Chapter 27: Murder of Crows
Telemica was going to scream.
Sure, she trusted Vatyr to do what needed to be done, but how long was it going to take? She had exhausted her patience trying to make conversation with Arrenn, who seemed to be content to float there like an empty shell, and going through strategic simulations and lessons with Squire had worn down every other nerve. She needed to get out and know what was going on. It had been a full day since they had been thrown into this forsaken pod and the titan was not sure how much longer she could handle it.
She was about to ask Squire for the umpteenth time what the time was before the pressure changed and the pod shifted back into its dock. The doors opened just as the gravity kicked back in, throwing the two guardians at the feet of two royal guards. “Get dressed quickly,” one said before throwing a package at each of them. Within were clothes, but not their clothes.
“This is formal attire. The kind that Awoken nobility would wear to a special occasion,” noted Arrenn as he began to follow the guards’ orders. Telemica was so eager to get out of this cell that she’d wear a clown costume.
The two guardians were led to a grand multi-floored ballroom filled with nobles and dignitaries from across the Reef, all dressed in what seemed like the most formal of formal attire. The room itself seemed carved out of massive pieces of crystal that ranged from transparent to opaque. At the far end of the gleaming and ornate room was an unobstructed view of 4 Vesta in its entirety, and a stage just before it. A loud buzz of gossip filled the air, as not a single person knew what was going on. All anyone was aware of was that the Queen would be making a snap proclamation and it would be important. Telemica and Arrenn were led to a balcony to the right of center stage to view the event from. The balcony was suitably isolated from the rest of the room. It would have been inappropriate for guardians to mingle with Awoken nobles.
Minutes later, the crowd hushed at the sound of singing chimes, signaling the entrance of the Queen. Flanked by three guards on each side and trailing a long procession of Paladins, Techeuns and Corsairs, she wore a much more ceremonial outfit than usual, mirroring the clothing of onlookers. A vast and ornate violet gown flowed around her and rebelled against gravity in twists and curls, never really touching the floor. Military medals that gleamed and moved holographically adorned the left breast while insignia proving the loyalty and fealty of all the noble houses to her reign covered her right.
At the very end of the party was Vatyr, wearing a noble suit that gleamed like polished white marble woven into cloth. The hunter’s knife sat ceremoniously on his hip. Telemica nearly called out to him but was stayed by Arrenn. Whatever this was, it would be unwise to interrupt at this point. Vatyr looked up at them for a brief moment, but his eyes quickly returned to the front.
As Mara Sov took center stage amid music reminiscent of Awoken heritage anthems, her presence claimed the room completely and silence took hold. The Techeuns performed a blessing on the crowd in the name of the Queen and cast a blue cloud of sparkly mist over the attendance, but few of the nobles reacted to it with more than a token gesture of thanks. Telemica guessed that it was all for show, but instinctively twitched as it passed over her.
The Techeuns made way for the Queen to take center stage and make her announcement. Not only could you hear a pin drop in the silence, but one could also guess the attendees would kill whomever dropped it.
Her hand raised into the air to make her proclamation and her mouth opened.
“Stop!” came a voice from the rear rafters of the room. The Queen’s entourage quickly took defensive positions around their leader as everyone turned to see who was so brazen. Uldren Sov leaped down from a hidden gantry and floated to the stage a few feet from the Queen, coming instantly to a low kneel before his sister.
A breath passed, but nobody dared to breathe.
In a flash, Uldren dove to tackle Vatyr to the ground. Vatyr let his knees give way and dropped under the charge, grabbing the lunging prince and using his momentum to toss him to the rear. Uldren spun and landed on his feet, removing his dagger and crouching. “This will not happen! This traitorous dezgra has no place here anymore!” Uldren yelled with as much venom as he had in him.
“If you would stop such an event, do it in accordance with our ways, brother,” spoke the Queen in that even tone she was known for. Telemica had noticed that she had yet to move a single foot during the commotion, or even pivot to view the battling men. Was she so supremely secure in her power, or did she know this would happen?
“Very well.” conceded Uldren after a moment of forced calm. The prince straightened his back and pointed his blade at Vatyr, who lifted finally from his own defensive posture. “I am Uldren or the Clan Sov and I challenge you to the batchall, traitor. To the death.”
The room erupted in commotion. A true batchall challenge had not been issued in so long, some wondered if it was even legal anymore. What’s more, nobody knew what still-undisclosed announcement the Queen was about to deliver that caused this turn of events.
“I accept.” Vatyr said calmly. “One on one bladed combat. No champions or representatives. The battleground will be the Fortuna Plummet.”
Uldren’s face twisted into something between an angry snarl and a righteous sneer before transmatting away. The Queen’s entourage escorted her off the stage, leaving one Techeun by Vatyr’s side to assist him. The room was now a cacophony of loud gossip as the Awoken nobility strained to understand what had just taken place, a state that was no doubt quickly spreading through the entire Reef.