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Ophelia is a Fatebinder of Tunon, tasked with delivering Kyros's Edict - 'surrender or die'. This doesn't produce straightforward compliance.
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Ophelia nods.  "Much appreciated."


As they head further down the slope, some Disfavored notice them; a couple Stone Shields salute when they recognize Ophelia.

There's a captive, and another Blood Chanter is arguing over him with a Disfavored lieutenant.

"For an ordinary oathbreaker, I might consider it, but this was one of their leaders!" can be overheard.


Ophelia nods respectfully to the Stone Shields as well, hand clasped over her heart in a mirror to their salute.  (It just...feels right.)


"Lieutenant, Chanter; I'm due for a meeting with your commanders soon and shouldn't tarry, but your dispute is noted and will be resolved as I've the chance, should no agreement be reached.  In the meantime, perhaps considering the question of whether you can be forsworn of an oath you did not take will provide perspective; I'm given to understand that is the situation with most of the leadership of these forces.  Still, I may have use of this one, so do try to not dispose of him."


They acknowledge the attention, but it sounds like they go right back to arguing.

Pretty soon you're at the gates of the camp.

"Ho, Fatebinder! What's your business here?", one of the guards says. The other pointedly glares at Verse, as if to add "And hers?"


"I believe you should already know that I am expected, given that I made specific arrangements for this," she begins, "but as it is possible that Graven Ashe did not tell you, or indeed that you suspect I am not the person whose face I wear - I am here as regards a meeting scheduled with Kyros's Archons.  And if you don't know about that, then perhaps you'd best go find who does.

"Don't you worry about Verse, by the way.  She worked under me last campaign.  If I wanted her to happen to you, you wouldn't have seen her coming."


"Unless I felt like scaring you chumps."


"We were informed. We still check." But they stand aside, "The tent is in the back, past Ceveus on the training stand. Hard to miss."


She nods.  "That's good practice, honestly.  My apologies; stress is no excuse to disparage good procedure, even by implication."  She lets a hint of that show, pinching the bridge of her nose.  "The reward for managing to half-finish something that you shouldn't have been able to try is being assigned more impossible tasks, and I really can't recommend it.  May your watch be very boring, gentlemen."  She gives a nod of respect, and heads off.


They give her a relatively approving nod.

The command tent is, as expected, easy to find. Both because it's nicer than the other tents, and because none of the other tents contain raised voices. The Archons, it seems, are not able to plan in the same place without loudly bickering.


"My scouts have been counting the number of your 'recruits' who have fled out the edges of your camp and run right back to the oathbreakers. It is not a small number! Either you have failed to notice, or you have failed to stop them; the former is negligence, and the latter is treason!"


"Oh, and who would know better, hmm?", says an extremely smug voice, which sounds slightly echoy, "Perhaps someone who couldn't keep his most significant vassal from running off and cavorting with Beasts? And who loses his precious soldiers by the handful every time he actually sends them out to fight?"


"Only because we never have good intelligence or scouting, because that's supposed to be your responsibility and half your scouts are just trying to get us killed by the oathbreakers!"


From the tired looks of the guards outside the tent, they have been going on like this for some time and will keep doing so for even longer if nothing interrupts them.


There is a moment's pause, as Ophelia steels herself to enter the room full of people who will probably try to kill her at some point.  "...Must they discuss so loudly that the top of the Spire can hear them?  But I digress.  Once more unto the breach, once more we ride; may we come out alive on the other side."


She twitches the flap open, slips inside, and makes a very loudly understated ahem.


Now that she has their attention.


"Those who defy Our just and lawful Order are traitors to Our Empire. Those who fail in their duty to bring justice to traitors are, in Our eyes, equally treasonous. Let Our armies prove their good faith by retaking Vendrien's Well from those who defy Our Will. Unless Our representative holds the Hall of Ascension on Our Day of Swords, all in the valley of Vendrien's Well shall perish."


"I received the order to declare this Edict such that I would have proclaimed it twelve days ago, instead of now, had I made to declare it in line with the speed I usually travel.  You are welcome.

"Now.  Why in the ever-living fuck are you two so busy sniping at eachother when instead you could be winning.  Nerat, you know that Cairn was an avalanche that frankly it is amazing even the Archon of War could aim.  Ashe, killing everyone you suspect of working with the enemy will have them deciding to hang for a sheep as a lamb."


Well, she certainly has their attention now.

The scroll she read from glows blue-white, and then disintegrates into light that pulses outward, flooding under the tent's walls (and probably over the camp's).

When the word of Kyros is spoken, everyone listens.

Also, there's now a faint buzzing, which you can feel it in your back teeth. Crossing the pass, just before it closed, there was a moment of this, but now it's lasting.


Verse is looking scared, but also impressed. Not many people have the guts to backtalk an Archon like that. Most who do only manage it once.


Ashe is the first to respond, and nods with a grim face. "Eleven days would have been a very difficult prospect. Still, we shouldn't dally. And you are right to scold us; recriminations are not accomplishing anything. We must cross the Matani, and clear out the back-country base that we have not found."


