It was only about three minutes into Amaryllis’ meeting with Rosemallow that I realized that our problem of having only a single copy of The Princess Diaries, copied into Raven’s bracer, should actually be pretty easy to solve. All I had to do was call for the butler, who brought me one from the library so quickly that I felt like he must have been anticipating the request.
“This reads oddly,” said Raven, looking up from her magical copy.
“We’d expect it to,” I replied. “It was written with the public in mind.”
“Are you muting this conversation to the outside?” asked Raven.
“Yes,” I replied.
“We were explicitly looking for books written by Amaryllis,” said Raven. “Why did we never find this one?”
“There was a publication date component to the schema,” I replied. “For most of our search, we were looking for books that were as far in the future as we could get. And you know as well as I do that a large publication wouldn’t necessarily mean that we were bound to run across it.”
“Do the calculations,” said Raven, shaking her head. “So far as we can tell, A Cypress Waits was ‘published’ once every year in a new edition with only two copies. This book was published last week, maybe a little prior to that to give logistics time to get it into stores. There would be, optimistically, ten thousand copies.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what math I’m supposed to be running here.”
“Hartman’s Theorem?” asked Raven.
“I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve ever learned about library magic,” I replied.
“Oh,” said Raven. “Right. It’s just … we had a conversation about it. You understood it all.”
“I have a vague recollection of that,” I replied. “But I was cheating, skating by on what my power provided me with.”
“I know that,” said Raven. “I just hadn’t been struck by it. How profound it is, to lose something that you had such a talent for. Profound for me, I guess, not for you.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Sorry you don’t have anyone to talk library stuff with anymore.”
“It’s fine,” said Raven. “I just … had some questions that I’ll have to work out on my own.”
“It’s also possible that things were different in the other timeline,” I said. “Either the butterfly effect or some kind of meddling. If I have the timelines right, then the book should have been in the works when we went into the Library, but there are a dozen small changes that might have happened to prevent its publication. I mean, it’s not just for want of a nail we’re talking here, given that there was an exclusion of one of the major magics not too long ago.”
“I suppose,” said Raven. “Did Amaryllis ever mention this diary to you?”
“No,” I replied. “Uh. You think that this is the Outer Reaches? Something inserted into our reality after the fact?”
“No, not really,” sighed Raven. “Uther always accused me of seeing the magical in the mundane. We never had a time when the schloss were a part of our own lives, only the lives of others. I’ve been waiting for the Outer Reaches to crop up since you were let in on the idea. But she never mentioned the diaries?”
“Not that I can recall,” I replied. “I also don’t think that there were any times when she would have had cause to mention them, at least that I can remember, but we’ve been together for a long time, and there have been lots of conversations. I’m also under the impression that the schloss are bigger in nature, like … I don’t know, each being a whole,” I gestured vaguely, “Module.”
“Module, in the tabletop sense?” asked Raven. “I’ve read a few.”
“Oh, right,” I replied. “Then yes, like poorly integrated modules, or more pertinently, ideas that were thought up by me when we were halfway through the campaign instead of being planned out from the start.” I paused a little. “How much material have you read?”
“On tabletop games?” asked Raven. “Seven source books cover-to-cover, another twenty or so in pieces, and a half dozen modules, plus almost all of the accumulated notes that Amaryllis had. I think it gave me a better understanding of you.”
“I didn’t really run things by the books very often,” I replied.
“I know,” said Raven. “But I could look at treants as they appeared in the Monster Manual, and treants as they appear on Aerb, and see some of you in the difference.”
“Ah,” I replied. I looked down at the diary. “I’ll probably have to have a chat with Amaryllis about that feeling of being exposed for the world to see.”
“Yes,” said Raven. She returned to her book without further comment, and I was left there multithreading, reading the book with one mind while I tried to understand the cadence and tone of that ‘yes’ with the other mind. Raven had been (and arguably still was) more famous than either of us, and you could find a few biographies of her on the bookshelves in the libraries of Aerb, even if those biographies represented guesswork rather than her own personal thoughts.
