The Diplomacy of Foes

Weary from travel and battles past and recent, the warriors in the meeting house were clearly trying not to show it. Being a clan specialising in surveillance and espionage, the room they all crammed into, made smaller by the tension cast between them, was not suited for broad-backed warriors with several weapons each. In fact, meditation mats were clearly rolled up in the corners, alongside healing equipment that was stored away in small cabinets, a sign of Asburro's best skill spilling out into his work.  In the centre of the room was a table shaped like a crescent moon with ten high-backed chairs around the circumference, and in front of it, the room's walls were plastered with maps showing trade routes and hidden trails, as well as details of nearby clans other than the Dynios and Drakos-El, everything from crests to irrigation schedules.

Naomi leant against the wall, glad to have shed her scarf and outer robe, stripped down to a dark blue dress that cut just above her knees, with long bell sleeves that aired her skin with relief. Asburro stood in the middle of the room, in front of the table as if he was at a conference. Some of the warriors were seated, including the Drakos-Els Wester and Garland, and the Dynios Vohl, as well as a couple of Fregurd assistants preparing minutes and to-do lists. Everybody else was standing, too worked up from the recent fight and too abrasive to sit beside each other. Zethenia stood looking out of the window, scraping aside the mosquito nest to gaze across at the homes and establishments still standing, the sunlight showing sadness on her face like dark shadows. Kane was glancing at the weapons mounted on the walls, mostly at the ceremonial swords that had never been unsheathed.

          "Do you comprehend the humiliation that you have just dealt me?" asked Asburro, his tone clipped,

          "We meant no offence -," Kane began to say, but Asburro was having none of it. Seeing him taken aback, Naomi couldn't stop herself from smirking in the corner of the room.

          "I made great efforts for this hospitality, I opposed respected elders, assuring them that you could all restrain yourselves from your childish vendetta. Alas, perhaps I was wrong, but Naomi and Everyn have brought you here with safety and care, and so you shall remain whilst here. I only hope you can grant my people the same courtesy,"

          "Mr. Asburro, I apologise again," said Wester, rising and inclining his head respectfully. "It was never our intention to insult your generosity. I fear...some are unable to co-operate equally." Sidelong, Wester's gaze fixated on Kane, who strode forward purposefully.

          "You have something to say?" Kane said sharply,

          "Not to you, heathen," Garland replied, his tone light and mocking as he leant back on his chair as if he was already home.

          "Why would you accept them here too?" Kane asked, directed at Asburro, though his eyes never left Wester and Garland. Just as Naomi straightened to interject a conversation waiting to become another fight, Asburro did so first.

          "Your opinions of each other are immaterial." Asburro was relaxed, in command of the room and everybody in it. Naomi watched every dominant look and movement with admiration, imagining what he could have been like in the fighting days of Fregurd. "The facts being, you have both been attacked by an unprecedented force. You have lost loved ones and have suffered casualties," solemnity passed between them, as quick and as precious as a flame extinguished by the wind. "As far as I am concerned as the leader of this clan, we are obligated to assist. Accommodation has been arranged, as the Drakos-El are aware, and rather wisely, you are a diameter apart from the Dynios. That said, you have no excuse not to attempt to get on, and as I have said, if there are any mishaps, there will be consequences. Fregurd may have taken you in, but my duty is to protect my own people. Jeopardise that, and we will find ourselves in irreparable conflict,"

          "The Dynios understand," said Zethenia, turning from the window and holding a fist over her heart. "You have my word,"

Wester scoffed, murmuring "take the word of a woman cautiously" under his breath. Zethenia heard nonetheless, narrowing her eyes on the soft back of his head.

          "Have we gathered any more intelligence on this enemy?" asked Naomi, stepping towards Asburro. He gestured to the wall behind.

          "Nothing that we didn't already, and that is very little. They are elusive, odd given the presence of their attacks. We have no precise insignia, several in fact, nor do we have a single name. Our best spies can find nothing, and that is always cause for me to worry,"

          "I would ask that we remain updated on anything discovered," said Wester,

          "Of course," nodded Asburro. "I will allow you all to retire. Mr Feloine, you may rely on Everyn as your envoy to relate anything you require from me. The same goes for Naomi and the Drakos-El -,"

          "Wait," said Naomi and Kane in sync, equally indignant, "what -?"

Suddenly, the air outside seemed to explode. Flying through the window came hunks of grey rubble and dust, whilst the noise perforated their ears into momentary deafness. Zethenia, standing directly in front of the window, was launched forward onto the table, taking Garland with her. With Asburro throwing himself protectively across her, Naomi felt the force like a punch in the gut, flooring her with a painful strike to the back of her head. She blinked rapidly to clear the 
black spots flickering in the corners of her eyes, pushing herself up even as her mentor was spread on top with his arm across her face as shrapnel of the neighbouring building rained down on them. The room was full of dust, everybody obscured as blurred silhouettes as if they were all lost amongst smog. Faintly, she could hear everybody coughing and spluttering, but Naomi's ears rang with a high-pitched noise, the deprivation of sight and sound terrifying her with her heart rising out of her chest and her breath stricken from her lungs. Only able to see Asburro, Naomi looked at him with matched shock and fear, whilst Wester's voice rang out, strong and furious.

          "What by the Great Source was that?"

The End

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