World 38: Codex Alera

TRAITOR’S FURY

Previously: More of the Same

Themesong: Nobody’s Side by Elaine Paige from Chess

Sometimes you see an IP and think, “I could fix all that world’s problems with X and a bottle of wine.” Sometimes you see an IP and think, “Yeah… no… I’mma hide and not do that.” Sometimes there isn’t an easy answer. When I saw the next Jump in my sequence, I had both those thoughts in quick succession. Codex Alera. Jim Butcher’s second major series. Codex Alera, Roman Legionaries with Elemental Bending powers that vastly outclassed those of the AvatarVerse… fighting blood-magic wolfmen, empathic barbarian elves, ents (in the past at least), and icebender yetis… and the fucking ZERG. Codex Alera.

“Fuuuuuck.”

“Yes SJ?”

“Not now Ryoga.”

“Haha. No. Is there a problem?”

“Slightly, yes. I need a nuke. Get me. Mmm… the Purifier mark III Clean Neutron Bomb.”

“Geez! What the hell in this jump needs that.”

“They’re called the Vord. A mutative, biological weapon of a race dedicated to destroying all non-Vord life. If I drop the bomb on the Forest of Silence, that will take the Vord out of the equation. I just have to wait until after Tavi and Kitai and Doroga are out of the area.”

While my team prepped the bomb, I went to the machine to make my purchases. I hit the Drawbacks first, I knew I’d need the points. No limit. That was… worrying. Bastard [+100] was first on the list. It made me the illegitimate child of a High Lord but locked me into being Aleran. Fine by me. Dull? Being predictable isn’t my shtick. Unwanted Gadara? Someone to disrupt my plans by their incompetent desire to be my rival? Nooo thank you. This is going to be tricky enough. Collared? No. Just… No.

Invidiae Erit [+200], for the jump, treachery becomes part of my nature. People will begin to plan for my inevitable betrayal and I will plot against even my trusted allies, just in case I need to. I can cope with that. Murder of Bloodcrows [+300], fanatically loyal spies and assassins trying to destroy me. And they never stop coming. I’d have taken more, but the remaining options were frankly terrifying. No. 1600 CP would have to be enough.

Wait, I’d locked myself into a background… Aleran. It was [100], so 1500/1600 would have to be enough. I rolled for location and got… Antillus? Seriously? I’ve got something like 3 or 4 days to get to the Calderon Valley, find the Forest of Silence (Wherein the Vord Queen sleeps)… and nuke the site from orbit… and I’m on the far side of the continent. Wait, never mind… I’m hypersonic. 2000 miles ain’t nothing to me. I rolled for my age and snagged 21, as old as it came and 6 years older than Tavi. That works.

Steadholder was discounted for Alerans [50] (1450/1600): “Your furies have some more raw power compared to the average Aleran. While this may not help your delicate crafting, your strength and stamina will impress the city-folk, even if you have a tendency to name your Furies like a paganus. This also boosts the crafting you might find handy on a holt, like using Earthcrafting to handle animals or for barn-raising, and allows for better understanding of local nature spirits (like Furies).”

Test of Wits Veteran [100] (1350/1600) wasn’t discounted, since I wasn’t Marat, but seemed a bargain: “You have delved into the Wax Forest and brought back the Blessing of Night. Several times, actually. Your agility and stealth have been honed to the point where you can reliably evade the Keepers of Silence long enough to get in and out alive. As a Jumper, this means you have an improved ability to evade extraordinary senses like motion and heat sensing. You also have an uncanny sense of what surfaces can bear your weight without breaking (which would alert the Keepers) that applies to anything from croach to ice to even the floors of a burning building. And last but not least, you have a knack for transporting sharp or spined objects by hand without self-injury.”

Making up for the 100 point item not being free, the 200 CP item was. Fury-Crafting, something every Aleran had (besides Tavi). For no points at all, plus a dice roll, I snagged myself a Fire Fury. Excellent. Burn Baby. I named her Hestia, goddess of the Hearth and Home.

