Monday, May 13, 2019

The Shalafae Archives - Hostage Training

Something from Morri's youth, after her big decision to turn on her people, but before she slaughters most of the dragons.

***

I stepped into Father's training scenario, shivering as the illusion magic enveloped me. I would experience whatever he had constructed for me as though it were real. I couldn't deny his logic; this was the safest and quickest way for me to train specific scenarios.

~What is my mission?~ I asked, standing at the edge of a public square. The area was populated, though none of the people moved. Father waited to begin the scenario until I had been briefed.

~I have created this illusion off one of my own assignments. Ascended mortals have taken the royal heir hostage, and are demanding access to the knowledge necessary for all of them to Ascend. The local authorities requested help from the Emperor, as their negotiations have failed. You are to assist and bring the stalemate to an end.~ He closed the link between us, thus I wouldn't be able to gauge his reactions, wouldn't be able to sneak hints from his thoughts.

Illusionary people began to move then; the scenario was live.

Voices filled the square, waves of concerned chatter mingling with the precise hum of guard chatter. Wooden barriers had been erected to keep the civilians away, and a wall of sand bags stood between the military and a tall building with immense columns. Several harried but official looking men stood beneath a silk pavilion, gathered around a table.

I strode toward the command table, eyeing the building across the square. Three stories tall, columns supporting the roof, and stained glass windows lining the third story. Not secure in the least, so how had the up-jumped mortals been able to hold off the soldiers for so long?

One of the leaders turned as I entered the pavilion. "Are you the Emperor's liaison?" I nodded. "Are you alone?"

I stared at him, one brow quirked sharply. We were the same height, though he and the rest of his race were willowy and light of frame. I was twice his mass, even without my wings, and had probably eaten single meals that weighed more than he did.

He grew uncomfortable beneath my stare, and began to fidget. I finally broke the silence, letting my gaze travel across the others. "The Emperor sent exactly as many as he felt this incident warranted." I let that sink in for a moment, keeping my head up and shoulders back. Father did not want someone weak and simpering for an assassin. "Tell me everything."

A younger man, too awed by my presence to look up, began speaking. "Some of our mortal slaves learned the secrets of Ascension. We have yet to discover their power source, but it was limited. Only a dozen were raised to Immortality, and they took our princess hostage while she visited this art gallery. THey have threatened to destory her soul if we don't help the rest of their people Ascend."

The first man continued, gesturing at the gallery. "Our negotiations have been for naught. The destroyed one of her handmaidens, and sent two of her fingers out when we attempted to surround the building. They've given us until sundown to provide them with the means of Ascension."

I ground my teeth, glaring at these men. Were they really so weak, so scared of destruction that they would allow mere mortals to hold them hostage? Death was hardly a problem for Immortals, but to destroy our soul was the end. There was no returning from that.

"What weapon do they have? How are they able to destroy your people?" I was a warrior, an assassin, unlike these soft men, and had no fear of destruction. What mortal could ever hurt a half-dragon?

They looked at each other, then at me. "We're not sure," the first man said, chagrined. "We hoped as the Emperor's liaison..." He trailed off.

I growled, the sound resonating in the air of the pavilion. My aggression rolled up my spine, blurring my vision as I attempted to suppress actual rage. "You wanted me...the Emperor to solve your fucking problem?"

They had no answer, either ducking their heads or shuffling their feet.

My growl deepened and I snapped. What kind of fools allowed themselves to be held helpless by anyone, let alone petty mortals demanding scraps of power? How many people were here, trapped as surely as the princess and her entourage? The kidnappers had an entire city at their mercy, and no one was able to make a decision.

I stormed across the square, drawing my sword. If the Ascended had a directed weapon of some kind, I was in trouble. I didn't care anymore, and even if I were in my right mind, I guessed they would have used it by now, if only to demonstrate their resolve.

No one challenged my approach, nor my entrance. I opened my senses, searching for the Ascended. The faster I found the, the faster they would feel my wrath, the sooner I could leave the training illusion.

Halls and rooms passed in a blur as I hunted my prey. They were all upstairs in an atrium of some sort. They looked surprised, every one of them, as I burst into the area, snarling and swinging my sword.

It was a wholesale slaughter. None of the Ascended stood a chance. Some of them attempted to defend themselves with melee weapons, but I cut through them as easy as if there'd been nothing. Blood flew, my sword fed, and I fixed their hostage problem.

One final Ascended stood separate from the rest, a blade to the throat of who I assumed was the princess. i paused, blood dripping from my skin and hair, and growled at him. He blanched, but managed to speak his threat. "Don't make me kill her."

I chuckled and shook my head. "I do not negotiate with terrorists." I lunged to close the gap, and the illusion ended. The sudden change set my head to spinning, and I had to wait to regain my equilibrium.

Father laughed, and the sound helped reconnect me with reality. No longer in the strange gallery, I was back on his balcony, standing beneath a blue moon and surrounded by the scent of roses. He was still seated, legs crossed, a creamy drink on the table beside him. "Well, well, my violent one. How do you think you did?"

I stood at attention, settling my mind, running my thumb over my fingertips behind my back. I replayed the scenario in my head, taking note of each moment, of every reaction. "Perhaps it could have gone better," I finally answered.

He laughed again, then took a long sip of his drink. "Could have been better?"

I blushed, ducking my head. He hept our connection blocked, shielding himself from me. "It definitely should have been better. I apologize." My voice barely carried across the distance.

Father rose with a sigh, then strode slowly toward me, each step heavy and ponderous. Measured. Meant to drive home his disappointment, to make me wonder what my punishment would be.

He strolled a circle around me, remaining silent, his stare a heavy weight upon me. The urge to apologize further struggled to take control. to make words spill from my lips in a flurry, exclaiming how I could do better, that I would do better next time.

But I bit my lip, reining in that silly little girl. Father wanted me strong and firm. You want the darkness, then you are not to cry. You are not to whine. You must be strong if you want to become the dark. It was hard to change old habits, especially when he'd traumatized them so thoroughly into my personality.

Finally, Father came to a halt before me. He lifted my chin until our eyes met. He smiled. A twisted smile full of humor, not impending torture. "You did do it better. I attacked almost immediately."

I frowned. "So I did it correctly?"

"Of course. Giving in to their demands is a sign of weakness, and will only call more scavengers from the shadows. But swift decisive action will show the bottom feeders what their temerity will get them."

He paused, then kissed me proudly. "You did exactly right."

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