We left Erstwhile Manor almost as soon as the meeting was done, heading back for the Hotel Delzora in order to regroup with the rest of our team. Amaryllis wasn’t comfortable speaking about what had been discussed out in the open, despite my vibration powers, and only mentioned that a deal was on offer, one that she had a number of reservations about. The three princes who had escorted us were nowhere to be seen on our trip to the hotel, but I was pretty sure that we’d be seeing them again later, unless the Dungeon Master was such a dick that he would show me someone carrying around something as ridiculous as a bucket of shurikens and then not let me see their unique magic in action.
The Hotel Delzora was an entad structure, a hotel whose defining feature was that it had an infinite number of rooms, with the number of guests limited by practical considerations such as the time needed to walk to the further rooms and how much foot traffic could realistically pass through the corridors during peak hours. Rooms refreshed themselves at three in the afternoon every day, tidying themselves up, replacing consumables, and repairing any damage, with a few magical restrictions in place to prevent the worst abuses (no taking anything out of the hotel, for example). Still, ‘hotel’ was a bit of a misnomer, because most of the people who stayed at the Hotel Delzora lived there full time, paying a monthly rent, with no other home. Some of the more distant rooms were also used as storage space, which you didn’t often see in real hotels. From the outside, it was three stories tall with an opulent facade. Inside, the lobby stretched up into the sky until the view was obscured by the air.
The Hotel Delzora wasn’t the nicest hotel in Anglecynn, but it certainly was the biggest, and also the cheapest, if you were up for a hike.
Amaryllis handled the transaction, and I looked around, taking in the place. It wasn’t the first entad building that I had been in, but it was one of the weirder ones, in part because it was one of those entads that had more applications than the one it was clearly intended for. The receptionist had a wall of keys behind her, one that could move around, sliding back and forth to reveal more keys. There were presumably infinite keys, but there were likely limits on how much work the receptionist was willing to do to find a very distant room key. Most of the key hooks I could see were missing keys, instead having little notes about who was staying where, or what was in the room.
“There are tracks for elevators,” I said to Raven, pointing over to a bank of rails and their lit buttons. “But no elevators?”
“There used to be,” replied Raven. “The elevator didn’t have an infinite number of buttons, it had a method for you to punch in any arbitrary floor. One day someone, it’s unknown who, sent all of the elevators up to some arbitrarily high floor. That was twenty years ago. They’re all still traveling up.”
“But … why would someone do that?” I asked. “Just to be a dick?”
“There are competing interests in Anglecynn,” Amaryllis said as she approached us. She’d been too far away to hear us in normal circumstances, but she had vibration magic too. She had a small basket full of keys. “The hotel was owned by a branch of the family for a time, until eventually it fell into private hands. There were other landlords, the hotelier’s guild, and some intense competition. No one knows who sent the elevators up, but there are some good guesses. It didn’t make the hotel unusable, it just put some limits on how usable it is.”
“Couldn’t they just put in new elevator cars, retrofitted to the old system?” I asked.
“Assume that people have tried whatever you’re thinking,” said Amaryllis.
“Or assume that it’s a failure of civilization,” said Raven. “Not to be a misanthrope about it.”
“Possible,” said Amaryllis. “Now let’s go, we have a hike ahead of us.”
The front desk controlled the keys, which allowed them to set the prices. The biggest thing you paid for when picking a room to rent was convenience: a room on the ground floor, close to the front desk, was effectively no different than any other hotel in Caledwich, and in this case, located fairly close to the downtown area. If you instead selected a room which was nine floors up and a half-mile walk down a corridor, you could get your key for much cheaper.
We were up on the thirty-ninth floor, more than two miles down the eastern wing, past the rooms that looked down into the lobby, where there were only the lights that dotted the endless hallways. There were a few reasons for going so high and so far. First, it was obscure, and second, it was defensible. As we got to the top of the steps, we saw two of the tuung beside the balcony, one looking out over the edge to see what was going on down below in the lobby with a pair of pseudo-entad binoculars that I’d made using ink magic on the airship, while the other was watching the stairs. We were probably the only people so high up, but we had quite a way to go until we actually got to our room.
“How are the binoculars holding up?” I asked the tuung who was using them. (His name was Brian. I knew a fairly large number of the tuung by name, including all of those that had come on the airship with us, but it didn’t come up often.)