I’d always intended to take the complete Aleran Tree, having guessed it included Cursor Training, Legion Training, and the power of a High Lord. I was not disappointed. Legionnaire Extraordinaire [200] (1150/1600) granted me the skill to get an army moving and transform even the most pathetic of new recruits (called fish in the vulgate) into battle hardened veterans who’d hold even when woefully outnumbered. It made me skilled at battlefield tactics, as well as an expert on setting up defensible positions, including battlefield construction and fortifications. And it granted me a second Fury, and the crafting skill to easily rank as a Knight of the Legions. I rolled again, snagging Earth as my second element, and I named this one Gyges, one of the hundred-handed, fifty-headed Hecatonchires of Greek myth.

Cursori Glance [200] (950/1600) granted me cursor training, including skill with several methods of combat (unarmed, sword, staff, knife, etc.), as well as impressive stealth skills… but that wasn’t the primary focus of the training. That was undercover espionage, the ability to maintain a cover identity for an indefinite length of time while still being “you”, with a boost to make my skills at deceit and manipulation unparalleled even in a society where being able to sense emotions and honesty was par for the course. Occlumency Upgrade Get!

And last, High Lord [300] (650/1600), which meant that I was within shouting distance of Aleran Elite, the ruling class of the nation, the High Lords themselves, and with 6-8 years I’d be able to reach even the power of a First Lord. It granted me at least one of each type of Fury, and the knowledge of how to bind furies in more advanced methods, such as wards or gargoyles, or patrolling hounds of fire… and even came with knowledge of politics, especially the politics of those with power both personal and temporal. Six more Furies… wonderful.

My second Fire Fury I named “Nemesis”, Goddess of Vengeance. My second Earth Fury I named “Alecto”, the Eryine of Unceasing Anger, one of the three original Furies. My Wood Fury became “Treebeard”, my Air Fury “Nike”, my Water Fury “Calypso” and my Metal Fury “Mithras”.

The only reason I’d wanted to take Marat was the Chala Bond… and it wasn’t locked out to other races. So I bought it. For [400] (250/1600) it allowed me to import a companion (it had to be Zane, I wasn’t soul bonding with anyone else), which would grant him a background other than my own (or drop-in), and 400 CP to spend. That meant Marat or Cane. And we’d mingle our traits, I’d gain his eye color, and other things… Hmmm… If I went Marat… there wasn’t a benefit there, because Marat eyes would match mine. Sure, I’d gain strength and resistance to the elements… but frankly, I’d get more of that from a Canim…and not waste a freebie. No. I gave Zane the Canim background.

That got him “Canim Strength” for free, “The Strength and endurance of the Canim are monstrous compared to a human and you are a physically fit Cane. You can outmarch a Legionnaire and out-muscle an Earthcrafter.” He picked up “War Master” for 200, “Your skill in tactics alone could let you quickly climb ranks in a warrior caste society and your strength is impressive even for a Cane, with more room to improve if you strive for it. More importantly, acts of valor come more naturally to you and are more recognized & rewarded, if if just with more respect.” and “Hunter” for 200, “The Hunters of the Canim are their spies and assassins, but meant to preserve the spirit of the law while getting around its letter. They are focused explicitly on stealth and can pass unnoticed even among those who are not only trained to notice such things but whom possess superhuman sensory powers.”

That left me with equipment to buy. I picked up the Jar of Blood [100] (150/1600)… I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid any Vampiric IP’s in my jumps so far (besides Buffy), but there were going to be more. Many more. And an infinite supply of ethically pure blood, one that could copy the specific blood of any mortal I’ve encountered? Yes please. A Jar that refilled every night, and replaced itself if broken? Excellent, indeed. I’d have to build a cryogenic bloodbank to harvest and store the blood for future use.

