
Clayton and Erik continued to glare coldly at each other, neither letting down for not a moment as the rest awkwardly watched the clash. For several long moments, the gaze lasted, “You remind me of someone, Erik.” Clayton then finally said, but not once looking away.
His words caused Thea, Nerick and Alan to pale slightly. Each of them thinking that Erik’s identity had been revealed.
“Do I?” Erik asked, unconcerned what so ever.
“Very much so. That cold gaze, those resolute but piercingly accurate words. I can tell you’re quite the studious one, and not much for poetics. A military type I’d guess, just like…” Clayton grinned as he finally blinked, breaking eye contact before turning to Thea. “He reminds me of your father, Lady Selene.”
“He’s a bit more of a handful really…” Thea said with a friendly smile, as each of them quickly sighed in relief.
Clayton chuckled, “Still, I’m sure your mother would approve.” He then said, glancing at Erik and then back at Thea.
Erik did not quite understand what he meant by that, but from Thea’s quickly reddening expression it was obvious that she had.
“What can I say, it’s a gift. I have an eye fo-” Clayton continued, when Kate suddenly slapped a roll-up of papers across his head, “Ow!”
“That is inappropriate sir, please stay on track with our current issue?” Kate sternly said.
“Haha. Right, yes well, we should probably discuss our strategy for the coming council gathering.” Clayton then said, giving her an apologetic smile. “What does the King have in mind?” he asked.
“His highness…is prepared to offer at most a few cities worth of land to the very edge of Druvia near Sinbeni waters.” Thea answered, “Anymore and the populace, mainly the nobles would have his head.”
“Indeed, but I’m afraid that will be insufficient to broker a deal. Worse even if the peace talks with Zrosa go well.” Clayton sighed.
“Peace talks?” Thea repeated in question, “Since when?”
“Since there was a change in Zrosa’s reins to power. The Dabangui tribe’s chief died last month, his successor is in league with Inaya al-Nawaz and is also childhood friends with the little lord Samir.” Clayton explained, “Furthermore, I have it on good word that there were talks of giving Dammamas and Abyele back to the Zrosians once Sinbeni sets its sights on the lost world.”
Thea sighed, “And I would wish for peace between these two broken kingdoms, but if it is at the cost of my home…”
“A difficult choice, I know.” Clayton wholeheartedly agreed.
“Not entirely,” Erik then stepped in once more, “There is a simple solution to this after all.”
“I’m all ears, I’ve looked at every angle and possibility that came to me. If you have a suggestion I might have missed, please share!” Clayton exclaimed enthusiastically.
“Seeri, New Druv, Zrosa…None of these factors matter to us, not as much as Sinbeni who is using the first two as weapons against Druvia and is needing to remove the latter who’s a blade in its back.” Erik began to explain, “Which leaves us with two important factors, the main issues. Sinbeni wants Druvian land, and Druvia is alone in this fight. Then we must, ah what was that saying?…Kill two wyverns with one boulder?”
At those words Ivara’s head rose up in shock, (“Silly Dragon, big rocks don’t fly or chase wyvern…do they?”) she asked fearfully.
“Err, I t-think you mean two b-birds with one stone.” Nerick corrected as he stifled a laugh.
“Yes, that. To do so, we must add a third factor to the equation. One that would both disrupt Sinbeni and be willing to aid Druvia.” Erik said, a chilling smile forming on his face.
“I see what you mean but…” Clayton began as his gaze grew cloudy, falling deep in thought, “Drak’Mor is unequipped to help us no matter how much on friendly terms we are with them. They’re nothing more than a hunting colony. Dumatra is Orc and Giant country, any one of us walking into that world is suicide. Pepputia would never involve itself in foreign affairs unless it’s apocalyptic in nature. And S’Sern…The Mer is a possibility I’ve considered, if war broke out we could definitely call upon them as allies but until it does…they won’t move a finger-Err-fin…tail?”
“No, none of those.” Erik said as he stood up, “I speak of a people that has lay dormant in the shadows for far long enough.”
“What? Nurin?” Clayton tried to guess again.
But Erik shook his head, his smile morphing into a wicked grin. “No,” He said, raising his right arm in gesture, “Ambassador O’Connor, meet Makaela Xilfir, High Priestess of the Xilfir people and Commander of the Dreadblades who have recently allied themselves with Druvia.”
Makaela appeared on cue, fading in out of nowhere and causing the half-elf to rise up in sudden surprise.
“I apologise for the deception,” Makaela said, “But your magical defences are lacking.”
“Xilfir?” Clayton said in elven
Erik chuckled, “In comparison to the Sinbeni population, human, dwarven and bestia. How many Xilfir is there on this continent?”
“Millions at least…” Clayton answered, his jaw then unhinging in shock as he finally caught onto Erik’s line of thought.
The half-elf met the drake’s gaze, his own surprised expression facing the dreadfully cold amusement Erik wore. “Nothing causes more chaos and disruption, than a revolution.” Erik told him.
Clayton’s eyes widened as they moved from Makaela, Thea, and then Erik. The ambassador realising that he had severely underestimated this man standing before him, in more ways than one.
“All it takes is a single loose ember upon this field of hay,” Erik coldly said,
“We shall spark those embers.”