Harvest 3 6106 RTR (Jun 04, 2007)Lady Umeko Tsuguri meets with General Diamondback
(Anisa) (Legend of the First Stone) (Master Long Tooth) (Nagai Empire) (Umeko) (Xander)
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A bath, a clean bed, and a night's sleep (if Umeko slept) can do wonders for the body, if not the outlook. There is no summons in the morning, no obligation, just breakfast delivered to Umeko's quarters. Her request to speak to General Diamondback is heeded immediately by the servant. "Would you like to receive him in your quarters, or would you prefer to call on him?"

Umeko looks up from where she sits at the desk in her quarters and folds her hands in her lap. "I should go to him," she answers the servant. "He is certainly busy and need not spend time coming to me."

The servant nods. "As you wish, Governess. Your escort will be here shortly, and will take you to the General."

Umeko barely manages to suppress a flinch at being called Governess. She covers it by nodding. "Thank you. If you have a moment, please inform Xander Lightfoot and Anisa Snowshoe to also join us in an hour. They will likely wish to hear our situation as well. But … I would like to speak with the General alone for a bit beforehand."

"As you will," the servant says, bowing low. He scurries off with the message in mind. It's not more than a few moments later when there's another knocking at the door… THUMP THUMP. There's a jangle of metal on the other side as well.

Kin stands up and quietly slides the desk char back into place. She goes to the door and opens it, ears flicking with a bit of curiosity as to who would knock like such on her door … as well as the unusual sound of metal. "Curious," she thinks, "But perhaps you are being paranoid about everything, Umeko. Not every door hides a secret."

Kin is greeted by a stomach, layered in metal plates. It belongs to a shiga, standing some ten feet in height and built like a brick chimney. His legs are relatively short, but stout and powerful, torso long and muscular. What originally looked like fine chain mesh turns out to be tough, wrinkly skin, thick and loose where the creature's armor does not cover. He is stooped to avoid hitting his flattened head on the ceiling, which affords Kin a look at his face. It is long and angular, like a monitor lizards, but rough-skinned, eyes large and slitted. Leather bands criss-cross his scarred snout, holding together a helm and series of metallic jaws that add some more menace to what looks like an already menacing bite. His arms are lengthened by two wide gauntlets, the bracers seeming attached and broadened into buckler-like plates, where the fingers attach to long, vicious-looking blades reminiscent of mole claws. The blades seem to dangle loose, tapping and ringing against the buckler part in strangely mmelodious tones. Where armor isn't lashed or wrinkled skin doesn't show through, strips of red cloth, frayed and ragged at the ends, carry the Emperor's crest.

Umeko actually takes a step back from the rather terrifying visage before her; though she at least keeps her expression from showing any significant shock or horror. She recovers and slips her hands into the sleeves of her kimono. "Good morning," she tells the creature calmly, "I hope my request has not caused you any issues with your other duties. If I may ask, what is your name?"

"I am of the Komodo Elite," says the creature in slow, strangely accented Imperial, a mix of gravel in his low hiss. "The Emperor has commanded we serve you, so we come." He shifts his weight, steel fittings jingling.

"Yes, but what is your name, not your service?" Umeko ask calmly, "I prefer to know all that attend or travel with me by name. It is … a peculiarity of mine." She bobs her head towards the hallway, adding, "And come, we can speak while we walk."

The Komodo steps aside, broad feet thumping on the deck. "I am known among my brothers by my note," he rumbles. To demonstrate, one of his claws flicks, ringing against the broad plate over his forearm. It knells in the key of A. He continues, "You may address me however you wish."

Umeko's brow ridge arches a bit at the answer, then nods. She slips through the doorway and starts down the corridor. "As you like, Keyoa," she ends up titling him. "Are you to escort me at all times?" she asks. "And what have you been told of me?"

Keyoa takes a step ahead to lead Umeko to her meeting, long, armored tail dragging behind him. "Yes," he answers. "We have been told you are to be protected and obeyed until the Emperor requires us at his side once more."

Umeko considers just how to respond to that; a part of her not exactly liking the idea of being 'protected'. "I see. You should also know that I am a capable warrior in my own right; I would not expect you to do all my fighting. I do not ask others to go into danger that I would not willingly face as well," she says politely from behind the creature. "And if I may ask; I would like your honest opinion of what you think of me and your duty to me? I do not wish you to answer what you may think I wish to hear, I wish to only be told the truth; good or bad."