To augment my ability to make allies out of former enemies, I picked up Gadara For Life [100] (50/1600) “Just because someone is your enemy doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with one another. Sure, they’ll try their damnedest to kill you on the battlefield, but off it you might be discussing books or playing boardgames with them. You have a knack for picking up friendly enemies and have a better shot at convincing them to work with you as long as there is a greater mutual threat whether it is due to their honor in being the one to defeat you, enlightened self-interest, or you are just that much fun to fight.“

That left me with 50… and there was only one thing that cost 50. Advanced Weapon [50]. I shrugged and picked up a Balest. I was easily strong enough to use one, and having one on hand would make duplicating them easy. I tossed it in with my free Weapon and Armor. Fine and Dandy. Quincy the shit out of that later.

Joy decided to go Marat, joining the Kevras-ha, the Horse Clan, which decided the nature of her Chala Bond. She named her Horse “Sorrow”. Ahab went Aleran, picking up Fury-Crafting and a Wind Fury he named “Ophinicus”.

I handed out orders to my followers, and told my newest trio that they were more than welcome to settle here if they wanted… but that, since I hadn’t imported Astraea, she’d still be a spirit and it might not be safe for her to leave the Warehouse. She might die… or she might become a Fury. Best not to risk it. I hit the button and jumped.

The moment I hit the world, I knew almost all my plans were for naught. For once, the perks I’d chosen had had a very small solution set, and the world had slotted me into that neat as a pin… unfortunately, that solution was as the bastard daughter of the heirless First Lord of Alera, Gaius Sextus… 80 years old and holding the nation together by the skin of his teeth. Alera, where the average person was superhuman, where the average Citizen could rival the Avatar out of the Avatar state, and where a High Lord… of which there were a dozen or so, was all but an unstoppable force of nature… Alera, enemies on every border… Canim to the west, Icemen to the north, and Marat to the east… and not one but two civil wars brewing… Alera, with not only no clear line of succession… with no line of succession at all… and I’d just become the de facto symbol of the foolishness of placing women as second class citizens.

I was Gaius Septima Juliana… half sister of the slain Septimus, Princeps of Alera… one of only four people alive who knew of the existence of Gaius Octavian, the only person alive who knew the Vord were coming, and my presence had tossed the delicate strands of narrative into complete disarray.

Worse, I was a spoiled brat who’s latest tantrum had gotten me sent to Antillus so High Lord Antillus Raucus could try and keep Alera’s First Princess in line.

I looked around at the stretch of the Shield wall and swore. “Shit… shit shit shit!”

“What’s wrong?” Joy asked.

“If you could stop the Civil War from happening, but doing so would condemn more generations of African Americans to suffering and death… would you? I can stop the Vord. I can. I can stop them cold. I can kill Kalare and stop the war in the south. I can leave everything as it is… I could even probably end the war with the Icemen. I know as much as Isana learned and I’m more than a match for Raucus in the Juris Makto…. But I can’t. If I do, it won’t solve anything. I’ll save millions of lives… and damn them all just the same. The Races of Carna will continue to slaughter each other, Alera will continue to stagnate, and eventually the Canim will attack and with their superior tech and numbers they will destroy Alera. And then they will destroy the Icemen and the Marat. And then, someday, the Vord will eat them anyway, because they won’t be ready.”

She just looked at me, shocked. “You’re going to let the Vord kill hundreds of millions…”

“I… I was able to do what I did in Westeros over 300 years. I cannot rebuild 4 cultures into a collective whole that will last centuries in a decade. I’m not omnipotent. The balance of power is too off. The Canim have no reason to trust the Alerans and even with Kitai and Doroga… look, Butcher shaped this world well. He made it so all the bad things that happened eventually worked out for… eventually, the better. All I can do is… is tweek things. Shit. There goes the vacation. Get everyone together. You have to find a remote section of Maratae and Diagon Alley the fuck out of it. We need granaries, armories, and housing. Lots of it. Stasis pods. As many as we can build. Get the robots on construction. I’ll handle everything for the first couple of years. Just… we’ve got… We’ll save as many of the children and makers as we can. Aleran and Canim.”