“Good,” he replied without looking at me. “No signs of degradation yet.” There was a good reason for him not to look at me; when I’d been making the binoculars, I’d decided that the way they would work was that they would grab onto the eyeballs when you got them close to your face. They prevented you from looking at close things unless you spent some time unlatching them.
(Ink magic was, at the heart of it, just a matter of making up magic items. They were entad-lite in a lot of ways, and shoddy enough that you’d almost always rather have a proper entad, or maybe even just a mundane piece of equipment, but I’d taken to ink magic like a fish to water, and not in the same accelerated way that I did with other skills, but with true, natural aptitude. The trick was in making things artful, spontaneous and playful, or awe-inspiring, or cool, and to do it over and over again without it getting stale or overstaying its welcome. I’d burnt myself out over the course of a day trying to push it with a suit of armor and a weapon for each of ten tuung fire teams: by the time the sun was going down, my results were dogshit, because even if I focused away from armor that would, say, stop a rifle round, it was a struggle to figure out something that wasn’t derivative or lazy. I was also limited by i-factor, a nebulous concept that roughly mapped to power, but knowing which magic items were level-appropriate was thankfully a skill that I had a lot of experience with.)
We left the tuung to guard and made the trek down the hallway. I watched as the numbers on the doors we passed incremented up, the print getting smaller once they went from four digits to five. When we finally got to room 39-812, there were two tuung waiting for us, standing guard, and after some brief pleasantries and confirmation that nothing remotely suspicious had happened, we went into the room that had been designated as the ‘war room’.
The rooms at the Hotel Delzora were all one size, spacious enough that you probably wouldn’t complain about sleeping there for the night, but small enough that they weren’t really fit for big meetings. This one had a double bed, which had been overturned and pushed up against a wall, but it still felt like too many people in too small a space.
“Status?” Amaryllis asked Grak.
“We’ve put up a ward past the eight hundreds,” said Grak. “Also, the clerk wasn’t happy that I was renting so many rooms. It might have drawn attention.”
“We won’t be staying here long,” replied Amaryllis. “A few days, probably not more. I had a house in Caledwich that should have been held in the same trust that Hyacinth is trying to take, but at this point I have to assume it’s compromised. There are also a few rental properties, but they’re in use, managed by a company that will have been held in the trust, and possibly also watched.”
“I’m not sure that such a long hike was necessary,” said Pallida. “And checking out so many different rooms seems a bit paranoid to me, especially because we’re not actually using any of the rooms we checked out.” Pallida was a master at picking locks, and the ones at the hotel were middling at best. We’d gotten a lot of keys from the front desk, but were using none of them.
“It might be paranoid,” Amaryllis admitted. “But if things go bad in a hurry, the Hotel offers a lot in the way of security through obscurity. There are also a lot of choke points for wards. I’m hoping that it won’t come to that. At any rate, our choice of base aside, we need to talk about the future, and what’s going to happen in Anglecynn. Rosemallow made me a seemingly generous offer to return to Anglecynn in my capacity as a princess, ideally as the public face of the Court. She wants an answer within a day.”
“And you’re asking our advice?” asked Grak, folding his arms.
“No,” said Amaryllis. “You’re all stakeholders, to one degree or another. Obviously advice would also be welcome, but the reason that I wanted to talk it over here before committing to any particular course of action was because I’m not the only one who would be impacted.”
“Which way are you leaning?” I asked.
“Toward,” replied Amaryllis. “I was, not to put too fine a point on it, fantastically wealthy when I was a princess. I was wealthy enough that it sometimes sickened me. All my funds, lands, and entads are currently held in trust. If Rosemallow was willing to fight on my behalf to get them back, it would mean not only the ability to inject a substantial amount of money into the Republic of Miunun, but also a fair bit of power added to the party as a whole. There are four hundred eighty-six heirloom entads bound to me, and two hundred thirty-seven of them can be invested or otherwise shared. Not all of them are powerful, but we’re not as completely dressed as a party as we might be, especially not the tuung.”
“The downside is that you’d be obligated to spend time here,” I said. “You’d get wrapped up in court politics, almost inevitably, and you’d be splitting your time and energy between at least two places, or three, if we include adventuring.”