The behemoth's head turns slightly, eye rolling down and back to look at Umeko sidelong, then back forward to watch the hall. "Then we will fight at your side, and bring death to your foes." His gait is heavy, the boards of the ship's deck creaking under Keyoa as he walks. "I have nothing to think of you, I do not know you. It is the Emperor's will that we serve you, and it is our greatest glory to spill the blood of his enemies."

"A fair and honest answer, thank you," Umeko tells Keyoa. "Can you tell me much about General Diamondback? Has he served the Emperor long and well?" she asks as she continues to follow.

"Diamondback is a respected warrior," rumbles the komodo. He rounds a bend, where a number of crewmen hurriedly scramble out of his way, though they hastily salute when they see who's following him. "The Emperor's legions are vast, and some lead from behind walls or in ships. They are soft, weak bureaucrats. Diamondback leads from within the battle itself, and thus is trusted by his Majesty."

Umeko dips her head to the crewman that salute as she passes. Being acknowledged by those of station is an honor, she remembers from her long instruction as a child on how to treat those 'beneath' her. "Ah, good. That is what I had hoped. To understand battle and what those who fight for you risk, you must stand with them not behind them. In battle, the sword cares not for General or foot soldier; all are equal," she observes, satisfied.

The komodo says nothing, thumping along. After a few more turns, he arrives at a series of double doors, and pushes them open. They open out into an area the size of a ballroom on a passenger liner, but here it contains dummies, woven practice mats, and racks of arms and armor. The General is immediately apparent, along with some other officers, standing at some heated bowls by the side and quietly talking.

"Mm, it must be a training room," Kin thinks to herself as they enter. Her attention shifts to the General and for a moment she wishes she had the hearing of a Lapi so she could know just what they were saying. Head held high, she continues her path towards the General. she does not call out or otherwise interrupt the officer's discussions, however.

Also present, but not joining in the discussion, are two more Komodo. They look nearly identical to Keyoa, standing quietly and impassively to one side, though they shift slightly when Kin arrives. The officers fall respectfully silent, and Diamondback turns, bowing at the 'waist'. "Governess-Militant," he says.

Umeko rolls her neck, bowing her head to the Naga. "General Diamondback," she says in her formal and gentle tone, "I hope I am not interrupting important matters. If this is not a good time, we may speak later."

"Not at all, Governess," hisses the General, and with a wave he dismisses the officers, who move away. "What did you wish to discuss?"

"Several things," Umeko answers, pausing to briefly watch the other officers move. Her attention shifts back quickly thereafter. "Know first that I always want an honest answer; good or bad. We are going to be working together for some time and I want there to be trust between us and willingness to speak freely. So, to start, I would like to know your honest feelings about my appointment by the Emperor and your opinion of me thus far, if any."

The General's head shifts back slightly, and the rattle on his tail buzzes once before he silences it. After a point, he speaks. "I had been told that Dasha's Dashers had been rescued by an unknown party, and that this would set in motion our mobilization. I must admit surprise to see someone so young and slight was responsible," he hisses frankly. "And further, a noblewoman, out here of all places. Your appointment came as a surprise, but made sense once it was made. I do not question the Emperor's decision, and after having looked at the information you brought us, I must accord you a degree of cunning, if it is accurate."

"You are unsure of what to make of me," Umeko says and bobs her head slightly. "It is to be expected. Women are not generally warriors in my land and compared to your warriors I must appear small, indeed. As for what my escort, Keyoa, told me of you, is that you are a noble General who fights with his men and does not hide behind walls. Hearing that made me even more confident in one of my decisions."

The General seems to be waiting for the other coil to drop, one eye ridge rising slightly, and his black forked tongue flicking. "And that is?"

"That I will trust in your advice and skill. You understand what people risk on the field and the dynamics of actual battle. You have been swept into its embrace and danced its dance," Umeko replies and actually even smiles slightly. "Had you never walked in true battle, I would have been more concerned. I only ask that you consider to my opinions should I voice them. I am not expecting that you will follow them if you do not find merit in them, of course."

The Naga tilts his head slightly, but nods. "Fair enough, Governess," he says. "It will be the duty of myself and my men to secure Viper's Hold and its outlying areas to be the seat of your power, for such time as the Emperor grants it. As you have been there already, and know some of the situation at hand, I will take into account your concerns." He looks the Kiriga over appraisingly, lifting his head back up with a slight creak of his armor, and flicking his tongue again. "You sound as if you know something of battle. I taste blood on you."