I looked around at the wall, symbol of Alera’s ability to not think about the reasons for a centuries long war, and sighed. I headed inside to talk to Raucus, commander of ½ the Aleran forces on the shield wall. I needed to go visit my mother, I lied. I’d be back in a few days, I lied. My hulking Cane bodyguard loomed behind me. Everyone tried to pretend they didn’t see him. Zazz wasn’t a singulare for nothing.

I chuckled as we stepped out onto the walls again “Z… you wanna step inside or you want me to carry you to Calderon?”

“Can’t we take the shuttle?”

“Wuss. Look you do what you-”

The first assassin’s arrow flew out of the snow several hundred yards from the wall and shattered against my face like glass. I looked that way, speeding my senses to make the shards of wood and metal seem to stop falling as I entered bullet time and drew on Nike at the same time. I crossed the distance between walltop and Bloodcrow so fast I left my body behind, leaving Zane to catch me as I slumped, while my spirit form’s sword passed cleanly through the assassin’s weapon, arm, shoulders, and back, then out another dozen feet before the blow stopped. I leapt back to my body just in time to see a Legionnaire running up, asking if I was injured. I shook myself and grunted. “Just surprised, soldier. Get back to your post.”

Walking away from the massive fortress that was Antillus, I was already calculating how to build anti-Vord defenses. I wasn’t going to stop the Vord entirely, but they weren’t going to have a good time of it.

Several days later, I fought at Second Calderon. I wasn’t there to change the outcome, it had gone relatively well, but I did save some lives that otherwise had been lost. I made sure Fidelias didn’t kill Warner’s sons, that Aldric ex Gladius didn’t kill Perelis of the Black Blade, and that the Windwolves didn’t kill the Rivan and Garrison Knights Aeris. I fought Aldric, but didn’t kill him. Just to see if I could go toe to toe with the second best swordsman in the entire realm. It was… interesting. I had a lot to learn about Metalcrafting. I had my goons shadowing every named character, making sure I hadn’t butterflied up the whole thing. Bernard, Hashat, Doroga, Tavi, Kitai, Isana, Fade, Amara, Fedelius, Aldric, Odiana, Geraldi, and Gram all had to survive.

I had snuck into the Forest of Silence and claimed a pair of Blessing of Night Mushrooms for study in the Lifestream Garden and medbay. But ultimately, the first betrayal was my own… of my own plans against the Vord for the Chance to fight the Vord. I wanted to fight them I realized, but more than that, I needed the relative safety of these Vord to prepare the peoples of this world to potentially fight stronger Vord Hives, ones not ruled by defective queens.

Over the next couple of years I watched my nephew grow as a man, and as an agent of my father. I convinced Meister Killian, trainer of the Cursors and betrayer of them as well, that his plan to appear to aide Kalare’s infiltration of the Cursors was unwise… I threatened to feed him to wild pigs if he tried it… He couldn’t know of the struggle I felt within me to do so anyway… or the tacit arrangement I have with the forces within me to do so the second things have played out. I did tell him to allow Gaella into the Cursor’s training program. I would need her.

I also stopped Father’s new bride from poisoning him. She tried poisoning me instead… but that just made me laugh. “Cyanide dear? I like the taste of bitter almonds. Try it again and First Lady of Alera or no, I’ll make you wear your ovaries as earrings.”

I could have stopped Father’s slip into a Fury Exhaustion Coma… I could have brought him out of it at any time… but I didn’t want to. The bitch in me felt he deserved it for not making me the heir… then rationalized it as a learning and growth experience for Octavian… who’d rule long after I was gone anyway. I did tell off Tavi for not listening to Varg. “No information is ever not useful… especially not something an Ambassador brings personally. You were foolish to send him away without listening to him. The hurry is not so great.”

Speaking of the Canim, Zane had been tasked with hampering the Vord in the city deeps, the others retasked from their work and sent off to destroy the Vord in the Calderon Valley… to insure the survival of Steadholder Aric (Taken or not), as well as shore up the defenses of Count Bernard’s forces… But I couldn’t be there… Not yet… I had a Duel to watch. I smirked as Isane and the Slave/Cursor Sarai showed up at the Kalare’s party, listened in as she spoke to Lady Placida, grimaced as Lord Kalare struck Sarai, but cheered a little as Isane stood up for the slave. I watched Isane encounter Lady Invidia, then intercepted the Lady Steadholder and the Cursor as they snuck out of the party. I had a scant few minutes, but it should be enough.