“Anglecynn isn’t the goal,” said Raven. “Miunun isn’t either. It’s not clear at this point what the goal actually is, but we’re operating under the premise that an assault on Fel Seed is going to be a part of it, in order to find out once and for all where Uther is and why he left, and possibly to rescue him.”
“Sorry, what exactly did you get arrested for in the first place?” asked Pallida. “From the start this was all about … moving some money around?”
“It’s really not important,” replied Amaryllis. She paused for a moment, seeing whether that would stick. She’d told me back when we’d first met, but it was so painfully boring that I hadn’t paid much attention. It was only after I’d known her for awhile that it occurred to me that she might have given a boring description on purpose. “The Lost King’s Court is composed of a number of councils which oversee various parts of the kingdom. My formal title was Liason on Existential Emergencies, which meant quite a bit of interface with the Empire, but in addition to that, I had a seat on a few of the councils, which gave me some different sets of power depending on my role within those councils. For the most part, it was advisory power only, which is to say, I was being trained for eventually having more responsibilities, but in two of the councils, I had access to funds allocation. As sometimes happened in the Court, I used my powers of funds allocation to move the kingdom’s money around in ways that weren’t authorized by the councils in question, and arguably went against the kingdom’s law. The biggest difference here was that I had an inquiry launched against me, and when it came time for a trial, the panel was stacked against me. They pushed for trial by adversity as a remedy against what I had done.”
“But what were you funding?” asked Pallida.
“Does it matter?” asked Amaryllis with an exasperated sigh. “There was a collection of pilot programs relating to early childhood education and long-term welfare outcomes. Projects that had long time horizons and costs that needed sinking. That’s it.”
“No,” said Raven. “There’s something that you’re not telling us.”
Amaryllis gave her a hard stare.
“Did the outcome of your trial have something to do with Project Garden Stake?” asked Raven.
Amaryllis closed her eyes. “That’s classified,” she said.
“You’ve broken Anglecynn’s classification rules before,” I replied. “What is Project Garden Stake? It sounds familiar.”
Amaryllis grimaced. “I said the phrase when we were talking to Lisi, to see whether she either had codeword clearance or whether the project had become widely known in Anglecynn. Project Garden Stake was an attempt to utilize the exclusion zones, in contravention of both imperial laws and the laws of Anglecynn. The research facility in Silmar City was a part of Aubergine Stake. We had others in other exclusion zones. The project was technically started by my predecessor on the Exclusion Council, but I continued it with full knowledge that it was illegal, and without bringing it to the full council.” She turned from me and looked at Raven. “Project Garden Stake has nothing to do with the trial, except insofar as it made Rosemallow take a dim view of me as someone who refused to listen to her advice. The project’s high classification level meant that it couldn’t be brought before the panel trying to determine my guilt, not that it was germane to the question they were focused on.” She looked around the room. “Is that enough embarrassing backstory?”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” said Pallida, holding up a hand. “I just wanted to know.”
“Well, one of the things that I’m not looking forward to, if I do come back, is endless apologizing and trying to explain something that happened years ago from my timeframe,” said Amaryllis. She looked unhappy, and I wished that I could do something for her, but saying ‘we can get the fuck out of Anglecynn if you want’ would have just pissed her off more, because what she wanted was to do the optimal thing.
One of the tuung cleared his throat. Now that I could use Soul Sight at will, any lingering problems with telling them apart were gone, because each had an aura with its own color, and because the ‘color’ wasn’t actually a color, there was no problem with shades being close to each other. This one was Liam, whip-smart and politically minded, who I had actually spent some time in committee meetings with back on Poran, where he’d talked about the opinions of the tuung on a second generation. He was wearing three items I’d made for him with ink magic: a pistol that fired cutlery, a suit of armor that would divert incoming objects downward, and a bandana that kept him moist without the need for a mister.
“The Council of Arches is approaching the point where it might not be able to reach quorum,” said Liam. “Your control of Miunun was always premised on the idea that control would degrade over time, but it’s reaching that point sooner than expected. Forgive me, but we’re already worried that we’re going to have to effectively replace the leadership of our nation with inexperienced members who are, frankly, not ready to do the job. I include myself among those members.”
