Greens Inn and Suites was much more like a hotel on Earth than the inns Victor had seen in the cities of Fanwath and Zaafor. It had a lobby separate from a bar and restaurant and, in a show of Earthling ingenuity, an Energy-powered elevator. It was a five-story building, and Alec put everyone in suites on the top floorit was evident that hed built the hotel with growth in mind because it felt relatively empty. Victor and Valla had a corner suite with lots of windows, and they both enjoyed looking through the crystal-clear glass as the town woke up around them.
Im surprised at how diverse the populace is, Valla said, looking down at the busy central hub of retail businesses. They were built around a lovely red-brick street that surrounded a hill at the center of the community. Steps led up the sides of the hill to a garden-like plaza that surrounded the colony stone. People were opening shops, sweeping sidewalks, and bustling to and fro, getting ready for what looked to be a busy day of commerce. Victor could see what Valla meantfewer than half the people walking around down there were humans.
Victor nodded. I guess, with only five thousand original settlers, they had to open their doors to the natives of Fanwath if they wanted the community to grow quickly.
Isnt that strange? I understand they all came on one ship and that it was likely crowded, but youd think theyd send more people to settle a new world.
Yeah, I dont know anything about that. Victor shrugged. They werent expecting to run into the System or arrive on a world full of other people. Maybe if theyd actually been allowed to land their ship and if theyd been alone . . . Victor trailed off, acutely feeling his lack of knowledge on the subject. Shit, I should ask Olivia more about this stuff. I should be more interested in her. Shes always asking for details about me and my experiences, and I havent been good about showing an equal interest in her. He gestured out the window. In them.
Well, something tells me youll learn a lot about these people today.
Yeah. Victor looked to the horizon at the pink, yellow, and orange-hued sunrise and said, I thought that lady was coming to meet us at dawn.
Thats not an exact time, though, is it? Is dawn when you first see the sun? Is it now, when the sun is halfway visible? Is it the hour or so after its just risen?
Victor didnt take the bait. Lets go down to the lobby. I want to be ready. He walked to the door, crossing a plush, intricately woven rug featuring multicolored flowers on an olive-green background. The hotel suite was nicely appointed and much more familiar in style than some of the furnishings hed seen on Fanwath. The difference was especially evident in the arttheir suite was adorned with paintings of objects and landscapes, but not a single person, a stark contrast to what was common on Fanwath. Rellias villa, for instance, had walls covered with portraits of family or historical figures. The bathroom was another big changesomehow, the humans were making porcelain. Victor hadnt realized how much hed gotten used to seeing brass and copper tubs and toilets.
In the hallway, he paused to knock on doors, alerting the rest of their party that they were heading down to the lobby, and, a few minutes later, they rode down in the weirdly smooth, silent elevator. I dont think this thing is on a cable, Victor said, stepping out and turning to regard the elevator as the polished brass doors slid shut.
A cable? Valla frowned.
Never mind. Lets sit over by the fire while we wait. Victor led the party to the grouping of couches near the big stone fireplace across the lobby from the reception desk.
On the way, Borrius stepped over to the young Ardeni man who staffed the desk. Ahem, young fellow. Please let Ambassador Green know that were sitting together there by the fire.
Of course, sir.
Victor smiled at the exchange, glad hed brought the old commander along; he was perfect for this sort of thing. The couches were comfortable, the room was cozy despite its vaulted ceilings, and they all sat, making small talk for several minutes. Victor enjoyed the lull in activity, though it felt like he was wasting time, and part of him wanted to stand up and seek out the people he was supposed to speak to and get it over with. Still, he sat back and tried to be present, listening to Valla as she attempted to bring Nia out of her shell a little.
I know its not a pleasant memory, but can you tell us about your home a little? Your people originated from the same world as those whove settled here. Does anything seem familiar?
Aside from them being human, not much. I suppose . . . She looked around, frowning, I suppose the aesthetic is a little familiar. I grew up in a village without an inn, but I know the cities of the great lords have hotels and restaurants. I havent seen enough of the town to say more.
Have you thought about what youll say today? About the great lords as you name them?