“Kalare has assassins waiting for you at the House of Nadis and there are Vord in Alera Imperia.” I said, stepping out of the shadows next to the door. I spoke truth, so they believed me. Nice how that works. “Don’t ask how I know of the Vord… some of my companions are in the Calderon Valley with your brother right now. They’ll try and keep him safe. And I’m going to get Riva to send men… but first, we have to get you to safety. Go directly to the Citadel. Tell the guards you’re there to see me. They’ll let you into my antichamber.”

I watched as they nodded, climbing into the coach and preparing to ride off… and then I sent out a psy blast that stunned them all… even the horses. I tapped the ground and it rippled, then swallowed carriage, beasts, and men. They’d wake to find themselves in the Grey Tower, Alera Imperia’s theoretically escape proof, crafting-proof prison, in cells that would block all their fury crafting. They’d remember riding to the palace, being arrested as assassins, thrown in irons. Meddling do-gooders… I couldn’t have them messing up my plans by getting killed or captured by… anyone. And Tavi would need a reason to break in.

With that I jumped back over the wall, walking into the garden just as Brencis Minoris was about to challenge his father to the Juris Macto in order to gain his citizenship…. Only I had other plans. Kalarus Brencis, High Lord of Kalare, was a traitor, a murderer, and a monster. He’d staged this whole event so his son’s citizenship could be earned in front of the other High Lords of Alera. Someone would earn their citizenship tonight, but it wouldn’t be little Kalarus.

I strode into the center of the cleared area and said, “Can I have a word before this little… event?”

Lord Antillus glowered at me “Not now, Septima.”

I smirked “Oh, yes now. My Lords, Ladies, little people who don’t actually matter but think you do… I must speak. I must speak to the honor of our host, Kalarus Brencis… Keeper of the Great Fury Kalus… Defender of the South… Master of slaves and slavers. And Traitor to the Realm.” There was a collective gasp. “He has raised illegal legions, created his own personal cursors… the Bloodcrows, and plotted against the High Lord. He’s even bound Kalus to go wildly out of control if the First Lord moves against him. Haven’t you sweety? Planning on killing your own people if you can’t get your own way?”

The crowd was… shocked… this wasn’t how things were done. Kalare was livid however. “You spoiled little bitch! How dare you utter such lies?! I demand you retract them this instant, or face me in the Juris Macto.” I laughed. He’d played right into my hands… Of course, he had to prove his innocence and if he defeated me or my champion, he was counting on me to call for a champion, no one would ever be able to accuse him of the crime again.

Of course, it wasn’t going to play out that way. I accepted… and I didn’t call for a champion. He was bigger, older, more experienced in Furycrafting than I was. My furies were stronger (marginally) than his… and I was a slip of a girl. It should have been a hard victory for the High Lord. But it wasn’t even close. I had centuries upon centuries of skill on him, was stronger, tougher, faster, and could slow time even as I called upon a wind fury to make me faster at need. He fought to kill me… I fought him to the pain.

I took an eye first, “For those you’ve looked down on with scorn.”, then his right hand, “For the women you’ve abused”, then his left leg, “For those you’ve ground underfoot.” I took his manhood, “For the horrific person you son is…. And all the slaves you’ve raped.” I took his right ear, “For the cries of the immortals you’ve tortured and twisted.” I took his other leg, “For your people who you’ve oppressed.” and his other hand, “for the slavers you’ve supported and the families you’ve destroyed.” I took his other eye, “For the children you held hostage from their mothers to command their loyalty.”