"I have faced battle more than once. Uncouth mercenaries who thought they could push their will on a woman from my land learned the wrath their actions earned from my claws," Umeko answers and nods, "Some of those that sought to usurp the land here that attacked the airship I traveled on also fell beneath my sword. Those that pinned down Dasha's troops I also faced and with my allies, defeated in battle, and even some of Beshret's allies have fought and fallen to my allies and myself. But, in truth, my skill and experience lies in small group battles, not in the movement and power of an army."

Umeko even glances back towards the area she supposed was for training. "And, if I may make the request, I would not mind sparring with you should there be time. I have had little experience against an armored opponent; particularly one with skill. I fear I shall need that when I face Beshret," she adds.

"You are full of surprises, Governess," murmurs Diamondback, and his scaly face actually stretches slightly into the Naga version of a bemused smile. "I would be remiss to refuse. You would spar with practice weapons, then? Or steel, if you wish me to wear my armor?"

It's Umeko's turn to arch her brow-ridge. "Hm. A suggestion. The first round is with practice weapons so that we may get a feel for each other and our styles. After all, you may face others that have had training similar to mine and it will be educational. The second round is real weapons. The intent, is, of course, not to actually injure each other in the end but to learn," she offers.

"Of course," replies Diamondback, and he gestures at a rack near some standing dummies. Standing in it are a number of different swords, pole arms, and the like, crafted from wood and wrapped in rough leather. The blades of several are made of split slats of flexible chitin, forming something that springs rather than cuts, though it looks like it'd smart quite a bit. The armor dummies have various pieces slung on them, helms, cuirasses, tail armor, and piles of vambraces and greaves lay beneath.

Umeko walks over to the rack of weapon and considers them. It takes her some time as she sorts through the collection of swords and testing their weight and balance before she decides on one that is close in weight and size to her own "Falling Leaf". She then takes a moment to look at the armor … but in the end decides to not wear any of it. "What is your preference in weaponry, General?" she asks as she fingers the grip of her practice sword lightly in her hand and her tail snaking back and forth slowly behind her.

The rattler picks his way through the rack, eventually settling on a long, straight hand-and-a-half sword, with a protective crosspiece. "Different tools for different occasions, my Lady," hisses the General. "I have used many over my career, it the best for the job depends. The eeee, for instance, are too light to wear heavy armors, especially if they wish to fly. For them, I use long blades. The Rephidimites I fought wore heavier armors and employed Zelaks, and thus I preferred the hammer." He gestures at a war hammer leaning against one of the walls. The stone head has an affixed spike on one end for punching through plates. His tail flips over, not quite rattling but making a small noise. "Aren't you going to wear armor? You could be hurt."

"I do not typically wear armor as it affects my ability to move and flow. It also encourages me to not get hit. Do not worry, if I get hurt then it is my fault," Umeko answers the Naga as she walks out into the center of the room. With a few graceful and very utilitarian sweeps of her chosen weapon, she then places both her hands on the hilt, spaced equally from guard, to hand, to other hand by about two inches.

Diamondback looks a bit uncomfortable at this. "I cannot risk harming the Governess-Militant… " he begins, but he stops when he sees how determined Umeko looks. Instead, he simply nods and snakes his way across the mat. The three Komodo look on intently."

"My choice, my responsibility," Umeko says simply as she starts to step from side to side slowly as her already smaller frame crouches a bit lower, steadying herself. Her gaze focused and intense as she watches his movements how he holds his weapons, and if he seems to favor any particular side.

The General settles back into his stance with a clank of his armored plates. His coils seem to double up, spreading around him to form a stable base, seeming almost to lean back a little into them like a tensed spring. The sword is held off to a slight angle, and he keeps it between himself and Umeko. He makes no move to attack, however, eying the Kiriga dubiously.

Umeko actually frowns slightly at his lack of attack as well as his expression clearly broadcasting he doesn't believe she is much of a threat. Still, she tries to push that out of her mind and instead of going straight at him, she actually steps to the side a bit more to limit his ability to 'power coil' an attack through her. Umeko's sword then slides around in her hand until she's holding it backwards … then with a quick and graceful glide, she moves in to meet the Naga. Her sword ready now to act as a defensive 'lever' against the Naga's own; the 'flat' of her 'blade' resting against her forearm.

Diamondback waits patiently, not moving from his spot. His leading hand clasps not far under his sword's crosspiece, while the other curls around the pommel with a light touch. His coils shift under him slowly, almost hypnotically, his rattle ticking occasionally. Whatever he may think, the General rises to meet Umeko when she closes.

Umeko glides in, rolling and darting her lithe form into position, her sword held reverse-handed to act as a shield. Her first strike was actually aimed at his sword … but her intention was much different, as tries to push it upward to expose his midsection. Then without missing a beat, the sword in her hand slips and rolls until she's holding it the right way around now … which now sweeps in, trying to connect to the General's body.