"Now you're acting, are you? Well, we won't complain! We'd better make this quick, even with the unexpectedly long time window; if my ears are right, we won't be bringing in food or reinforcements all year."

Layered over that, coming for a direction Ophelia can't quite place, a similar voice whispers "Nice stunt you pulled, little law-dog. Not afraid of annoying the Overlord?". It's intuitively obvious that no one else can hear that.


The words taste like grave-dust and spilled blood.


She remembers Cairn, who reached for the Stone Sea's Spire even as he became a feature like the one he took his name from.

She thinks of the closure of the pass behind her.

She considers a hypothesis.

She doesn't like it.


"Before we plan a more conventional assault...  There is something that is - evident, to me.

"I think Kyros may have intended that we fail this task."

Does the buzzing in the back of her teeth shift any, as she paces?

"In fact, I believe it the most likely possibility, considering the last I saw of Cairn - a blunt instrument he was or is, but not an incompetent one."

Not that it matters too much right now.

"Averting that, and the consequences it would bring, is part of why I wished the reading of the Edict proper to be to the commanders of all three forces."

She has a plan to lay out.

"Because I'm tired of seeing the people get the worst of fights between gods.  And to have the Spire ceded willingly..."

She makes a soft hm noise.

"Well.  It would be useful, I think.  We now have an opportunity to win without fighting, for some value thereof.

"Kyros has painted us traitors.  Perhaps you intended to be traitorous prior to this decree; I surely wouldn't know - nor, in truth, do I wish to find unambiguous evidence thereof, at least while the gallows hangs over us all.  Fighting Cairn was quite enough.  I do not wish to be compelled by the oaths I have given and yet do hold to fight you, not for this reason.

"But now that it is Kyros that has insinuated your traitorous nature - and not yourselves - well, I daresay it would be positively appropriate for Nerat to take advantage of this to 'turn traitor', just as the particular nature of this Edict would bring your famed loyalty to your sworn soldiers, Ashe, in to the most pointed conflict that it has ever been placed with your oaths to Kyros.

"I propose, then, that we 'turn traitor', without necessarily turning traitor, and in this way claim the Spire - and with luck, the loyalty of the rebel forces themselves - to get this damnable Edict off our backs, and generally flip the board of the game we are playing, because it's a game that everyone, save perhaps - and only, I think, perhaps - Kyros themself, will lose."


And in response to the Archon of Secrets, she wryly murmurs - "I was already a dead woman walking the moment I saw this Edict's text.  There's not much worse that could be threatened while the Overlord would have use of me."


"I doubt the Overlord would be so wasteful. He surely intended to motivate us to action and make his displeasure known, not for us to fail."


"Oh, but what would he be wasting? An Archon of War fighting the last war the Overlord needs? My horde of killers, leaving alive all the spies I have elsewhere? No, no, the Stonemelter is at least half right - Kyros would be content with our failure."


"Regardless, I dislike any plan which parleys with the Oathbreakers. They broke one peace when it was convenient; they will break another, or an alliance, just as easily."


"I do have another reason to believe I was not intended to succeed.  However, it is far too speculative to be worth discussing at this point.

"As far as parley with the Oathbreakers, or the Queen's Own, or...mmm.  What does one call them if one doesn't wish to either suggest they are in active rebellion or completely incapable of keeping their word...

"I suppose I must figure that out later.

"Right now - yes, Ashe, you are probably correct that they will betray us.  If it is convenient - but only if it is convenient.  If they get something that they want, from it.

"Which is why we do not make it convenient to betray us.  We place ourselves over them, as both shield and container - much as we were walled in here (and did I mention that?) -and their incentives will align with ours by their very nature, even as we gently smother their rebellious fire beneath a blanket of peace and comfort.

"Of course, that is an objective much more easily said than accomplished - but need us they do, and in their heartlands' Spire, should they wish to not all die.

"I do suppose that did not stop them prior - but it was only their lives at stake, not those of the people they presumably revolted for.  This, we will have to investigate further - though I imagine you've some understanding of your opposite numbers, by now.  I'd like to hear of what you know, at least.

"I do expect that we will need to ready the option for a conventional assault.  But I prefer to win without fighting, and there is enough ambiguity in the law of Kyros to drive a cattle-herd's worth of bullshit through.  I simply see little to lose by trying.  Do you believe otherwise, Archons?"


"They call themselves the Vendrien Guard. Perhaps they think they would have won if they had saved some time the first time through. I like your twisty plans, Fatebinder, but you may be disappointed - their objectives are less humanitarian than you think. In fact, let's hear from one -" and the Voices's head twists and a different mask, that looks like a scream, reaches the front.

"We'll all die here," a completely different voice says, "Of course we know that, we're not fools, you tyrants will kill us all. We only took volunteers, and not like you, your 'voluntary' induction at the point of a blade to their neighbor's throats. But we already took more from you than you ever expected. The Tiers will rise! Our example will be seen! You crushed us divided, but we will unite - have united! Lapdogs of the Over-"

It cuts off, and the previous face turns back into place.

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