Chapter Seventy-Four: Taking Command
“Hmmm? Where’s Nalithor?” Eyrian questioned, making me lift my head from the mountain of paperwork in front of me. The Draekin winced at my expression. “Sorry, but I’ve got some more for you.”
“Ugh, is all of that from my father too?” I sighed as Eyrian waved a thick stack of papers at me. “Nalithor is having breakfast with his parents before he heads to the academy. Apparently they want him to resume teaching immediately, and asked that he bring Sihix and Yiltanys along.”
“That worries me.” Eyrian grimaced before walking over to set the papers on my desk. “I’m surprised you’re actually sorting through all this. I thought I’d have to come hunt you down in the training yards.”
“I figured it’s best to get it done now so I don’t have to worry about it later,” I replied, shaking my head slightly. “That said, I wasn’t expecting there to be so many contracts for men under my command. Just where did my father find all of these people? And why assign me so many?”
“Even as a child you were incredibly involved with various…matters,” Eyrian began awkwardly. He stopped for a moment and scratched his head, contemplating what to say. “Your instincts and intuition were rarely ever wrong. Sometimes you would be out in the city with Maric and Djialkan, then suddenly dart off because you sensed something off.
“You never failed to find trouble, be it criminals, beasts, or other things. I’m pretty sure he’s expecting you to be ‘worse,’ for lack of a better term, now that you’re older and wiser.”
“And it’s not convenient to have me moving around on my own?” I offered, earning a brief nod in reply. “Well, I’m not going to complain. With this many men under my command I should be able to find and wipe out the riffraff in Dauthrmir with relative ease.”
“You’ve got something in mind already?” Eyrian arched an eyebrow at me.
“Mmhmm.” I nodded and spun my chair away from the desk, scooting it over to a nearby bookcase. Once there, I pulled a small stack of papers off the shelf and then rolled over to Eyrian. “I’m going to want all the materials I’ve listed here. Travel and immigration records, the censuses for the past three decades, student records, confirmed and unconfirmed crime reports, and any missing person files we have.
“You’re planning to stay close while I work, I assume?”
“Ah…yes, it’s my duty to see to your protection,” Eyrian replied, nodding. He took the stack of papers from me and skimmed them, intrigued. “Since we’re pretending to be under Nalithor’s command, for now, acquiring all this shouldn’t be a problem. Kabos and Reu would be the ones to help you with most of this.”
“Most of it?” I echoed.
“Azhar should be able to get you the crime reports and missing persons files,” Eyrian continued, his expression thoughtful. “If you want, I can take you to headquarters after you’re done signing all the contracts. It’ll be easier if you have a team or two helping you go through all the documentation, right?”
“I guess that’s true…” I murmured, considering it. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might not have to peruse the information alone, though involving others meant I would have to articulate concisely what I wanted them to look for. Of course, if I did so successfully, the work would be finished much quicker. “You can take me there without raising suspicion?”
“It’ll be less suspicious if I take you there, instead of bringing them here.” Eyrian nodded and crossed his arms. “If questioned, I can say that I was called for something urgent—but that Nalithor had given me orders to keep an eye on you.”
“And bringing me along would allow you to do both,” I acknowledged, earning another nod. “Very well. I’ll finish up with all of this and then we can go. That said… Are these contracts the standard for the Imperial Guard?”
“Well, aside from being sworn to secrecy for now—yes,” Eyrian answered, lifting up one of the contracts. He waved it at me a few times as he continued, “As for where Lucifer sourced us all from, I get the feeling he’s been keeping tabs on our soldiers and scholars more than people give him credit for. He never truly accepted your death. Knowing him, he’s been organizing who would best serve you since even before we found X’shmir.”
Unsure what to think, I chose to remain silent and lifted my pen to sign the bottom of yet another contract. Eyrian, Reulidru, Kabos, Azhar, and Akedos were but a few of the commanding officers serving under me. There were several more I had yet to meet, and everyone had dozens of men serving within their unit. Between them all, they covered everything I could possibly need—combat capabilities, researchers, diplomats, spies, and just about everything in-between.
