“It would appear so, my lords.”
Major William Ka`ana`ana stood patiently as the room erupted into a cacophony of opinions, a dozen men made irate at the same instance. He could feel their tempers ebb and flow, running the gamut of disbelief to outright wrath—though some merely feigned their brethren’s apprehension.
His head bowed, he let them talk. Fingertips ran across the wood of the podium, the mahogany gracing the presenter’s dais. Sleek, elegant curves. Every square inch of the chamber, in fact, this nexus where the Admirals convened exuded a heady mixture of power and wealth combined to their utmost. Wealth was an easy affectation, but power came through osmosis alone. How many masters of war stood where he stood, he wondered, orating knells that would resonate the world over in a song of blood and death. How many civilizations met their twilight here? Did they speak of his own people in such theatrics once, he wondered (and theater it was, he could smell the deception of their not-speak from here).
“Tell me, Ka`ana`ana…” said a raspy voice, “…Did they decline, or was their answer silence?” He pulled his gaze up at last, though would not dare make eye contact with the speaker. “I regret to inform you, Lord Admiral, that they did not answer at all.”
“Who do these barbarians think they are? Eh?” came from the side: Lord Hastings, Vice Admiral of the Red stamped his cane for emphasis with every syllable. “Have they no dignity? These kings and ‘sithires’—what a dirty language, it makes me ill to speak it—have they no courage among them? They have been called to answer for their crimes and they shall refuse to speak so much as a word in defense of themselves? No better implication of guilt I’ve ever heard of. ”
‘Guilt.’ That came from the lips of the Vice Admiral like a firebrand preacher condemns a sinner, and for once, William smelled no deception in those words. How curious: Hastings seemed to be a true believer in everything Marshall Howe had said. ‘Hear, hear’s dotted the landscape before being swatted down by the opposition.
“What torture they’ve inflicted on their citizens has nothing to do with us, Hastings. Since when has the Empire become the sole arbiter of morality across the multiverse?” Those words came from a portly rear admiral in the back, though for the life of him his name William could not remember. “I went along with that ridiculous line once before and our ‘zeal’ became the Gehennan Expedition. I’m not about to endorse a full commitment of war so quick on the cusp of the last simply so you can teach another sub-race which side of the dish to put the salad fork.”
“What’s that, Sir? What’s that?” Hastings had become as red as his sash, and the uproar William just could not be bothered to follow. In some respects, he supposed he should be honored. Not many people had the opportunity to attend the Admiralty Board-- least of all during their ‘deliberations.’ If only the public knew the gloves-off sort of swinging that went between the men that arbitrarily decided the fate of an Empire.
That line of thinking would get him in trouble, particularly if he couldn’t wipe off the smile that threatened to creep up onto his lips. There were only two voices that he had not heard join the pell-mell: There was Field Marshall Howe, of course, but that was to be expected. The man had said everything he came to say.
Then there was newly-minted Admiral Mikhael Davis, sitting in the corner and staring—staring directly at him, as a matter of fact, as he had been doing so this entire time. The brunt of that violent gaze made the pit of William’s stomach fall, and he inwardly cursed himself for it. It wasn’t fear—at least he didn’t think so—that suffused his all-being in the presence of Davis. Even fear would be understandable: The two had commanded rival forces in the Threetribes War that brought his people ultimately under heel. Davis had nearly slew a true Takana, even, but that was something to be respected, not feared.
It was something else. Once, he thought Davis a wise man, someone who could see through the darkness and cut down the light, but as he grew to know him, he realized the reality. Davis was no better than any other man at seeing the truth. He just didn’t care. William smelled only apathy, a heart that only beat to quarters. Very few things were more chilling than complete indifference.
The Major was saved from his own inner turmoil by a single word that halted everything. “Gentlemen.” An innocuous thing, but the power came from the speaker, not the word itself. From his place at the head of the Board, Grand Admiral Greyhawke folded his sun-withered hands. “Your words are noted. The facts are thus: The leaders of Arangoth had their chances. They have had years of chances.” Every word came from his lips like molasses. “Well before our Empire has ever known them they have driving their people into the dust. We are Resheel, the mightiest nation known to man, but what good is the might of a nation sat idle while dictators and tyrants reign beyond our borders? What message will we send to all peoples if it is writ in history that when the good man was broken, we turned our heads?”
This was the inevitable conclusion, of course. There could be no other end. The sickly sweet tang of deception oozed in waves from the Grand Admiral and assaulted Ka`ana`ana’s senses with such incongruous not-speak. The time for debate was over now, and the air in the room sharpened as every man narrowed his focus to action like a bow being drawn taut.
“We gave them the right to be publicly tried, to absolve themselves, but in their hubris they not only decline but insult us without so much as a word. This shall not stand. We shall not be made fools. If they will not answer for themselves, we will make them answer.” Fists pounded on desks, sounding their vivid assent. The Grand Admiral raised his hand for silence. “And as we war with one hand, we will show them prosperity with the other. How better to show them the glory that awaits them then by allowing one of our brightest sub-races, the most shining example of a modernized savage, to tip the spear that we shall drive into their overlords’ throats.”
That was not inevitable. Not for the other Admirals, anyways. The pounding had given way into a stupor of confusion that hung in the air until realization took each in turn and their gaze crystallized on Major William Ka`ana`ana—all except for Davis, who had never stopped staring furiously at William to begin with.
For his part in this theater, William bowed head deeply, hand splayed out wide before the podium. “The Grand Admiral honors this humble servant with such a glorious undertaking. I most graciously accept, and shall strive with all my being to be found worthy of such good faith and trust.”
Before the shock had a chance to wear off, his lieutenant had unfurled the map across the entire board with great ceremony. “Admirals, Lords, Captains and commanders, I present to you: Arangoth.” Such an exquisite creation, a cartographer’s magnum opus reflecting three long years of intelligence gathering sat on that table. “A play in three acts. Admiral Davis, if you will attend here…”
RP for environs outside of Arangoth, spread over land and sea. Click here for a global map.
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