The Speaker was proving hard to track. At least he was still being talkative; Kirana spotted that sparrow again, and was pretty sure that was who the loon was having a conversation with. Since she was one of the enemy’s targets, she had an extra duty to shoulder. This duty was where most of the difficulty came from.
If she were being honest, she wondered if maybe she should give herself up. That wouldn’t be a big sacrifice for her, and the clan stood to lose a lot more by refusing to comply with their enemies’ demands. If it was just Kirana they wanted, then maybe she’d defy orders.
Unfortunately, the monsters had put others on their list. Had put Svara on their list. There were no ‘maybes’ when it came to the clan’s children.
So she weaved through her own side of the line as she followed the Speaker. Her colleagues would hide her until ready for another wave of monsters. When signaled, Kirana would reveal herself, and the closest monsters would swarm her allies.
She wished she could tell the difference between the reckless ones and the sort that could actually dance. She could certainly see why their so-called ‘leadership’ would deem the frenzied ones to be expendable. What she couldn’t understand is how so many were still around to expend.
Whatever the case, their strategy would work - for a while. They’d whittle their numbers away until they were too exhausted to fight. It wouldn’t win the day, but it was the best strategy they had. Maybe the slow pace would give the elder enough time to make a better one.
“The value placed on sadism is what confuses me most. It isn’t like we’re talking about focused sadism, either. Those who suffer most are those who serve. You sold this who ‘punishment’ story, but who’s really being punished? I suppose I shouldn’t be asking you, you’re not assuming direct control. He is your representative, though, and he persists even when he knows my every thought.”
Kirana had never wished for the Elder’s talent for words before meeting this speaker. Now she would love to know if he was making any sense. When they had their public exchange, the Elder acted like he was sane. If that were true, then just what did that sparrow’s side of the conversation sound like?
One of her allies signaled her, and she leapt out to cut a monster down. Its neighbors tried to retaliate, but the hunters were ready, and another massacre ensued. Kirana disappeared as the remaining wave was cleaned up.
The Speaker had moved a little too far for her to hear his words, so she jogged down her side of the line in his direction. She hoped he would maintain this course. If he began to go deeper into their ranks, she didn’t think she had any chance of fulfilling her mission.
“... talk you into it? I just don’t see how this could be important. One of them - only one- ever really encroached, and even without the evidence I think we could assume she did so under duress. I cannot imagine what consequence you were imagining when you sent your ‘enforcer’ after her. Or am I missing some key information? That couldn’t possibly happen with such a forthcoming individual like yourself, right?”
They’d be clear of the battle soon. Kirana was itching to see a proper conclusion to their last meeting. The Speaker had fled - with some strangely giddy words of farewell - when the herd brought an abrupt victory to the clan. Though Kirana was under orders to negotiate, part of her hoped those talks would go sour. She longed for satisfaction.
With a few quick words to her ally on the end, she followed the Speaker into the darkening twilight. Like last time, he didn’t seem to notice her. Should I greet him like last time? She smirked at the idea. Tempting, but it would only make her duty harder.
They’d gone far enough away that she could speak without drawing attention to herself. What should she say? It wouldn’t be good no matter how hard she thought about it, so she supposed she just ought to start.
“Oi neighbor. Got a minute?” She called.
The Speaker paused for several seconds, allowing Kirana to catch up. “Despite your efforts, I don’t think we got my point across in the last attempt. I’m not sure I’m the mood to play with you anymore.”
“I didn’t greet ya with an arrow to th’ head this time. We don’ needa play. Let’s talk.”
The Speaker turned around. “Talk. The woman before was keen on that, too.”
“More keen than me, I’ll admit it. But I do wanna talk. Let’s nego’iate!”
The Speaker sighed. “I told the other woman, told her loud enough for everyone to hear. I can’t negotiate.”
“Sure ya can. Ya talkin’, ain’tcha? C’mon. Nego’iate with me.”
The Speaker seemed exasperated. “Of course I have the ability to negotiate, I’m just saying it’s meaningless. I can’t stop the attack, I can’t promise anything on behalf of the others, and…”
“Alrigh’, then we’ll talk about somethin’ else. What sorta stuff can ya do, and what sorta stuff can we do for you?”
The Speaker chuckled. “You face the threat of annihilation, and you’re interested in what I have to offer? Let me tell you, it’s not much, and I’m not sure you’d like my prices.”
