Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 82

Chapter 82: Loctris 3

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 “What other information is there?” Sigwurd asked the disciple. Outwardly she was calm, determined and in control, but Benzhi could tell; underneath her calm exterior, she was almost panicking.

 The strained disciple answered hastily, “there is a report brought by Whitecloak Desi, he awaits you in your office.”

 She nodded and stood, before leaving the room she turned to Justicar Lonis and ordered, “summon Kyandre, I will want both Justicars present and in agreement. If we are to offer and agree to terms with Benzhi and whatever it is that he represents. I will be back when I can,” with that she marched out of the meeting room.

 Lonis turned to Hasard, “you heard the Governor, go fetch Kyandre and bring her here.”

 Hasard stood and bowed his head to Lonis, “Justicar,” he said in acknowledgement before leaving hastily.

 Lonis turned to Benzhi, “well, well, this is certainly a turn of events. Do you know what the Governor was just referring to? Perhaps we can get some of the preliminary details out of the way for her.”

 Benzhi shook his head, he had an inkling, but was far from sure, “not really,” he replied.

 “She has summoned the other Justicar who resides in Sandstone, while there are many in Warthague and a few in other cities, Sandstone is relatively small. Here we only have two, myself and Kyandre.”

 “Under normal circumstances, it would be the King who ultimately signs a treaty and agree to terms with a foreign state. We were only just beginning informal talks with you, to ascertain what we are dealing with. Something which we are still uncertain,” Lonis was interrupted by Hasard returning with Kyandre the other whitecloak Justicar.

 Benzhi had to slap himself, he was caught out for the second time in as many hours. Kyandre was a beautiful young woman, and she was talented, more so than  Lonis, Hasard and even the Governor. Like most of the people of Sandstone, she had an olive complexion and dark hair. Her brown eyes were contrasted by her the pure whites of her teeth and sclera, the part of the eye which surrounded the iris. She walked like a panther on the prowl, she reminded him of Reyas except with a few more years maturity, she was in her early to mid-twenties.

 She wore tight white leathers, similar to the Governor with a billowing cloak that almost entirely wrapped her lithe frame. Unlike the other whitecloaks, her cloak also had a hood, which was brought down hanging loosely on her shoulders and back.

 Lonis stood, while Benzhi remained seated leaning back in his chair appraising Kyandre openly. She did not seem to notice, she had barely looked at him since entering.

 “Ah Kyandre,” Lonis said in a fatherly tone, “you must have been close arriving so quickly.”

 “When we heard the news we rushed back to the keep, whitecloaks are streaming in from everywhere as we speak,” she said. Kyandre had a husky voice and talked in the local accent, where the Governor and Lonis were lighter skinned and had a different accent. If Benzhi were to hazard a guess, the latter were from the capital where Kyandre was a local.

 “If we are going to begin any form of talks,” Benzhi used the interruption, “then Ventiry, at least, must be present, he is the agent for the Alpine Forest.”

 Lonis swung around to face Benzhi with a look of surprise on his face, “ho, ho, ho, Ventiry? That old weasel. I thought he was retired and on his deathbed? I had been expecting an invitation to his funeral rites,” Lonis rubbed his chin, “so…,” he became lost in thought.

 Kyandre turned to Hasard who was waiting at the door, “do you know where Ventiry lives?”

 Hasard shook his head and said, “no, but I know where I last saw him. He was with Benzhi whom he claimed was his bodyguard.”

 Lonis laughed out loud and peered at Benzhi, “I think I had underestimated you. You look like a simple qi warrior, but there is more, much more…”

 “Summon Ventiry and anyone else he sees fit to bring,” Benzhi asked Hasard. He proceeded to send messages through his link to the Vanguard on what has been and what is transpiring. They would expect Hasard before he arrived and would know about the Myrkalfar threat. While Benzhi could send messages at this distance, he had only expanded his reach since meeting Kebo and learning qi message bubbles. At this distance and with the Vanguard the message bubbles arrived almost instantaneously.

 Lonis watched him like a hawk the whole time he did this, but Benzhi weighed the need to hide his ability against informing his companions. If Lonis had the ability of qi sight, in some form, he would find out Benzhi could do this sooner or later. And similar to when Benzhi views an unknown ability, he may not be able to divine the purpose of what he was witnessing.

 Benzhi would leave it to the Vanguard and Ventiry on who should accompany him.

 “It is unfortunate that your first encounter with the Kingdom of Loctris was…,” Lonis paused looking for the correct word, “as a target of an aggressor. Hmm,” Lonis was considering his words.

