Dusk on Carrigan, and the traitor, Jayne Illor, was restless.
His reign was unchallenged, his White Legion sweeping the Kingdom- no, Directorate, for any loyalists to House Celan, council seat secured among the ever shifting and byzantine politics of the Eventide League upon distant Hesse.
Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.
One after another, his fingers drummed against the hard durite of the Bismuth Throne, loud against the silence of the Autumn House. Supplicants came fewer and fewer these past months – the city below preferred to steer clear, and with the recent tension on distant Martell, travelers to Carrigan were few and far between.
This, of course, left his mood dour.
An aide – his name wasn’t important – finally spoke up, averting his gaze as the Director turned to glare. “Milord, perhaps… perhaps you should consider a walk of the grounds?”
“Of the grounds?” He repeated.
“Y-Yes, Carrigan winters are truly quite mild…”
His gaze burned into the aide, before relenting. “Perhaps. Callister, you shall join me.”
The steward smiled as he stepped forward, but there was no warmth there.
Ah, Callister Rhose. A lighthouse in the dark seas of politik. A bulwark against the storms of inadequacy. A blade better wielded than sheathed, for a sheathed blade can strike the wielder more surely than any other.
The House Rhose had been minor nobility on Olesia – a diminished trading house, operating a miniscule fleet of light-skipper routes across the Shoals. Callister Rhose, however, had never had a nose for trade – he’d been ambitious, scheming, always putting others against one another for gain.
It was truly no wonder he’d set his sights higher than one world alone.
“Callister,” Jayne Illor began, stepping into the cool night air amid the cries of catha and chittering of insects. “Tell me again of your… contacts. I wish to hear of their offer, once more.”
A raised eyebrow was all he received in reply, the shorter, stockier balding man seeming to search his memory.
“Ah, the… how was it put, “interested party.” I dare say they’re likely still awaiting your reply.”
“Who are they? I’ve never seen their like in my decades amid the people of the League.”
“We shall say outsiders, my liege. It is simply easier.”
“Do not presume, Callister Rhose. I am asking for a reason.”
“I cannot supply more information because I was not given more information, my liege. They arrived a day ago aboard a vessel we weren’t able to track, and asked for an audience with the Director, specifically.”
Callister’s expression soured. “Their offer was simply “assistance with extending His reach.” As to who “he” is, I am uncertain.”
“An ally at all is what I need the most,” The Director muttered, leaning against the outer rail before realizing Rhose was watching. “My play was too sudden. While the other members of the League are content to watch, your urging nearly cost us the throne – it was my plan that won the day and ousted that damnable Hallek from this world… and left us with few options. The Directorate’s neighbors are cold at best, Avan are damnable pirates in all but name, and Hesse? Hesse is not worth the skipper fare.”
The Director glanced skyward, watching the silver dot of a distant ship drift across the sky. “Perhaps an ally from beyond the League is exactly what I need.”
Hiding his distaste, Callister nodded. “An ally unbeholden to the local power structure could prove useful. Though be wary, my liege, I am not sure of what they will want in return.”
“That is what worries me.”
They called themselves the Ibrea.
The figure before the Autumn Throne was… imposing. Nearly ten feet tall and ashen gray, he was garbed in swirling red, white and black robes, intricate strings of jewels and beads draped here and there. Two orange ocular devices regarded the Director from beneath an ornate gossamer cowl as he stared back, trying to make sense of the newcomer.
“I am Karteh, of Lusa.” The figure bowed, strange multilayered tones in his voice. “I come as a representative of the Ibrean King Mas Valeda Lusa, and bring mutual enlightenment for yourself and all.”
“I… am Jayne Illor,” The Director began, pointedly not bowing in return. “Director of the Carrigan Directorate, and Count of Olesia. I am honored by your presence, if I am also confused by it.” His gaze flashed to Callister, and back. “Why not entreat the Eventide League as a whole?”
“To usurp requires strength. Conviction. Resolve. Traits thought forgotten by the Spur long ago.” Karteh, oculi alight, studied the Director. “We have watched from afar for long enough. The decision was made.”
“This offer was not for your League, nor do we harbor any apprehension of your love for it. We seek an ally on the shores of the Spur, and you seek an ally who does not see you as a kingslayer.”
The Duke bristled, but the Ibrean continued.
“Long ago, our civilization left the weakness of the Spur for the Far Rim amidst the embers of the Collaborate. Against the alien and the outcast we sharpened our sword and tempered our shield, and today we stand poised for the return promised to the Kingdoms millennia ago. You shall have His Wrath to back your might, and we shall have our inroad. Are these terms acceptable?”
Jayne Illor, a man given pause by little, paused. The Ibrea were a complete unknown – but clearly powerful, the ship they’d arrived in dwarfed the local skippers. Kingdoms? Beyond the Spur? Logically, he knew humans lived beyond – but to meet one…?
Shaking his head, Jayne Illor, the Director of Carrigan, saw two paths – one to glory, and one to ruin. Both started with this.
“Karteh of Lusa, by my authority as the Director of Carrigan and Count of Olesia, I hereby deem your offer… acceptable.”
With a slow, slow nod, the Ibrean produced a small holite datacube – holding a palm out with it resting upon it, as it impossibly began to drift across the room towards the Director.
“Your cooperation is much welcomed, Director Jayne Illor. A token of gratitude, from my King – the wisdom of the ancients, made manifest.”
The cube slowed to a stop, and the Director peered within. Coordinates flashed across their mind, followed by images of a great black shape, a world of ice, and…
He blinked, peering again. This…
“I… thank you for the gift, Karteh. May this relationship bear fruit.”
“It shall,” The newcomer smiled, unsettlingly predatory beneath their cowl. “It shall.”