“I understand,” said Amaryllis. “You’re the stakeholders that I care most about, because this undoubtedly affects you more than anyone else. I believe we have a strong foundation in place with regards to the technology initiatives and information exploitation, but even if I’m only spending a quarter of my time in Anglecynn, it will take away from our efforts in Miunun. That said, it’s the mark of a good organization that it can survive the loss of any one person, and I’ve done as much as was in my power to get Miunun to that place.”
”It’s a task that’s not yet accomplished,” replied Liam. “I understand that you’re worried about costs and capital, but it’s a temporary lack of funds weighed against a permanent lack of leadership. We were lucky to have been born with a purpose. We want to build into the industrial juggernaut that you planned for us to be. The early part of the venture is critical for a number of reasons. We don’t want to make mistakes that will become entrenched problems down the line.”
“I understand,” said Amaryllis. “Thank you for your input. The continued well being and prosperity of Miunun is my top priority. Unfortunately, we need to discuss some matters that are extremely sensitive.”
It was a veiled way of asking for him to get out, but Liam nodded immediately and left the room with the other tuung. They were close allies, but they hadn’t been read in on nearly everything, simply as a matter of operational security. I felt a little bad about that; they had already done a lot of work for us, and I was routinely offloading sleep to them.
“Do you want me to leave too?” asked Gemma. “I don’t know half of what’s going on.” The fox Animalia had come back from the Foxguard just before our ship had left Poran, but I hadn’t put much effort into speaking with her, and so far as I could tell, she’d mostly stuck close to Pallida. She still wasn’t fully recovered from the aging attack that Everett had sent against her, but she appeared to be aging backwards, and now, instead of grey, wrinkled fur, she seemed closer to late middle age, at least as far as I could tell. It seemed like an affliction we could do something about, but I hadn’t offered, mostly because it would mean asking for access to her soul.
“It’s complicated,” said Amaryllis. “We don’t have a good read on your loyalties at the moment, and the past few days haven’t clarified much, but I’m not sure that now is the time for that conversation.”
“I can take her into the next room,” said Pallida. “I have no real dog in this fight, other than to say, from what I know of them, fuck every single member of your extended family, no offense.”
“Noted,” said Amaryllis with a nod. “We’ll read in Gemma soon.”
“As a secondary point, I give her a middling vouch,” said Pallida.
“Middling?” asked Gemma, looking Pallida up and down with a critical eye.
“We can talk about it,” said Pallida. “We haven’t actually known each other that long.” Pallida put her arm around Gemma and led her from the room without much resistance.
“Alright,” said Amaryllis, once it was just what I thought of as the core team, myself, Amaryllis, Grak, Raven, and Solace. “Grak, Juniper, are we secured?”
“Reasonably,” replied Grak.
“Soundproof, at least,” I replied. “I can feel a whole lot of water around us, but detecting people is a crapshoot right now. Even if they’re relatively close it feels like it might just be a figment of my imagination.”
“There are also many ways around water magic,” said Grak.
“True,” I replied. “We’re clear on vibration magic too, no sounds going out, and I’m monitoring incoming. Anything more than that and I might not be able to give my full focus to this conversation.”
“Alright,” said Amaryllis, taking a breath. “Thoughts, in the context of everything we know?”
“Look, if you want to talk about narrative, then we can talk about narrative,” I replied. “If I had to guess what the Dungeon Master was doing, then I would guess that no matter what choice you make, it’s all going to blow up relatively soon. If you decide to side with Rosemallow, then Hyacinth is going to make a legitimate attempt at killing you, and it’s either going to be perfectly crafted to exploit our few weaknesses, or it’s going to be way overboard, or somehow involve hostages, or some other kind of bullshit. And if you decide that you’re going to have nothing to do with Rosemallow, instead renouncing your titles and going your own way, then it’s going to be Rosemallow we’re up against, trying to kill you because, I don’t know, she wants to make you into a martyr to further her aims. You’re beloved by the people of Anglecynn because your diaries tell them everything they want to hear, then you die in some accident or through backstabbing in the Court, and Rosemallow is there to talk about how much she loved you, and how you would want policy X, Y, and Z implemented post-haste. Does that scan?”
“It does,” nodded Amaryllis. “But I’m not sure how helpful making up just-so stories is, when we don’t know the specifics.”