 Kyandre stared at Lonis, “the report I read said that this individual stole the Land Core from Vaugend. Forever robbing it of the possibility of becoming a domain and all the benefits it can provide.” She now considered Benzhi, examining every inch of his body, her piercing gaze weighing his worth.

 “Let’s not get too carried away,” Lonis undermined her statement, he knew that the Governor would want to utilise Benzhi and his people when it came to a battle with the Myrkalfar. “Let us discuss something else while we wait for the Governor and Benzhi’s people,” Lonis now changed the subject.

 “Are we going to stay here?” Kyandre asked.

 “I do not see why not, my meeting room is large enough and this will allow the Governor to set up war plans in her’s,” Lonis replied and Kyandre nodded at the wisdom in his words.

 “If it comes to a fight with the Myrkalfar who will do the fighting? Will the whitecloaks, Justicars and Governors fight? The nobles, the blackcloaks?” Benzhi asked.

 Lonis cleared his throat, “ah I am no expert in these matters, but if history can be the example, we will bring all our qi masters to bear. Any who can fight. And if the enemy is too strong, only our strongest will directly assault them,” Lonis began and held up his hand to stay further questions, “I will elaborate further, but to answer the which groups these qi masters will come from, they will come from all. Royalty, Whitecloaks, Blackcloaks and Nobles…if the whole Kingdom is in danger then all will fight.”

 “In the past, we had an incident where the King or his brother, it is unclear, upset the Qizhu, the Demon Lords as they are widely known. We are not sure what they did, it had something to do with killing an important person and hiding the perpetrator. But, I digress, the Qizhu sent five…mark my words carefully…five of their Masters. Now, we have masters, I am even considered a master as is Kyandre. But we were nothing compared to the Qizhu. They had shields, affinities with fire, cold, lightning and one could throw boulders, the size of this room, around. Those five decimated our regular qi practitioners, let alone mundane troops.”

 “It became apparent that when we fight these battles, there is no point in throwing large numbers of troops or standard whitecloaks at these peak masters. Only our strongest could fight toe to toe for more than a moment.”

 “It is like a soldier in his prime fighting toddlers. Even a thousand toddlers would do little but tire him, and he would probably find an efficient way to deal with them,” Lonis took a sip of water from his cup.

 Kyandre observed, “that is a horrible analogy.”

 “But no less true,” Lonis explained, “now, I said I am no expert, but I am well read and if these Myrkalfar are anything like the Qizhu masters, then it will be the best of our best taking the field of battle.”

 Kyandre leaned over towards Benzhi and said harshly, “it may be a good opportunity to make up for your crimes.”

 Lonis held up his hands, palms outwards, “woah, hold on there Kyandre, no guilt has been established.”

 “Are you guys trying to play good cop bad cop on me?” Benzhi asked, laughing at the tactic which was used in a million earth tv shows.

  They stared at him, confused by the indecipherable statement.

 Benzhi decided to call them on their shit, “I mean, you Kyandre,” he held his hand out indicating her, “are aggressive, accusing and confrontational with me setting up a certain emotional reaction and defensiveness. While you Lonis,” Benzhi moved his hand across, palm up, to indicate the older Justicar, “are all nice. Siding and defending me against the aggressor. You are trying to make me think you are on my side and when you are ready, you will make a suggestion on what I should do. Which you think I will follow, because, you are on my side after all.”

 Benzhi leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and smiled at them. He even put his feet up on the table for good measure as they looked at him in stunned silence.

 Benzhi was certain that Huineng, the seer would pick up on and use tricks like this all the time. He was also certain, if it weren't for all those cop shows, he would never have guessed what they were doing.

 Silenced reigned. Kyandre stared at Benzhi’s calloused, dirty, bare feet crossed on the table.

 The tension between the two Justicars, Benzhi was anything but tense, was finally broken when Lonis burst out laughing.

 “I said there was more to you, thank you for proving me correct. Now be a good lad and remove those feet from the table before the Governor arrives. I did say face was not important to Whitecloaks, but that only pertains to those outside our organisation. You would not want me and Kyandre to suffer embarrassment with the Governor would you?” Lonis asked nicely.

 Benzhi nodded and smiled, “asking nicely is a good strategy, always.” He said and removed his feet from the table. Kyandres eyes never left them, he wondered if she had a foot fetish.

 The three waited another hour. Benzhi meditated, thinking deeply about what their next course of action should be. Were the Myrkalfar, here in Loctris, after him? If so, it would only be a matter of time before they made demands naming him to the powers that be in Loctris.

 Ventiry was shown into the meeting room, he was alone. Benzhi received messages from Gisael and Reyas who must have been nearby.