I didnt name them that. Nia scowled, but then she seemed to remember whom she was speaking to, and her eyes widened as she stammered an apology, Im sorry! I didnt mean to snap; my bitterness found its way off my tongue. The great lords of Dark Ember are called that by decree, and if those such as myself were to name them otherwise, we could be killed or worse for the offense.
Dont apologize. Valla leaned forward so she could reach over to take Nias wrist, giving it a gentle squeeze. Youre rightfully bitter about what theyve done to you. Still, my question stands.
Oh, um, Nia paused and licked her lips. They were dry and cracked, and Victor realized that if he was nervous about speaking in front of a bunch of strangers, Nia was probably feeling a thousand times worse. I suppose Ill talk about how it felt when they passed through town. How . . . Her description was cut short as a cheerful voice called out from the front of the lobby.
Folks from the Free Marches! I see youre eager to get started. This is Issa apRoald, a member of our parliament and the head of the committee responsible for your visit today.
Victor turned toward the hotel doors and saw Alec striding toward them, accompanied by a stunningly beautiful Ardeni woman with gleaming yellow eyes and hair that hung like spun threads of gold. She was impressively tall for an Ardeni and moved with a grace that spoke of many racial advancements. Where Alec was dressed in a nicely tailored brown and cream suit, Issa wore a silky blue, kimono-style dress with a tight, high collar and sleeves that covered her arms down to the backs of her hands. It hugged her figure, and the single smooth garment from neck to ankles accentuated her height.
Victor stood up, as did the rest of his party, and he stepped forward, extending a hand. Its nice to meet you.
Issa took his hand warmly between both of hers, and the smile she offered him was reflected in her bright eyes. Its so nice to meet you finally, Victor. Ive heard much about you from Olivia, and Ive been hoping for your success in the Marches.
Um, thank you. Victor felt lost for words, annoyed with himself again for not asking Olivia more about the people of First Landing. He felt like he should know more about this woman. Valla cleared her throat gently, saving him from standing there like an idiot. He let go of Issas hand and gestured to Valla and the others. This is Valla apYensha. She represents the most influential family in the Free Marches.
Lady apYensha, its my pleasure to make your acquaintance. Issa took Vallas hand, and it was obvious that she wanted to ask more as her eyes locked onto Vallas silvery-turquoise wings.
My pleasure. Valla smiled, and the two women clasped hands for several seconds before they let go and turned back to Victor.
This, Victor reached behind Valla to grasp Borriuss shoulder, is Borrius apGandro. His military leadership is renowned on Fanwath, and he's here to share his experience and knowledge with your people.The initial instance of this chapter being available happened at N0v3l.Bin.
Well met, madame. Borrius shocked Victor by taking Issas hand and kissing it, bowing with a flourish.
You honor me, sir! Issa chuckled a little nervously if Victor were any judge. Perhaps to save further embarrassment, she looked at Darro and Nia. And these two? Are they also landholders from the Free Marches?
Valla gave Victor a knowing look and continued speaking, Well, back on the topic of the Rihven, you know that there were three species of people that came from our homeworld, yes?
Yes. Before the joiningthe Ardeni, the Shadeni, and the Ordeni.
Oh, yes! The Ordeni were almost gone before the joining; the Ridonne were at war with them. Didnt the Yovashi finish them off?
Right, the Yovashi were from Kthellathe homeworld of the Ghelli. You could say that when the System merged the worlds, they didnt exactly get along with the new species they were confronted with. The Ordeni especially threatened them, being at least equally gifted with Energy usage. Valla stopped, sipped her coffee, then chuckled, shaking her head. Im sorry for the history lesson; I promise I have a point.
No, please go on!
Well, as you no doubt know, we people from Alurath are quite compatible physically; if a Shadeni loves an Ardeni, they have no trouble bearing children.
Of course. Issa nodded.
Before I found my bloodline, I was, as far as I knew, Ardeni. I discovered, though, a distant ancestor who was Ordeni. Through her, I brought forth this Rihven bloodline. Its the equivalent of the Ridonne and the Vessi bloodlines.
Ah! I love this sort of discussion! Wouldnt you say, then, that the Ordeni arent really gone? Im sure millions of Shadeni and Ardeni have Ordeni ancestors!
