41: Joanna

Joanna

The lead warbeast moved its head back and forth, as if scanning the area, although she knew, from the geometry of its skull, with its eyes looking to the sides like a bird, it was using parallax to make up for its lack of stereo vision.

<Word arrives from the hills to the west of Aum,> the golden-eyed beast declared, replying on its local frequency. Most warbeasts possessed voices, but their speech was often difficult to understand, transmitted in a deep basso and with poorly formed consonants. The voice on the radio transmission was instead the alto of a mature female. <A report that the Beast which guarded the Krio-Liocei is slain.>

After Joanna took a moment to absorb the information, she turned to the man standing at parade rest next to her.

“Tehilintirith,” she inquired of her attendant in the same Bruxilan tongue, “What is the ‘Krio-Liocei’?”

“Dhanryo,” Tirith replied, a Gireidil word which meant ‘our chieftain’, although she thought of it as meaning ‘my lady’, “that is the fortress which commands Aum’s western approaches.”

That’s what she feared. The Krio-Liocei was the ruin Benjamin used as his transfer point. That in turn meant that the beast which this creature reported dead would have to be the problematic pet he’d tethered there.

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Oh … Crap.

Joanna controlled her reaction, obliged by Benjamin’s commands to always appear regal and undisturbed before her adopted clan, and queried the leader further. “What slew the beast? What description did the informant give?”

<Strangers. Humans. Two are Gireid, but appeared from off-world. They have no known local affiliation. The third is an unknown. The informant reports that by appearance it is Osril, but by smell it resembles the Mad Beast of Krio-Liocei… and also the Dhan.>

By ‘the Dhan’ it meant her. In the eyes of the Gireidil working for her and the soldiers on this world, she was the ruler of this castle and these clansmen. Despite her species, she had inherited that title from her dead predecessor and husband.

For a moment, she thought the creature was insulting her. So I smell like a crazy war beast, do I?

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She bit back that reply, remembering that the term ‘smell’ had another meaning to common flux artists who perceived flux as fragrance. Combat warbeasts often fell under this heading.

If someone ‘smells’ like me, does that mean that person has the rock now? That was the only similarity she could think of between herself and the Beast. The ‘rock’ shared much with the weapon stone Benjamin had implanted inside her.

“Where are the strangers, now?” she demanded.

<They remain in place at the fortress. They have yet to show signs of their intentions.>

It wasn’t a great distance from the Krio-Liocei to Aum. Very little time remained to prevent serious damage to Benjamin’s plans. Her mind rushed ahead to the job now pressing her as she dismissed the beasts.

“The clan thanks the soldiers for their assistance. The clan’s client shall disburse all due payments per the existing agreement.”

She turned to her attendant as the beasts wheeled to leave. Tirith betrayed some confusion as he looked back at her. He had no knowledge of the ‘Mad Beast’, and knew nothing of its significance.

As she wondered what to tell him, her shameful secret, Benjamin’s accursed slave stone and the commands he had placed upon her using its power, molded her mind and soul into the ideal commander and chieftainess that the Gireidil warrior saw when he looked upon her. Once she was wearing that persona, she was able to conclude that she need not explain.

“The service was to the client, who will reimburse the funds accordingly. Quickly fetch one’s partner and a flier squad. Time is short.”

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Second of five mass-posted free chapters.

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