‘It was decided that you and Ventiry will do the negotiating.’ Gisael sent.

 ‘We are nearby, they have allowed us in the keep, to watch us and so you can call upon us, for a decision, if needed,’ Reyas sent.

 ‘Carney, Skorrick, Ventiry and the Vanguard all agreed that there was no point continuing to pretend that you were just a bodyguard. Especially with the Myrkalfar here. In that at least we have been successful,’ Gisael sent.

 She meant that they were successful in luring the Myrkalfar here rather than the Alpine Forest. She was not concerned in the least of the danger that put the locals in. That was typical of a wood elf, they had little empathy for outsiders.

   ‘I did contact Mother, there is nothing to fear regarding the Alpine Forest,’ Benzhi sent back, ‘no Myrkalfar have shown up in the domain.’

 Benzhi felt relief from both Gisael and Reyas.

 As before, Lonis watched him closely during their qi communication, Benzhi viewed him under qi sight. It was frustrating because he could see that Lonis was using a technique to enhance his sense. But he had no idea if it included a type of qi sight or how much Lonis gleaned. Or if he could see the qi threads connecting Benzhi to his Vanguard companions.

 The only detail which gave Benzhi confidence was that Lonis had his eyes open the entire time. If it was qi sight, he could see just as well with his eyes shut.

 Ventiry bowed his head before sitting next to Benzhi.

 “May I have some time alone with my client?” he asked the Justicars. The Justicars moved uncomfortably, hesitating to answer.

 Benzhi waved his hand, “there is no need and no point. They would be able to hear everything anyway.”

 Ventiry sighed, “very well Protector.” It was significant that Ventiry used his correct title. He was indicating he would play this straight.

 “It is good to see you well, Ventiry,” Lonis greeted him, “I am grateful you were able to make such a miraculous recovery, tell us the story behind it.”

 “Mind over matter, my dear Justicar, mind over matter,” Ventiry grinned voraciously.

  The Governor entered the meeting room, and everyone stood while she seated herself.  The royal scribe trailed behind her and sat preparing to take notes.

 “I have just read the reports and taken advice from our martial leaders and a Paladin,” the Governor began.

 “Alejo is here?” Lonis asked.

 The Governor nodded and continued, “the emergency has similarities with the Qizhu incident forty years ago. Three Myrkalfar Dread Lords and twelve of their followers entered the domain from the east,” she shivered, “the entire band assaulted Darkdaug without warning. They stood no chance. Since then they have split into three groups, such is their confidence. Each group is lead by a dread lord, heading to one of the three remaining cities.”

 “We have no word on what has happened at Darkdaug, whether the people survive or are enslaved. The whitecloaks had to keep ahead of the Myrkalfar just to get word to us. Rather than aiding Warthague or receiving aid from Warthague we will have to mount our own defence. Current estimates give us three days, which will be the same for Warthague, only The Reach will have more time to prepare.”

 “Our first recourse will be to gather all the best qi warriors, whether they be whitecloak, blackcloak, noble or even foreigner. The Paladin has advised only those above the level he deems appropriate will be allowed to meet the Myrkalfar on the battlefield. Any lesser skilled warriors will just be fodder.”

 The Governor turned to Benzhi, “it is possible you, and some of your people can assist in defence of the city if you are willing. I do not wish to waste time on this, we have other matters such as evacuation that will consume us. Our Paladin, Alejo, will command the defence, he will not care if you are whitecloak, blackcloak or have a purple polka-dot face. His only concern will be to protect the people with everything we can bring to bear. He will also not hesitate in sacrificing a life to this end, be warned.”

 She took a sip of water, “we very much doubt they will parley, but Alejo will explore that as well, I will see to civilian matters which will be more complex. This will be my last dealing with you before the battle.”

  “We wish to establish a treaty to encourage you to fight for us. We will use anyone we can at the moment. Now it may come to pass that you will not have to fight because you are deemed lower than the minimum required capability. If that happens, you have won several concessions for your people without mortal risk. Which will all be useless if we fail, nevertheless..”

 Ventiry cleared his throat, “permission to speak Governor Sigwurd,” he asked.

 “Granted,” she replied and waited for him to speak.

 “Benzhi will correct me if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that it is not in his nature to run and hide. We can save you much time by listing our requirements and if you agree we will sign and you can move on.”

 Benzhi nodded. There was no way he would leave these people if he was just here and they were attacked by an enemy they had brought on themselves it would be one thing. But it was highly likely, this whole invasion and possible enslavement of the entire kingdom was brought on by his presence.

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