Clank, snap! The Naga's weapon is lifted up and away, and his half-hearted attempt to attack is turned against him. With his sword's position too awkward to parry effectively, he angles his forearm to let Kin's surrogate Falling Leaf skip off it, deflecting most of the force away. The slatted chitin rings the metal slightly, and the General uses the time he's bought to bring his sword back down. "That will teach me to forget the first rule of war… never underestimate the enemy."

"I could see in your eyes you did not believe me capable," Umeko says in a rather matter-of-factly tone, but one that is without admonishment as well. Her sword is again brought to bear in front of her, tip leveled at the Naga's 'heart'. Then like a dancer on the ballroom floor, Umeko moves in one more.

The movement is fast and furious between the two reptiles. Kin's smaller form and her weapon moving with darting strikes that the General has to ward off. In trade, Kin finds herself pressed to ward of some of his own. Kin mis-steps backwards at one point, though, and that's when the General unleashes a flurry which she has to ward off. His weight and strength, coupled with his skill, is enough to overwhelm the lighter Kiriga and she tumbles backwards, lading with a resounding thud on the mat.

The General seems considerably more wary now, and soon his strikes more closely match Kin's skill. The clash of rattling chitin gives his lower coil an opportunity to surge forward and shove the smaller reptile to help her on her way to the mat. It's not a graceful move, but it's effective, and Diamondback doesn't let up, gliding forward to pursue his advantage.

The General is relentless now that Kin is floored, and staving off his attacks is becoming more and more difficult, with little quarter given for Kin to get back on her feet.

When the General sweeps in once more there is a flurry of blade clashing blade. Umeko finds herself twisting and bending on the floor at least once to avoid a strike landing. And finally, she catches the opening she was looking for. When the General's blade comes down, she locks hers against it and pushes to hold it away for her to gain a grip on the mat. Her hand plants and up goes the Kiriga. Then her foot plants and a moment later the woman arcs back a bit in a back flip and alights upon her feet. Her blade levels itself once more at the Naga, tip aligned at his heart. With a small and grim smile, she bows her head in respect to him.

The General returns the gesture with a respectful nod of his own, then leans back into his coils again and lowers his sword. "You are no ordinary noble, Governess," he admits. "Are your attendants as skilled as you are?"

"I have been training since I was very young, much to the dismay of my father. Master Longtooth was my instructor most often, though for the blade I was tutored by some of the island guards," Umeko says and lowers her sword now as well, though she instinctively keeps her nerves on guard. "As for my friends … I would class Anisa Snowshoe as better in some respects; she is faster and stronger than I am to be certain." She then smiles and bows her head again to the General, adding, "And I must also concede that you would have likely won this match. Thank you for the education and the practice."

"That is the biggest, ugliest lizard I've ever seen," Xander whispers to Anisa as the Lapi are led into the chamber, and he sees the Komodo Elite guard.

Anisa enters the chamber besides the fire mage, and just as she starts to open her mouth in reply, gives a double take at the monstrous monitor. "Uhh… yeah… "

The elite guards' head shifts slightly to glance at the new arrives, but he makes no indication of having heard anything. The General looks up as well, and sets aside the hand-and-a-half practice sword he was using, putting it neatly back in its rack. "You are a credit to your master, then. When I heard you say you intend to face Beshret, I did not think it would be literally… perhaps I was too hasty." he says. He politely switches to Standard, hissing, "And here they are now. Please, come in. Welcome."

Anisa gives the general a courteous nod, and takes a few steps closer to Kin. "Having a bit of fun? You should have told me!"

"I do not ask others to face a danger I would not face myself," Umeko tells the General as she returns her sword to the rack as well. "General Diamondback, Keyoa, may I present Anisa Snowshoe and Xander Lightfoot. Xander is a journeyman fire mage," she introduces the two Lapi and switches to standard. With a quirk of a smile, she tells Anisa, "I wished to see how I would fair against an experienced and powerful warrior. I made the assumption that Beshret would be similar to General Diamondback and he was most gracious in indulging my request for practice."

Xander bows to the General as well, and seems relieved that the Fire Master isn't in attendance.

The one Kin calls 'Keyoa' says and does nothing but look on quietly through the eye holes of his helm, like some kind of scaly watchtower. The General, however, bobs his head and extends a hand in the Rephidimian style of greeting. "Welcome," he repeats. "I had not realized how formidable our contacts in Viper's Hold would be. How long have you served your mistress?"