Thats right! Valla smiled and leaned back, sipping her coffee. Id like to go to Tharcray and liberate the texts in the Imperial Archives. Id like to learn more about the Ordeni, to learn more about everything the Ridonne have tried to bury or erase from the public record.
We should . . . Victor started, but Valla sighed and shook her head.
Someday, maybe. We have other priorities.
Issa nodded at Vallas words, setting her fork down. Do I understand correctly that youre seeking to open world travel so you can get to places the Ridonne have blocked?
Yes! Were hoping to open up a hub world where we can learn more and, perhaps, travel further.
A pity the timing is off, but thats just the sort of thing my Morgan is working on.
Yes. He bargained with the Ridonne, and, for a favor, hes been granted passage. This was before we learned of your troubles with them, before we realized the extent of their corruption. She frowned and shook her head, I hate to make excuses for my ignorance, but Im from Tarns Crossing, a frontier village, and my knowledge of world affairs was sorely lacking. Sadly, thats the case for most of us who arent living in the bigger cities. The Ridonne have done well in spreading their version of history.
Issas face betrayed some worry or tension, and Valla leaned closer, her voice soft and sympathetic, Have you had contact with him? Morgan, I mean.
Oh, goodness! Does my worry show so much? Morgan is very resourceful, and when he contacted me, asked for my blessing to undertake the journey, he set the appropriate expectations. Dont trouble yourself a second longer worrying about me. Ill be fine. Now, she turned to Victor, Victor, I dont normally speak bluntly about political motives, but I want you to know that my reasons for lobbying for your visit werent wholly altruistic.
I figured. Victor shrugged.
Its true that these people need to understand what a powerful cultivator can accomplish, but just as importantly, for me, theres a faction here in First Landing who must be taken down a notch. If they lost some political face, it would benefit Olivia, me, and others who think like us. I want that to be clear before you go into that town hall. I wont have you thinking me duplicitous.
Well, if thats the case, maybe you should tell me about this other faction. What sorts of beliefs do they have that you think are problematic?
For one, most of them think I should have been excluded from the election. Im the only non-human in Parliament. For another, they believe in recapturing the technology they left behind on Earth as a priority that supersedes all othersgaining levels, cultivating, trade agreements, exploration, nothing matters to them more than their lost tech. They advocate for human expansion and supremacy, and, though I think it isnt such a terrible idea, they are actively working to build a vessel that can travel into orbit where they believe their ark ship still flies. There are a hundred thousand human embryos on that vessel.
Victor snorted, You think thats not terrible?
Well, not the recovery of the embryos, no, not in and of itself. Everything will depend on which faction wins control. Things are very divided here. Theres a reason the low-affinity species Morgan and his friends rescued have left First Landing to found their own Village a days travel from here. Publicly, people say its because they wanted their own homes, their own farms, and their own traditional buildings, but there were many people here who made them uncomfortable. I think it had more to do with that.
Victor looked from Issas earnest face to Vallas frowning, contemplative expression and growled, Wherever people gather, youll find assholes. There are assholes among the Ardeni and the Shadeni, and, yeah, of course, there are going to be some assholes among this many humans. I like you, Issa, but I dont really know you, do I? I wont promise that Ill be on your side right away, but if anyone at that townhall says something as stupid as what you just described, if any of them try to tell me that humans are better for some reason or another, Ill be glad set them straight. Olivia tells me humans have a high average affinity, but thats nothing compared to dragons or, Victor shuddered as he involuntarily remembered his encounter with Fox and Three on the Spirit Plane, some of the scarier individuals Ive run into.
Thats all I ask, Victor. I just hope it wasnt a mistake to advertise your demonstration. Theres a faction led by a man named Norton Holmes whos very influential with the Defense Department here, and, well, Im worried about what hes going to throw at you. There are rumors about a special project.
Oh? Are they playing for keeps, then? Like, no holds barred? As he spoke, Valla shifted and grimaced, reaching under the table to put a hand on his wrist, almost like she thought she had to restrain him.
I . . . Issa tilted her head, contemplating. I believe theyre going to try to convince you to sign some sort of contract indicating that theyll not be held responsible for your death.
Hah! Victor shook his head as his burgeoning rage subsided, replaced by amusement. I guess its only fair. I was going to make you, or them, I guess, sign something saying I wont be responsible for the damage I do.