“For my understanding of narrative, whatever choice is made will result in conflict, almost certainly violent in nature,” said Raven. “But if that’s true, then we don’t need to talk about the inevitable conflict at all, because it can just be assumed no matter what we do. Instead, we can talk in terms of our objectives.”
“Do you place no value on your family?” Grak asked Amaryllis.
“As a whole, if I was measuring them against the average person on the street,” said Amaryllis, weighing her words carefully, “I have some affection for certain parts of the Court, if not many of the people. At the extreme end, if I had heard that the Court had been put to death and Anglecynn had been completely reformed overnight, I would probably feel terrible about it. But what you would and wouldn’t feel terrible about shouldn’t be your guiding principle in life.”
“‘Do the objectively correct thing and worry about how you’re going to live with it later’,” I said.
“What’s that from?” asked Amaryllis.
“Your diaries,” replied Raven.
“Ah,” replied Amaryllis. “I’ll have to read them. I’m sure that I’m going to feel some embarrassment over the things I thought were exceptionally deep when I was fourteen. I do agree with the sentiment though.”
“I thought that I wouldn’t miss my family if they were gone,” said Grak. “There was a hidden comfort in knowing that there was a place where I belonged.”
“I’ve been trying to see things through your frame,” said Amaryllis with a nod. “It’s different though, substantially so, because it’s not as though I would be saying goodbye to Anglecynn forever, nor would the people be gone, I would just have a diminished presence in that world. I could still visit, if I chose. I could write letters. I could even impact policy from afar, if not as a princess. The question is what the correct course of action is.”
“That depends on what you want from your life,” said Solace.
“How much money is on the line?” I asked. I knew that Amaryllis had been rich, but I didn’t actually know how rich, and if money was going to be a concern, then it seemed prudent to ask.
“It’s complicated,” said Amaryllis. “There are bank accounts that have raw, easily moved money, there are stocks and bonds that could be cashed out at varying speeds while taking variable losses depending on how fast I wanted to go liquid, there are pieces of art, businesses, land holdings, all of which would take time to sell and whose value would depend on the whims of the market, there are entad investment rights, some of which are presumably still paying out, others that would need negotiation, there are ward bypass rights, and a host of others that are negligible contributors to my personal wealth. All held in trust at the moment, so far as I understand it.”
“But to put a number on it?” I asked.
“Last time I checked, it was one and a half billion obols,” replied Amaryllis. “That’s with a one year timeline for liquidation. If held, it’s more complicated, but the income would be on the order of three percent of worth, accounting for the costs of upkeep. If everything was mothballed, then perhaps as high as six percent.”
“Meaning between forty-five and ninety million obols a year,” I said. That seemed like a lot. It wasn’t wholly accurate, because you couldn’t construct equivalent market baskets, but I had been going off a ‘one obol is roughly one dollar’ rule of thumb for a long time. Amaryllis, on Earth, would have been making something like $120,000 a day, more money than I could put into any frame of comparison. I was pretty sure that my parents made less in a year.
“And you’re willing to give it all up to Hyacinth?” asked Raven. “What’s the current net worth of Miunun?”
“Incalculable, because its worth includes the people who are going to be citizens,” said Amaryllis. I frowned a bit at that, and she saw me. “It’s calculable in principle, but the error bars are so wide that it would be worthless for any practical purpose. The tuung are still very young, even if their diction and physiological appearance might make them seem older, and some of them are in training for jobs that don’t actually exist yet. To put a price on them would mean making assumptions about future earnings, quality of life, and other metrics that would have to be very crude guesses.”
“The only leverage that Hyacinth has over Miunun is a well-placed cousin in the Draconic Confederacy,” I said. “And Hyacinth only has leverage because she’s alive, which is something we could very easily rectify.”
“Juniper,” said Raven with a pronounced frown.
“She tried to have us killed,” I said. “She’s probably going to try again, whether or not we give in to her demands, because Amaryllis dying is the only way that she’s going to get the closest-female-relation-to-Uther entads, which are presumably worth a lot.” I paused. “Uther was sometimes proactive, rather than waiting for someone to explicitly come at him with a knife.”
“He was,” said Raven. “Usually he would wait for them to attack first though. He didn’t engage in assassination as a matter of course.”
“Well, his descendants didn’t seem to follow in his footsteps,” I replied.