"My… mistress?" Anisa takes the hand and shakes it, although with a puzzled look about her face. She looks with Kin with a bemused grin.

"A few weeks now," Xander says.

To Anisa, Umeko offers a small shrug. "There was another as well … but she decided to remain behind at Beshret's camp and do what she can to delay and annoy them," Umeko says as she slips her hands into the sleeves of her kimono.

The double doors open again to admit a tall black Lapi and a squat orange Kiriga, the attendant closing the door behind them. They make their way over to the gathering 'crowd'. "Sorry we're late," says Gibson, giving Long Tooth a grimace. "There was some confusion and we ended up in the galley instead of heading this way."

"Ah, this is Gibson Snowshoe, Anisa's brother and world traveler. The Kiriga is my sensei, the Legendary Master Long Tooth," Umeko says by way of introduction of the new arrivees.

Diamondback greets the newcomers as well, Gibson giving a respectful, "Sir," when his hand is shaken, and Long Tooth grunting and squinting. The General gestures to some plain, rough wood seats around a table that looks to have been a rope spool once, now serving nailed to the floor. "Please, make yourselves comfortable. I assume you did not come just to cross swords with me."

Anisa takes a seat at the makeshift table, leaning forward on the tabletop. "Kin- er, Umeko's attendant came to fetch us. I figure we're here to talk about what to do with regards to Viper's Hold?" The doe itches an ear, looking from face to face.

"Viper's Hold and beyond, yes," Umeko says as she walks ot the table and settles down onto one of the rough seats. "I wish to remain useful and effective in removing the blight of this land; Beshret and his silent backers. I must also say here that Beshret is, in all honestly, a distraction. I am not sure whether you find such believable, but such is the truth. He is a tool of a far more dangerous group. So I wish to be sure we have strategy to deal with it."

The armored Naga nods, and produces a familiar-looking piece of fluff and skin from a satchel crossed over his tabbard. He unrolls it on the table. "I've been studying the information you brought us, and it does seem that Beshret is oddly pre-occupied with this canyon to the north, near the Beast Lands. I've dealt with his type before… desert bandits usually use skirmisher tactics, seldom basing in one place like this."

"We think the group that he's in league with wants something from there," Anisa says, nodding to the Naga. "Like Umeko said, this group is way more dangerous than Beshret alone, and if they have an interest in the place, you can bet whatever is there isn't good for us."

"They are hunters of First One artifacts and weapons. So, as Anisa says, whatever they may seek there cannot bode well for any land," Umeko adds with a short nod. "They are powerful and have connections among the nobility of the world. They have money and they have patience; and no concerns at all of using others to further their ends. And their ultimate end is world domination. I was unable to get close to the ruins that they are digging in. It would have been impossible for me anyway; their mages grant some of their elite the ability to see through walls and disguises."

"What do you think the horned clams are?" Xander asks, peering at the symbols on the map.

The General furrows his brow, smooth scaly head wrinkling. "That sounds like a lot more than I bargained for," he murmurs, half to himself. "Our standing orders are to secure the region, that you may hold the seat of power here on behalf of the Empire. That will include dealing with any threats you specify, and if that includes this Beshret, so be it. Is the Emperor aware of these First One artifacts you mentioned? They could be quite a find for the Empire."

At Xander's question, the General looks closer. "I couldn't begin to guess. It looks like they're spaced around the canyon. Some form of defense?"

"Ever heard of 'Sand Lions', General?" Xander asks. "Those look like… big mouths, sort of."

"There is no guarantee there is anything actually there. I believe they are seeking something that is linked with the phrase 'State of Being'. Have you ever heard that phrase used before with regards to any legends?" Umeko asks.

Anisa idly taps the crystal around her neck, ears darting from speaker to speaker in turn.

The Naga shakes his head. "No, but such has never been my area of expertise. The great archaeologist Bassai might have had an interest, had he not gone missing. And 'sand-lions'… I don't know if it's some kind of animal, but the only Sand Lions I know of are a Khattan unit… some fighting men from the Emirate, one group of many, not remarkable to my knowledge."

"I think it's an animal of some kind," Xander suggests. "They've got Desert Giants already, so why not some other kind of monster as well?

"I wonder if the Emperor has heard that phrase, then," Umeko ponders as she taps her chin. Her head shakes, then she says, "Though, I suppose it doesn't matter. We must stop them somehow. But, as has been ordered, Viper's Hold must be first." Her head rolls and she looks at the General. "And truthfully, how long do you believe the Emperor wait before he replaces me with an older and more experienced Governor? I imagine he saw me as you did, just a young noblewoman," she admits.