I was relieved to find that they weren’t all demigods—I had no idea what I would have done if my father had attempted to pull so many away from other areas of the military and academy. Even so, I couldn’t find it within myself to be at ease. Each of my officers and all of the men serving them had to sign a contract with me.
‘What will happen to them if and when I’m officially recognized as the Goddess of Balance?’ I tapped my fingers against the desk. ‘Sihix and Yiltanys seem eager for us to find Chosen but it doesn’t seem like a simple matter to me. An average mortal won’t have the stomach for some of the things we have to do.’
“Arianna?” Eyrian questioned, a small frown on his face.
“Sorry, what were you saying?” I shook my head slightly before resuming signing contracts.
“I was asking how much trouble Ellena is giving Nalithor,” Eyrian stated dryly. “Lysander has always been more levelheaded than her but they both seemed pretty worked up about tradition.”
“Personally, I think she’s testing him,” I replied, setting aside the last of the contracts. Next, I picked up the stack of documents the Draekin had brought for me. “I got the impression that she’s still not sure about Nalithor’s intentions and wants to make sure he doesn’t still have some notion of ‘saving me’ from the role of Balance anymore.”
“I can understand that,” Eyrian murmured, frowning. “She hasn’t been around to see Nalithor’s change of heart herself. I suppose none of us can expect her to understand the situation.”
“Hmmm…guess you’re right,” I grumbled, skimming through the several pages of documents he’d brought me. “The hells? We’re practically ordering a full armory?”
“If you sign it, yes,” Eyrian answered dryly. He strode over to stand beside me, pulled one of the pages out, and held it in front of my face. “The equipment we’re using now is all borrowed from the Imperial Guard—aside from our uniforms, which Lucifer pulled strings for. We figured you would want to have a say in our training equipment as well as our armor and weapons.”
“I’m not a fan of standardizing everyone’s weaponry,” I began with a small frown, setting the papers aside. I crossed one leg over the other and swiveled my chair to look up at Eyrian. “I would prefer that we arm everyone with weapons they’re comfortable with. At minimum, I want everyone to carry three close-quarters weapons and one ranged. We should assume that some of our prey will have to be shot down.”
“Your Highness?” Eyrian tilted his head, watching as I stood up and gathered the stack of papers. When I began walking toward the door, he hurried to follow me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Your form, Arianna. Should probably wear something less formal out, too.”
“Hmmm? Oh, right.” I grimaced before handing him the documents. “Speaking of, what happened to this morning’s meeting? I was told it was canceled but not why.”
“Three of the Families asked to have the meetings delayed by a few days,” Eyrian replied from outside the wardrobe. “A beast got through the barrier in N’tarsorn territory and attacked one of their farming villages. Haruto returned to assess the damage and move his men accordingly.
“The other two Families rule the lands bordering Haruto’s—they wanted to make certain that whatever weakened the N’tarsorn’s barrier didn’t do the same to theirs.”
“X’shmiran or Rilzaan?” I questioned upon exiting the wardrobe. Eyrian arched an eyebrow at me when he spotted I’d opted for breeches and a blouse. “What? Too casual?”
“Pick a more formal and you’ll be fine.” Eyrian shrugged and shook his head. “You need to straddle the line between general and princess while staying in the palace. The staff and the Families are all aware of who you are—our guests are not.”
“Right—dress as a X’shmiran princess and not as a Dauthrmiran one.” I made a sour face while summoning an overrobe. Eyrian just gave me an apologetic smile. “Anyway, I don’t intend to be passive or lay low now that we’re back in Dauthrmir. I want our men to be properly prepared to deal with criminals, beasts, and prey that’s been corrupted by beast blood or other contaminants.”
“Other contaminants?” Eyrian narrowed his eyes.
“I’m not convinced that we won’t see more creatures like the ones in Sihix and Yiltanys’ domain,” I answered as we left the suite and began walking down the hallways. “There’s also the matter of the creature Nalithor and I found during our stay in Draemir—we may have to deal with more creatures like that.
“Dauthrmir is Vorpmasia’s largest population center, right?”
“That’s correct,” Eyrian replied, nodding as he fell into step with me. “Draemir is the second largest, followed by Gron’kial.”