“Assassination is not widespread within Anglecynn,” said Amaryllis. “But there have been a number of incidents, including my mother and myself, possibly also my father. Two or three cousins, a few more aunts and uncles, always punished harshly if it could be proven … but the types of people who have resorted to assassination have been careful to leave no evidence, if not to make it completely undeniable.”
“Alright,” I replied. “I guess I’m just pointing out that the only thing that disrupted the status quo we had going was Hyacinth coming in and using what leverage she had to put us in a position where she had to be answered, and answering her can mean a lot of different things. Rosemallow is one option, but surely she can’t be the only option aside from complete capitulation.”
“You’re right,” said Amaryllis. “There’s also the possibility of a counteroffer.”
“You would trust her?” asked Grak. He was frowning. Here, he was out of his element, not just because it was a matter of foreign politics, but because the way that Amaryllis was attempting to play politics was strange to him. Dwarves, he’d told me on the airship, did things differently.
“No, I wouldn’t trust her,” replied Amaryllis. “But as I was discussing with my aunt Rosemallow, you don’t always need trust to make a deal. At the very least, Rosemallow would likely have a discussion with Hyacinth prior to going to war, because wars cost money, even if they’re wars of perception or legislation.”
“Seems dangerous,” I replied. “Seems like the kind of thing that would lead to armed conflict if things went wrong, or even if they went right.”
“This is true,” said Amaryllis with a nod.
“But that might be what you want?” asked Raven.
“It might,” replied Amaryllis. She rubbed one hand against her forehead. “The estate was to be held in trust until after the trial by adversity, pending my completion of two years service in the Host if I managed to get out of the Risen Lands. Because I effectively deserted, they would normally hold a trial in absentia after trying and failing to get ahold of me, or after I had been served and didn’t show up.”
“Meaning that it’s possible the desertion thing might lead to a proper trial?” I asked. “Whatever the opposite of in absentia is?”
“In propria persona,” said Amaryllis. “And I would assume that Rosemallow would have something like that planned for me, where I would be allowed to argue that I feared for my life if I returned to Anglecynn … only the most likely outcome, if the rule of law is followed, is that I would then have to complete the two years with the Host, which I think we can agree is unacceptable.”
“Why is it?” asked Solace.
Amaryllis stopped for a moment. “Are you asking for rhetorical reasons, or because you actually think that it would be a good idea?”
“I’m asking because sometimes giving voice to the obvious is how we learn more about ourselves and our situations,” said Solace. I was happy that she seemed a bit more calm than in conversations past. She hadn’t brought up the locus yet either, which was a definite plus in my book.
“I would be away from the party for too long,” said Amaryllis. “Miunun might be able to stay in a holding pattern for two years with a huge injection of capital, though that obviously wouldn’t be ideal. But for the party, and for Juniper, two years would be an incomprehensibly long time. We’re at the rate of an adventure every two weeks, maybe a bit more depending on how you split them up and how you count time. There might be ways around that, depending on how my service in the Host is structured, but Onion heads up the Host, and I doubt that he’d be amenable to something like giving me a special position as a military liaison.”
I had known about Onion for months now, and it still blew my mind that not only was one of the most powerful people in Anglecynn called Onion by pretty much everyone, that was his actual given name. Onion Penndraig was in his late 60s, old and grizzled, a veteran turned commander that supposedly came by his position more honestly than members of the Court normally did. He was also notably a survivor of not one but two trials by adversity, as well as a seldom-used trial by combat. I had a lot of trouble taking him seriously, mostly because of the name. He was one of the people I was really curious to meet: my hope was that he had layers.
“So submitting to a trial might not be terrible,” said Grak.
“It depends,” replied Amaryllis. “I don’t know what Rosemallow has planned to get around it, if anything. I doubt that she would throw me into the Host like that, but I’ve been wrong about her before. It would be a way of keeping me chained, if she could keep me from being killed.”
“Alright,” I said. “So in terms of making a decision, which you were given a day for, what are you currently thinking?”