“It’s worth a shot. Chances are we gonna die anyway. May as well look under a couple stones, see if we can’t fin’ a miracle.”
The distant sounds of battle made his silence seem longer. “You have a better point than I anticipated. It may not change much, however. Your situation is, as you noted, probably hopeless. My assistance would be of minimal help, and put me at tremendous risk. What could you possibly have to compensate my participation?”
“I ‘unno,” Kirana shrugged. “Whatcha want?”
Neither of them said anything for a full minute. Kirana couldn’t tell if the Speaker didn’t know what he wanted, or if something made him think twice about sharing that desire. She was anxious to get back to the battle, but the matron was convinced that this was where she would do the most good. If it was her duty to do so, she’d wait for this critter to consider his price.
“Freedom.” He finally said.
Kirana giggled, which surprised her. She wasn’t much for laughing, much less giggling. Unexpected answers brought unexpected reactions, she supposed.
“It wasn’t a joke, human.”
“Nah, that ain’t why I laughed. Sorry. I jus’ wasn’t ‘specting that. Freedom’s important, neighbor, bunches of us came ta the clan ‘cause we wanted ta be free of where we was before. What’s in the way of yer freedom?”
“That!” The Speaker pointed at the horde. “This!” He motioned at the forest. “The…’leadership’ I mentioned before. I’m no ally to these ‘people.’ I’m a slave, and I would like not to be.”
“I c’n unnerstand that. How can we help ya get it?”
“I don’t think you can!” It was the Speaker’s turn to laugh. “It’s your job to convince me otherwise, if you want to ‘negotiate!’ That was always your peoples’ idea, remember. Have we finished here? Are we finally at an understanding? I don’t believe we have anything to negotiate.”
Kirana put a hand to her chin and frowned. “Ya may be right, this ain’t time to negotiate.”
“Good. I’m glad we finally agree.” The Speaker turned and began to walk away again.
“Ya sure ya wanna miss this chance, though?” Kirana called after him.
The Speaker scoffed and kept walking.
“We’ve got people been slaves. They got away. We got proof, too, ‘cause they with us now. They all got diff’rent stories about how they escaped, but they agree on some o’ the stuff. One o’ them things was gettin’ over they master’s lies that escape was hopeless.”
The speaker stopped in his tracks. Kirana took this as a sign that she was getting through to him.
“First step to escape was resolvin’ they was gonna do it.” Kirana was struggling to remember specific details. She’d never been in his position, but she wasn’t lying. A good majority of the people who weren’t born into the clan came from one kind of slavery or another. They always had the best stories, so good that even Kirana liked to listen to them.
“Next step is waiting. I figure ya may a done those two already, but this here is step three: takin’ th’ first chance ya get and bettin’ everythin’ on it. This ain’t a nego’ation because ya don’t need us ta agree to anything. We’re gonna be fightin’ yer jailers whether ya help us or not. It may not be the best opportunity, but ya can’t deny, tonight ya have a better chance than most ta break yer chains ‘n run. You could wait for a better chance, but ya never know if you’ll get one. Tha’s why they say ta take th’ first.”
The advice would seem crazy, Kirana knew it. Former squatters, once that hadn’t been slaves, had always admired the former slaves’ bravery in taking that chance. For a slave under their masters’ spell, escape would seem impossible. Impossibility was the spell, the illusion. The former squatters always said they wouldn’t blame the slave for continuing to serve.
Kirana supposed she would have the same attitude. If he turned her away this time, that would be the end of it. After all, he was right. A slave couldn’t help them win.
To her surprise, the Speaker turned around. “You’re smarter than you look.”
“Ya lookin’ fer a goodbye arrow, smartass?” Kirana teased.
“I’m ready to take my chance.”
“Smart man.” Kirana said, then wondered if ‘man’ was the right word. Doesn’t matter. She turned back towards her kin. “Guess I’ll see ya on the battlefield, then.”
“Wait,” the Speaker requested. “I have an idea. I’ll need your help.”
She was a little impatient to get back to the battle, but she looked over her shoulder. There was some good irony in his words. “Ya realize ya gone back to nego’iatin’ territory. Will this plan be worth the ‘tremen’ous risk’ you’d be puttin’ on me?”
“My plan would mean your clan wins the battle,” the Speaker claimed. “My plan means this army leaves.”
“Sold.” Kirana turned back and offered her hand. The matron had been right, this was where the clan needed her most. “What we doin’?”