It was a tribute to just how tough a High Lord could be that he kept on trying to fight. I slashed the backs of his knees, bringing the brute to the ground, then whispered in his remaining ear, “Grant me your link to Kalus, and I’ll call for a healer.” I hammered against his defenses to crush his will, whispering in his mind that if he survived, he could get revenge later. With a strangled sob, he nodded and I could feel the shift of his will. I smiled, though he couldn’t see it, then whispered… “I lied.” and cut his traitor head from his shoulders with one flick of my sword.

My sword drank up his blood, and I channeled it into a crafting the likes of which Alera had never seen, a Blood Fury. I sent it winging south, seeking out any trace of itself and obliterating any slave collar lock that was bound to the former High Lord. I looked over at his son, hammering the drug and wine-addled boy’s will with enough mental might to bring down a trained Psyker. “Fall to your knees, boy, and pledge yourself, now and always, to the House of Gaius and…. If you’re sincere enough, you might keep your father’s realm.”

I glanced over to Lady Kalare. “You… my father’s guards will show you to the Tower. You shan’t leave it again until the First Lord is certain of your son’s loyalty.” My gaze fell upon the grovelling boy and placed a compulsion on him that bound him to my will. “You are a bully and a coward. Lord Antillus, I commend him to your care. Let him serve two years on the Shield Wall… as a base Legionnaire. I hereby strip you of the name Brencis and name you Asinus… defy the name and prove yourself and you shall be welcome to rename yourself in two years time… live up to the name and you’ll die a Jackass.” I ignored his look of barely stifled rage, knowing that the boy was a bully and a coward and had been shaped like that by his father. I was being nice, though he didn’t know it.

I looked around at the witnesses there gathered and asked, “Do any of you here doubt my authority to do as I have done?” There were quiet mutters, but none dared come to the defense of a family of traitors. I turned to Lady Aquitaine and said, “a moment of your time, my lady.”

I took her aside. “My father would be ever so grateful if you would, please, tell Fidelius how much he’s missed. Also, If you’d be so kind as to send some of your forces, say that secret legion of yours, to Calderon… to the slopes of Garados specifically… a hostile and brutal alien race called the Vord are attempting to use the valley as a nesting ground. They are a threat to everyone… including your home city and must be stopped as soon as possible. Do this and I guarantee the First Lord will honor both you and your husband… don’t, and I can ask Lord Riva, who would love to play the hero… especially after how much he bungled the defenses of Garrison.” I impressed upon her the very real danger and how much glory she could win for herself. Meanwhile I’d save the day in Alera Imperia. And I did. I needed to see the Primary Vord Queen, and show her she needed to fear me. I injured her badly, but allowed her to escape. Inside I mourned all those who would die for my sin.

Fastforward again, and now I was mistress of Kalare, with Gaella / Rook at my side, her daughter (and Brencis Minoris’s) Masha, bouncing on one knee. I liked the ex-leader of the Bloodcrows, even though her former minions kept trying to kill me, and I needed her help as I launched my own Civil War. Over the last few years, I’d taken control over the lands of Kalare and transformed the Immortals into Legions of former slaves. In fact, I’d transformed as much of the populous as I could into a legion of the oppressed and convinced them that Aleran society had allowed their subjugation for far too long. I’d made a deal with Sarl, just as Kalare had, but I was always planning on betraying him. Alera needed this civil war…. Tavi Needed it. And I needed to save the city of Kalare from a volcano. One of two cities I’d need to save.

Events unfolded as closely to the text as I could make them, though I didn’t kidnap Placida Aria or the daughter of Raucus… Instead, I had them as allies, as I did most of the Dianic League. This was a political war as much as a civil war. An end to slavery and legal equality of the sexes. That was what we demanded, and we weren’t asking. Finally, the senate caved, rather than facing a war on two fronts, and Tavi sailed with the Free Aleran and the First Aleran towards Canea. I’d kept things on track… now I just had to save as many ships from the storm as possible, my agents having already rescued as many children and makers from the fallen Canim ranges as possible.