"He seemed to have a higher option of you than that," Anisa says, leaning back, but quickly catching herself as she remembers the seat has no backing. "Viper's Hold will give us a more concrete place to plan from, if you ask me. Much better than sitting in the desert, drawing stick people in the sand."

The General's tail turns over with a slight rustle of his rattle. "I cannot presume to know for certain when or even if the Emperor has such designs in mind. I will say this, Governess… service to his Majesty does not go unrewarded. Serve him well, and I do not believe you will be discarded trivially." He turns and nods at Anisa. "Just so. At the very least, we cannot risk forces from a subjugated hold attacking our rear lines should we go north."

"I have no intentions of serving poorly, General. Honor alone would dictate that I do not," Umeko says with a nod of her head. "Then, to the matter of Viper's Hold it is. How many men comprise your army, General? From what we learned, there will be twenty-thousand to contend with at Viper's Hold."

Xander's whiskers vibrate at the mention of the number of troops.

Diamondback nods, laying his hands on the table and looking down at the map again. "We have brought two brigades," he says. "Fifty thousand warriors, of those about half Jingai conscripted light infantry, and ten thousand archers and crossbowmen. Thirteen thousand assorted cavalry, five thousand heavy infantry, and a number of beast masters. Our ships include the Equalizer, as well as three destroyers, HMS Merciless, HMS Bestows-Tranquility, and HMS Blooded Fang. We are joined by a support barge, HMS Charitable, which bears much of our supplies."

A slight whimpering sound comes from the Lapi mage, before he clears his throat, and says, "What about the enemy airships? Should you try to take them out while you have the element of surprise?"

That elicits a blink from Umeko. "That is … far more than I expected," she admits to the General. "But even with such numbers if care is not taken we may not hold." With a glance to Xander, Umeko nods, "What are your plans, General?"

Anisa's eyes go wide in amazement as she considers the sheer scale of it all. "It sounds like we have them outnumbered more than two to one. At least there's that!"

"They still have the Giants and air support though," Xander points out.

The General bobs his head at Anisa, leaning back again. "Taking Viper's Hold should be a trivial matter. I see no reason not to lay siege in the conventional manner. I understand the Hold is a simple wood palisade. They should prove no match. Purging the rest of the region, however… that is a different story."

"It may also be advisable once the Hold is secured to work on rebuilding any irrigation and water transport canals, as well as providing aid to the people caught between Beshret and us," Umeko says as she looks to the map. "We should seek allies where we can and the people that live here know the lands. If they believe us to be much better than Beshret and his army, then they may be able to aid us in many ways. Of we ignore the suffering of the people … well, that may just increase Beshret's power."

The General seems to consider this. "Hmm. As you wish, Governess." He points to indicate some of the small hut-like symbols nearer the Hold. "Perhaps opinion will be with us. Some of these are crossed off. Razed villages?"

"It kinda looks like that," Anisa says, rubbing an ear in contemplation. "But what do they have to gain from ransacking villages? I imagine his army has more troops than they have people."

Xander points out, "Troops need to be paid. By coin or by plunder."

"Likely. Also, it may have been to simply increase chaos and fear in the region. Fear can be an excellent weapon, after all," Umeko says with a nod. "It is also likely that the survivors fled to Viper's Hold. We will need to take care in how we assault the hold." She pauses for a moment, then asks the General, "Do you have concerns with expending effort to help those displaced? If so, I would be interested in hearing them."

Xander realizes something, and asks, "Kin, did you hear if Beshret was actually going to lead any of these forces into battle?"

"No. He was going to hold his territory and the canyon," Umeko answers. "He has faith in his defenses, the Sand Lions, and other traps he has placed to 'deal with the Imperials' as he put it. Why do you ask?"

Diamondback rubs his jaw thoughtfully. "It would mean diverting forces and diminishing our projectable strength," says the General grudgingly. "The number of men we've brought may sound like a lot, Governess, but after we have deployed, they will not move in one mass. Such is not how war is waged. Territory must be taken and held lest the enemy slip past and cause even more damage."

"Well, if the second force of ten thousand is leaving the canyon to join the others at Viper's hold, then how many will be left guarding Beshret at the temple?" Xander asks. "Couldn't one of the destroyers just swoop in and mop them up?"

Anisa gives a slight frown. "I get where the General is going with this, Kin, and I'm inclined to agree." The doe taps the table with her finger for emphasis. "Charity stuff should probably wait until after the battle. We need as decisive a force as we can get."

"Will the Razer's troops still fight on if we capture Beshret though?" Xander prompts. "If he surrenders, don't they have to follow?"