“Then we’ll eliminate the problems plaguing Vorpmasia starting in Dauthrmir,” I began, motioning toward the Draekin with one finger. “Draemir and Gron’kial will follow after. Once we’ve made our intentions clear—and found prey to make an example out of—we should see a trickle effect to the other regions of the empire.
“Once the people involved with distributing drugs and other contaminants to the populous realize we aren’t afraid to bite back, they’ll be forced to act more cautiously or withdraw in favor of less dangerous regions.”
“Like where?” Eyrian frowned at me. “We believe Vorpmasia has been targeted because someone doesn’t like the Elves and Humans being allowed to live among Devillians.”
“Humans and Elves are easier to sway because they’re weaker.” I shook my head. “I doubt this truly has something to do with race. If there’s been anything to indicate it’s a matter of race or species, it’s likely to distract us and throw us off their trail.
“If Vorpmasia was targeted for a reason like that, we would have to investigate the Families. There isn’t really anyone other than the Families, or perhaps the nobles, who would want to do something about Humans and Elves within the empire.”
“It’s much the same in Beshulthien, Your Highness,” a familiar voice called from behind us. I pivoted to find Rabere and Xander approaching us, both with grim expressions on their faces.
“Meaning Humans and Elves are targeted in Beshulthien, but the other races seem to be avoided?” I questioned, watching as the Vampire pair stopped in front of me. Both of them bowed but, for some reason, Rabere bowed slightly lower than Xander did.
“If you intend to eliminate the spread of such vile substances, Your Highness, then Beshulthien will lend you any support you require.” Rabere straightened and settled a firm gaze on me. “Should you succeed in driving the bastards out of the Vorpmasian Empire, it’s likely they will retreat to the Beshulthien territories, Falrrsald, and perhaps even X’shmir.
“My own investigations have revealed that Humans and Elves are targeted much more frequently than Vampires or Devillians. However, I hear that in Leryci it is only Angels who are targeted.”
“That’s all there is to target there.” Eyrian snorted, shifting so that he was standing a little in front of me. ‘We can’t trust Rabere, Your Highness. You should be at least a little cautious around him. Especially with what you learned from Lehrr…’
‘I know.’ I crossed my arms within my sleeves and considered the Beshulthien emperor’s words for a moment. “What have you been told about the situation in Falrrsald…Your Excellency?”
“Please call me Rabere.” The Vampire grimaced briefly before switching to a small smile. “Having you, of all people, address me that way doesn’t quite seem right. Not only because of the past, but because your status as a ‘candidate’ for Balance.
“For the most part, all I have been told is that the situation in Falrrsald is an Alliance matter. I was told of the contamination in the X’shmiran Crater, and some of the vile matters regarding the tribes, Dragon’s Watch, and N’lafmar.”
“Eyrian,” I began, giving the Draekin a pointed look.
“It should be fine to tell him—it’s a problem for everyone, not just Vorpmasia,” Eyrian murmured, rubbing his chin in thought.
“Pardon?” Rabere frowned.
“So the little birds were right—you did find something else.” Xander broke into a broad grin.
“Hmmm,” I grumbled, summoning a few stacks of papers from my shrizar. The Vampires remained quiet but with quizzical expressions on their faces as I sorted through the pages. Once I found what I was looking for, I enveloped the document in darkness briefly and then handed it to Rabere. When he grabbed it, I tightened my grip and narrowed my eyes at him. “For now, I don’t want either of you telling anyone else within the Alliance about this. I’m sharing this information with you two because of your status as the God of Vampires and his Second.”
“Do you intend to involve the Alliance at some point?” Rabere frowned at me.
“We will have to,” I began, loosening my grip to allow him to take the document. “However, I think we need to have a meeting between the Families and yourself to determine what we can afford to tell the rest of the Alliance—let alone the public.”
Rabere fell silent and skimmed the document I’d given him. I waited patiently for him to finish and watched as his expression twisted with a mix of disgust and rage. After a few minutes, he shoved the papers at Xander and then settled his fiery gaze on me.
“They’re using…?!” Rabere closed his eyes and took a deep breath before speaking in a much quieter tone. “It would cause public outrage across the entire Alliance if this information got out. I assume the Order, the Sect, and the N’lafmarans have been sworn to secrecy?”