I went with Tavi, wanting to get away from Alera, leaving Rook to control the complete evacuation of citizenry from Kalare as soon as the Vord made their move. She’d reinforce Ceres with our legions, sending our citizenry towards Alera Imperia. Of course, he didn’t know I was me, not the hulking Silverfurred Cane (Shapeshifting, bitches).

My goal here was to keep as many of Tavi and Varg’s ships from sinking as possible, even if it meant killing Levithan’s personally. Once we got to Shuar, my goal was to evacuate as many Cane as possible. My machinations had swelled the number of Narashan refugees from 20,000 to almost 80,000. And I had one more goal.

As the allied fleet of iceships departed the last port of doomed Shuar, I descended upon the Vord that remained, the last of the Primary Queen’s daughters, slaughtering her forces with killing frost and fire like miniature suns. It took me several days to find her, but perhaps she found me, sending everything at me she could. I froze her in ice and shook my head, “Not worth my time.” I considered not killing her. I considered leaving her as a growing threat that would further unite the people of Alera reborn. But I decided against it. They’d have to unify on their own. I burned her to ash as she struggled in my arms. Then rose into the air and launched myself back towards Alera and Alera Imperia.

In this world, no one had ever doubted the threat of the Vord. People don’t doubt my words… even in this world where they know I’m going to betray them. Thus, I hadn’t had a part in planning the defenses, the withdrawl, the layered planning that went into it all.

Kalares Brencis Minoris had still sold out Alera to Invidia and the Primary Queen. She still had fury Crafters… but I had a jar of Brencis’s blood. I landed in Alera Imperia the day before the Vord were to reach it and slapped father upside the head. “How dare you appoint Aquitaine to follow you? How dare you try and sacrifice the city. You are a terrible leader. You should have recognized Aquitaine years ago, but nooo, you had to play your games. Yes, Kalare would have started a civil war, but he wouldn’t have had the allies… all you did was make things worse. And now I have to save Alera Imperia from you and from the Vord. Oh… and those crows are taken. We should probably destroy them all.”

I don’t think having her crows vaporized pleased the Queen. I don’t think having Alera Imperia become an icy tomb for 90% of her army pleased her either. Gaius Sextus went into a stasis pod inside my warehouse. My collection of Romanesque Emperors was growing.

Things proceeded apace. Phrygia, Antillus, Placida, Aquitaine, Riva, and Rhodes were all but impregnable, the supplies I’d laid in for the last 8 years and the defenses I’d designed holding the Vord off as they laid siege to city after city, spreading their forces. Isana had brought the legions of the North, Rook had brought the legions of the South, Aquitaine had the Crown Legion, but it wasn’t enough. Riva had to fall for the Vord to proceed into the Calderon Valley, where it all had begun and where it all must end. I needed Kitai and Tavi and the Primary Queen all there, with me… and thus I’d designed Riva’s walls to fail, but fail slowly enough that most of the people could evacuate.

The final battle came, Tavi and Kitai awoke the Great Furies Garados and Thana to battle the queen and she tried, and almost succeeded, in claiming them. But she was too slow and got herself impaled. She tried to flee. In the original, she ran into Thana’s Windmanes which ripped her apart. This time… she ran into me.

The conversation with Zane and Joy and Victoria, those who know me best, went something like this: “The Fucck? Why?”

“Because the thrill of battle is strong in me and the Furies of Alera are battle spirits. And because someday there will be a jump where We face Tyranids or Zerg or Xenomorphs and, we won’t be ready… I realized… I want a Vord Queen. I want the Kitai Vord Queen. I wanted her at her weakest, having tasted defeat most violent… and I wanted to offer her salvation…”

“You must be fucking insane!” Joy snapped.

“She’s a monster-” Victoria added.

I interrupted her. “She has doubts-”

Zane interrupted me in turn. “She is pure evil!”

“No… the Tyranids are pure evil… she is fighting her instincts, seeking to become more.”

“Balance.” Atura said, speaking through me.

“We are a monster too… by the reckoning of some.” I added.

“Fine… but how do we keep her from using takers on us?”