“I want a modified deal with Rosemallow,” said Amaryllis. “Something that doesn’t require much of me while still allowing me access to my estate, which would be liquidated as quickly as possible. I am limited to a tenth of the estate’s value before my 18th birthday, but by their reckoning that’s not for another few weeks. I might be able to get around that though, given that I did spend years in the time chamber. If possible … I could keep up with Anglecynn politics by mail. That’s not unheard of, given how far some of the Court stray from home. I wouldn’t be able to sit on a council, or at least not one of the active ones, but I could register votes in the General Council. I’m just not sure that we would gain Rosemallow’s aid with that kind of arrangement.”
“Well, then the next step is seeing what Rosemallow’s breaking point is,” I said. “Extract as much as possible from her. Better, get them both in the same room together and hammer out some kind of solution that works for both of them and lets you walk away.”
“Hyacinth doesn’t have ultimate control, or at least, she shouldn’t,” said Amaryllis. “Phlox and Onion will have been in conference with her about this. And I don’t think anyone involved is the sort to come to a mutual agreement that works for both parties, not when there are strong incentives to defect.”
“You will eventually have to make a decision on what to do,” said Solace. “I’ve been present for many of these conversations, and it feels like we’ve hit the point where we’ll spin our wheels for, oh, another hour or two. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to give the domain of the locus some sunlight.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Grak. “I do not need to be party to this. Tell me what you decide.”
“You have a stake,” said Amaryllis.
“I will put the wards where you tell me to,” said Grak. “I trust you. I will not place a vote.”
We were silent as they walked out of the room, leaving just me, Amaryllis, and Raven.
“I’m starting to feel like coming here was a waste of time,” said Amaryllis with a sigh. “It’s all politics, blah, blah, blah. I’m trying to sympathize with that, but …”
“But it’s your life,” I replied. “It has personal meaning to you.”
“And what do you think?” asked Amaryllis.
“I think you should get your hands on as much money as possible while giving the absolute minimum amount of responsibility in return. Bribe Rosemallow, bribe Hyacinth, and get out with a nominal title of princess. I’m sure that you could do a lot of good as a princess, but you could do more good with the tuung, who are incredibly loyal to you, and who you’ve already implicitly promised to help.”
“Raven?” asked Amaryllis.
“I’m inclined to think this is a sideshow,” said Raven. “Based on what we know about Hyacinth, she’s sociopathic enough to call down all kinds of threats on us, even ones that she can’t fully control herself. She reminds me of a Hanno or a Polybur,” names I didn’t recognize, which Raven had in ample supply, “someone who acts as a thorn in our side without necessarily being all that threatening when just considering her personal power. That said, her personal power must have some limits on it, especially with her husband passed away. Giving her more funds increases the future threat, especially because she has no particular reason to leave you alone once she gets your money.”
“We did kill her husband,” I said. I bit my lip. “Not sure how much that would motivate what she does.”
“I don’t know either,” said Amaryllis. “Their marriage was arranged for mutual benefit, but I was raised to believe that true love could develop from that. It doesn’t help that there are utilitarian motives as well, I’m sure.”
“Do you think it’s worth talking to her?” I asked.
“So long as I reveal nothing, possibly,” said Amaryllis. “We would have to find a place where we’d both feel safe.”
“The White Room at Rosemallow’s?” I asked. “From what you’ve said about the practice of assassination, Rosemallow wouldn’t do it in her own house, unless I’m misunderstanding the standards of proof.”
“If Hyacinth had her warder go in, and we had Grak to watch him, maybe,” said Amaryllis. “But Hyacinth has to have realized by now that we’re not on an even playing field. We’re not even playing the same game. And I know she suspects something, because I accepted a deal that seemed too generous.”
“Then why accept that offer?” asked Raven.
“Because wiping my hands of Anglecynn is attractive,” said Amaryllis. “Because this is a quest that I don’t want to do, and whose outcome is entirely unpredictable given the Dungeon Master’s machinations. But the real disgust with Anglecynn and the Court also means that I can cloak my own intentions if need be. Accepting the offer throws Hyacinth off guard. And so long as the pretense of cooperation is in place, Hyacinth needs to hold off on offensive action, even if she doesn’t fully believe it, because the potential upside is so large. Besides that, it puts pressure on any counterparty, namely Rosemallow, to help coerce them into offering me what I want.”
“Well, let’s hope that when the hammer comes down, we’re ready to deal with it,” I said.