“They have,” Eyrian replied, nodding. “I suppose now we’ll need to swear the both of you to secrecy as well.”
“You will not hear any arguments from me,” Rabere stated, shaking his head. “I would like to formally request a meeting with Lucifer, Arianna-jiss, and my brother so that we can discuss the matter of Falrrsald at length.
“It’s going to take more than Vorpmasia to tackle the problems there.”
“I’ll speak with Lucifer and send a messenger to you with his reply,” Eyrian offered.
“I want you and my father to both keep in mind that this isn’t just a political issue now,” I spoke up sharply, earning a startled look from all three men. “We’re talking about the Lari’xan and Avrirsa itself being attacked in some way. Both mortals and gods are being used like tools to further whatever their scheme is.
“It seems likely that the spread of beast blood and similar drugs in the empires could be related.”
“You think the drugs may be a lure?” Rabere crossed his arms and rubbed his chin in thought for a moment. “I assume something about the prisoners you found is your reason for thinking that?”
“The place they were imprisoned functions similarly to Limbo,” I answered with a disgusted snort. “There were people from both empires there, certainly, but there were also Angels, Zehylor and N’lafmarans. From what I understand, the Order found a few races they’d never heard of within the other prison.”
“Then whoever behind this isn’t attacking the Alliance at all—it truly is attacking everyone.” Rabere’s frown deepened before he turned to look at Xander. “Fetch everything we have on the drugs being used in Beshulthien, the related criminals, and the organizations we expect to be responsible.
“Where would you like the documentation delivered, Your Highness?”
“Nalithor’s office here at the palace would be best,” I answered after a moment, watching as Rabere frowned at me.
“Officially speaking, I am guarding Arianna-jiss at Nalithor’s behest,” Eyrian stated, coughing into his hand pointedly. “I’m sure you understand just who—and what—we are trying to protect her from…right?”
“Of course I do.” Rabere sighed, a pained expression flashing across his face. “Very well, we will conduct ourselves as if Nalithor is the one leading this investigation.
“Now…about the X’shmirans.”
“It’s too soon for us to discuss them,” Eyrian interjected, his brow furrowing. “Given—”
“I simply wish to know if Her Highness was aware of the way they’ve treated Darius,” Rabere spoke, crossing his arms. He gave the Draekin a brief glare before turning to look at me with a softer expression. “And I am not referring to his ignorance, nor am I referring to his spoiled behavior.”
“Just who do you think removed one of Dilonu’s arms?” I smiled sweetly.
“And was nearly killed for it.” Eyrian shot me a look. “Oh yes, Lucifer and I heard all about it from Nalithor. You’re reckless as ever.”
“So it’s true you haven’t changed much at all?” Rabere asked dryly, before shaking his head. “Then I take it that you have a good reason for not killing them yourself. The Arianna I knew wouldn’t simply let someone get away with such disgusting behavior.”
“Acting against them would be death for Darius and I both…” I trailed off, thinking back to what had happened in Draemir. “And, unlike Darius, I’m not willing to kill my sibling.”
“What—” Rabere’s eyes widened as I turned my back to him.
“Is that all? Eyrian and I have somewhere we must be getting to, and we’re running late,” I stated, giving the stunned Vampire one last look over my shoulder. “Keep in mind my brother is little better than a child. He may not have realized that, if Gabriel hadn’t already intervened, that his actions would have killed me.
“However, I also have reasons to believe he may have intended exactly that.”
“Keep a close eye on that boy,” Eyrian added, his tone and expression murderous.
Rabere and Xander both bowed to me one last time but said nothing, allowing Eyrian and I to walk through the palace corridors once more. The Draekin glanced at me a few times with a worried expression, and soon decided to take a detour to the kitchens.
‘Was it really alright to give them that information?’ Eyrian questioned as he handed me a tall cup of tea, before turning toward the counter and wrapping up several boxed lunches.
‘I don’t like it, but we’re going to need the Beshulthien Empire’s help eventually,’ I replied with a small sigh. ‘Furthermore, Rabere seems genuine in his desire to make amends for his past behavior.
‘I intend to make him work for it.’