“I said we’re bringing her with us. I didn’t say I trust her. She wants to know what being human is. I’ll import her as one. But I’ve defeated her and she has nowhere else to go.”

“This is madness.”

“This is the chance to redeem something that was made for evil through no fault of its own.”

“But the cost. All those who died.”

“They died in the original timeline too. By my count, I’ve saved ten times as many as died in that timeline. It wasn’t enough, but it never is.”

I broke the link and turned to the captured Queen. “Do you understand my conditions?”

“If I take this collar off, I die.”

“Yes.”

“If I make another Queen, or a Taker, without permission-”

“No. If you make another Queen or a Taker, without a direct order from me, and only from me, you die.”

“I do not understand why you let me live. I am your enemy.”

“Because you are a child who had very bad grandparents. But you possess something human within you. I offer you the chance to try and be more. But if you harm any of my companions, or seek to harm or disobey me, I will make you pay, little Queen. I am unlike anything you have ever known. I offer you a chance to know what it is to be human. But until then, you are Vord and cannot be trusted.” And I sealed her into the prison I’d built just for her. “I’ll be back with Supper in a bit.”

She was a mind reader, but even a hundred queens could not have read my mind working together. On the other hand, she’d never had to try to keep someone out of her mind, and I dived deep within it, placing barriers to her actions, instilling a desire, however Yandere, to please me. Yes, it was unethical, but this was a creature who didn’t even vaguely understand the concept of ethics. Trust but verify works for humans. For Vord? I’m not certain any security was enough, but the only alternative was to destroy her, and that would be a loss.

In the meantime, I returned to Alera for the last year and a half of the Jump. I present Tavi the keys to the ice-mountain that encompassed Alera Imperia. “The Ice will last 100 years. It was either that or fire. You’ll need a new capital, and Calderon seems a good place for that. I name Rook as Regent of Kalare, and her daughter Masha, daughter of Brencis Minoris, as High Lord Kalare. I’ve someone I’d like you to meet.”

I took the new First Lord of Alera and his wife deep into a cavern under Garrison, modeled on the First Lord’s sanctum in Alera Imperia, and showed him a huge jeweled mosaic globe of the world floating in the center of the room, on one wall a mosaic of the solar system and on the other wall, the galaxy. “This is Carna, the entire world. It is like your grandfather’s mosaic. And this is Carna.” I said, stepping aside to allow the powerful looking man who was neither Canim nor Iceman, neither Marat nor Aleran. “He is the spirit that has kept you out of the Feverthorn Forest for centuries, since your ancestors destroyed the Children of the Sun. I have asked him to watch out for all the children of this world, and this globe is made from stone from all over the world. If you earn his respect, he might allow your people to reclaim the jungle.” I pointed at the solar map. “That map is made from stones from all the worlds and moons of this star system. That,” I pointed at one fierce sapphire, “Is Carna. The others have not been named yet.”

Then I pointed at the galaxy map. “Every diamond is a star. Every sapphire a star with a world like Alera. And every emerald (and there were far too many emeralds) is a star with a world where there are Vord.”

“How do you know all this, Septima?”

“I have my ways, my nephew. I never wanted your throne, Octavian. You’ll be a far better First Lord than I. But, for the love of the Great Furies… stop trying to give Furycrafting to the Canim or Marat. If Marat want it, they’ll need to do like Kitai. It’s the only advantage humans have, don’t give it away to races that are already physically stronger and longer lived than humanity. Also… have your mother look into why Watercrafters don’t live longer. Their ability to heal themselves should make them longer lived.” I patted his head.

“One last present, First Lord. There are vast fields of grain in Maratea. It might be tough, but you should be able to feed everyone, if you spread it out by eating croach as well. But you owe Hashat big time.”

I left, laughing, but sobered as I emerged into the air. Still so many Vord, even if there were no more queens. Still so many dead. And so much of the land covered in Croach… but two fewer active volcanos. Two fewer wastelands. Change was coming, but I would be gone long before it came.

Next: World 39 – Unforgivable Deeds

Resources: Build, Document

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