"Fair enough. We will see what is reasonable to repair, and what is reasonable to explain to those that we will protect their territory while they rebuild. We will know more once the Hold is taken," Umeko says with a nod to the General and Anisa. To Xander, Umeko says, "Xander, his camp stretched over a mile long. It is possible he holds as many men as the General here does. If so, that would have been only a fifth of his forces."

"Why does the enemy always have to be so resourceful," the mage mutters.

Gibson nods, grimacing. "I hate to say it, but I think Umeko's right about that. I think Beshret sent what he did just because it was a trivial amount. I don't think he expected any resistance at Viper's Hold."

"General, what would normal Imperial tactics be once Viper's Hold is taken?" Umeko inquires and closes her eyes, thinking.

The rattler Naga leans into his coils. "We'd establish a garrison within the Hold, make use of the palisade, and then begin a methodical take-and-hold progression to outlying areas to secure the region and quell unrest."

"I ask because I imagine that is also what Beshret is expecting you to do and will be prepared for it. I am wondering if the strategy should be altered so that he could not as easily predict the movement," Umeko notes, her eyes cracking back open slightly. "Though I am unsure of what to suggest as an alternative. I would like to start cutting Beshret's supply lines and induce unrest in his own holdings, but I am unsure if that is feasible."

Pointing to the red arrow, Xander asks, "This is his supply line, right?"

Gibson squints closer. "Yeah, I think it is, Xander. Looks like it'd be from the Emirate's direction." The General frowns when Gibson says this, and he hisses, "Let us hope the Emirate dares not interfere."

Umeko rubs the bridge of her snout in between two small horns. "What is the standing relationship between the Emirate and the Empire currently?" she asks.

"It's the Cinders, not the Emirate," Xander reminds.

"That doesn't mean the Cinders do not have plants in the Emirate," Umeko points out.

"With the way things are nowadays," says Anisa, "who's to say the Emirate isn't in cahoots with them?"

General Diamondback crosses his arms, still frowning. "Technically, we are at peace with the Emirate," he says. "But after the fracture of the Empire, the Khattan claimed land that was originally Nagai. It is a sore point."

"Well, we do not need to start a conflict with them as well. It may be worthwhile to ask an Ambassador to communicate with the Emirate to reassure them that our actions here are to quell an internal uprising and not a move to enter their territories," Umeko suggests.

The Naga nods slowly and thoughtfully. "That is sensible," he agrees. "Troop movements might be seen as a warning sign."

Umeko nods as well. "It may even be worthwhile to point out that if we do not quell the uprising, it could eventually spill over into their territories," she offers next, "but I do not think that should be mentioned first; it may come across as a 'scare tactic'. And who knows, perhaps they may even be able to assist in cutting off the supply line for us, should it be using their lands as a channel. That would be a blessing if it were to happen, but we should not count on it.""

The General nods again. "Do you have an appointee?"

"It might also give them an excuse to launch a excursion into these lands," Anisa adds as a precaution. "If you mention it to them at all, you'll have to be extremely diplomatic about how you phrase it."

"Have the Ambassador contact the Emirate about the supply line, and see if they'll blockade it from their end," Xander suggests.

"For the ambassador? Does not the Empire maintain diplomatic channels with the Emirate? I was hoping to merely request that the current Ambassador handle it. Is there not one, then?," Umeko asks, the Kiriga now frowning slightly. "I do not know anyone with connections to the Emirate."

Diamondback says, "We could have the Minister of Foreign Affairs send a diplomat, but often individual regions handle their own diplomatic affairs. The choice is yours, however. We can send word easily that way." He flicks his tongue, nodding agreement with Anisa. "That is true."

"Would it then be appropriate for the Governor of the region to communicate directly with them?" Umeko asks next, trying her best to not look uncomfortable. "As perhaps under the guise of extending a hand of friendship with the Emirate and express the desires to establish better relations with them?"

"Err, I have contacts in the Emirate," Xander admits. "My family is there in the capitol, after all."

"The Trade Guild will take action if there is smuggling going on out of their territory," Xander explains. "It's bad for business."

"And do you have contacts with the trade guild?" Umeko asks.

Diamondback inclines his head slightly. "The Governor would have the authority to do that, yes," he says, then goes quiet again, listening thoughtfully.

"My father is high up in it, yes," Xander notes.

"Then you may be our ambassador, Xander," Umeko says calmly as she looks to the Lapi. "Once we secure Viper's Hold, how difficult would it be for you to set up a meeting with the Emirate and Trade Guild?"

"I can send a message through the Mages Guild Hall, if it's still in one piece," Xander notes. "It wouldn't be anything formal though, just a tip-off about a group smuggling things across the Beast Lands to a group of rebels."

"It may be worth pursuing, then. Would you require assistance from the mages aboard this ship?" Umeko asks.

The impromptu meeting over the training room table has been so intent that one of the crew officers has gone unnoticed until now, slithering up to murmur something low to the General. "The Fleet Captain has sent word the column will be arriving in Viper's Hold soon," says Diamondback. " I expect one more bivouac before we push on, I want the troops fresh before we prepare to lay siege. I intend to get some rest as well, since I will join the battle."

"Only if there's a Shadow, Light or Air Mage," Xander says after some thought. "One who is good at sending messages and knows the location in Abu Dhabi to send them to."

Umeko's attention shifts back to the General for the moment. "I wish to join the battle as well," she says. She then glances to her friends, adding, "The choice is yours if you wish to join as well, or not."

Anisa pops her knuckles. "Are you kidding? All this talk talk talk is giving me an itch." The Lapi grins. "Count me in as well."

"I think we might just get in the way of the soldiers," Xander notes. "If we're going to do something, we should take those Elite Guards and go straight for the Governor."

"I would get in the way of the soldiers?" Umeko asks with a raised brow-ridge. That just earned Xander a rather cold look.

"You aren't a soldier," Xander points out. "Our best use is to take out the command structure, which should be in the governor's residence. The foot soldiers don't need us complicating their battle plans."

"I somehow doubt we can just waltz right up to the governer without any resistance," Anisa says, flopping her ears sideways at Xander. "If we intend to do any fighting, we're gonna be in the fray of thing at one point or another whether we like it or not."

"We've got the Emperor's own elite shock troops with us though," Xander points out. "It'd be a waste to use them attack a wall. The sooner the leaders are taken down, the sooner the battle ends and the less lives are lost."

Diamondback glances at Xander, and then back at Umeko. "I believe I understand the spirit of what Mage Lightfoot is suggesting," he says. "Any of you who choose to join us in the field will no doubt be in the thick of things. The Governess has proven her prowess, and vouched for the rest of you… should you wish to lead a detachment of my warriors with the command center as your objective, I would have no objections.

The General's words save Xander from something Umeko was about to say. Instead, she ends up nodding. "I do agree the leaders are a useful target. However, my concern is not with Des; weak and overweight. It is with Crushcoil. If he is with Des, he will likely prove difficult," she says.

"I think you're up to the challenge," Xander tells Umeko.

"If Viper's Hold has fallen, the raider Chieftain will no doubt fortify the palisade if he didn't simply pillage the city," agrees Diamondback. "We shall know for certain when we arrive."

The mage looks a little past Umeko's shoulder to the hulking form of the monitor. "How many of you are there?" he asks the Elite Komodo.

"Beshret I believe intends to keep Des in power as the Governor," Umeko notes, "So I expect the palisade to still be standing."

"Six," says the Komodo flatly.

Xander hmmms thoughtfully, and plots in his head.

Umeko taps her forehead with a claw tip. "General, would it be considered appropriate for me to address the soldiers before the battle? I am unclear as to protocol in these situations," she admits.

"It would likely be appreciated," hisses the General.

"Then I will think of something appropriate to say. Thank you," Umeko tells the General with a short nod. "And I also have a request; I would like to borrow some armor for this assault. The sparring with you, General, taught me the value it will have in facing extremely capable opponents. Even light armor would be an assist over none."

"General, I'd like to speak with your Air Mage, and do you have… parachutes?" Xander asks.

"Armor we can give you. I am glad you are asking for it," says Diamondback. "For yourself and your attendants, see the armorer. He'll either be on the ground or on the Charitable. We can't afford to lose you." He smirks at Xander. "I wouldn't advise falling off the ship in it, whether you're wearing a parachute or not."

"I was thinking more of dropping down onto the Governor's roof from altitude," Xander admits

The General flicks his tongue bemusedly. "You should ask the Captain, then. Either way, I wouldn't advise it in this storm, and I don't think the archers could ask for a more tempting target than a mage suspended in the sky."

Umeko dips her head and stands. "Thank you. I will go seek him out. It will also afford me some time to speak to others. It is a personal quirk of mine, but I like to speak with others that will stand with me in battle. I want others to know I care what happens to them," she says. "I am certain we will speak again, General. Thank you for allowing us some of your time."

---

GMed by Bambridge

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Today is 3 days before Midsummer's Day, Year 29 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6128)