The Kingdom

<< Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

“We have an almost ubiquitous grasp of ‘home.’ Not everyone, perhaps – there are those who do not have the corresponding emotive and perceptive mechanisms. For the majority of us, though, there’s a place in and to which we most belong. Not a place where we might just survive. It’s not hard, in the grand design, to come up with the appropriate collection of implemented functions to keep us relatively safe and well. If you don’t understand what I mean, go ask an aaned to get some suitably artsy vocabulistics. The point is, existence has this intuitive hemmed-in idea of the gestalt as a key, a key searching out its lock and only finding itself at ease when they meet, which is independent of ‘better than adequate for survival.’ Show charity to those who haven’t found their locks. Show charity to those who have no home. It’s a shame when you have a lock misplaced from its key… but at least a lock in isolation may still serve the purpose of restriction. What purpose serves the lockless key?”

-Eihks Richard

There were, despite all appearances, weapons not firing on that day and in that conflict.

Ever since he was young, when he nearly killed a certain well-meaning naufer, the crack of electricity arcing from point to point had signified a place of belonging for Sebastio. That strange talent for bioelectric manipulation, not directly controlled by alterations to or creations of Hiek machines and all the rarer for it, made him feel at home when the snap of positive and negative violently resolving their differences sizzled across his flesh, or played with suitably conductive toys in his vicinity. There was something oddly soothing about the stink of nothing at all, when energetic discharge sanitized that which it caressed.

Perhaps for this reason, the cacophonous thunder of Yrdkish games didn’t unsettle him as much as it probably should.

From East to West, a line of one hundred twenty eight platforms faced an equally-large line belonging to the opposition. One array for Nor’ridge, one array for Pennat Gate. They lay just past the flat expanse of the Fountain Forest, the strange creation of the Maker that had given the Fountainists their name. A long-ago day it was, when their order was chartered at the region’s border in the primeval depths of the oubliettes of history, and quite a famous one. Probably a great deal more famous than the present date would become to future historians, but very little had come of the prophetic attempts to verify or refute that assumption.

On one side and the other of the very clinical showdown, the distant zipping rattle of autocannons, the Doppler effect of jets delivering metal messages of umbridge. A relatively awesome directed thaumaturgical energy punctuated the action every so often, sending assets to scurrying away for safety before the claws came out again. Multitudes conspired to hamstring each others’ capacity to generate casualties, and hopefully few casualties would emerge. Very little of it actually happened close enough to fall within the biological perception of those on any of the platforms involved (besides extremely local evolutions, of course), but the wealth and diversity of telecommunications meant that every platform of the estate was getting a faceful of an average of about twenty platforms’ worth of action.

Until the sound and the fury stopped, there was a war on.

So, the fact that Sebastio had decided to set aside his incredibly valuable time to meet with a certain annoyed guest that day said volumes about that person’s importance.

That certain annoyed guest had contacted him quite early that morning, with a very terse and very intense manner. They NEEDED to talk. Not just lives, but the reputations upon which many other lives would depend, lay across the altar. The question wasn’t whether sacrifice would be required, but whether it would be a living sacrifice or a burnt offering.

Even considering the guest’s identity, Sebastio would have cast aside the not-quite-demand without much qualm… except that he himself agreed.

For the moment, he stood just outside a thicket of decoratively-coaxed greenware bamboo, on the edge of one of the busier plazas of the platform. He smiled as he surveyed the pedestrians wandering from business to business, awaiting the arrival of his upset person-of-interest and enjoying the sunshine.

<We have enough to concern ourselves quite effectively without throwing in any additional variables,> Caladhbolg mused. <“The improvement of difficulty of a task correlates to an improvement in the self-”>

Yes, and thank you for quoting Dnul at me.

Sebastio felt himself grin ever so slightly on the inside, tickled… if not pink, then at least a very diluted rose. It had been a long time since he and his “other half” had so distinctly come to loggerheads.

<-but in this particular instance, the breadth of danger posed by distraction may well counteract the benefit gleaned. The timing is decidedly suboptimal.>

Again, yes. But you’re interested in my achievements bringing laud to your creator, correct? Failure on the battlefield will prove decidedly painful, true. If I succeed, though – especially with the debilitations of distractions – it will do nothing but amplify the reputation your bearer, and by extension…

The entity was silent.

“And besides,” said Caladhbolg’s host, for the simple reason that he wanted to hear the sequin-spangled Yrdkish words spoken aloud.

The words gave him spine.

“Think about the… adventures that we will have, win or lose. Logistics bottlenecks eliminated. Ex nihilo engines refurbished. Dead-drops and other asynchronous communication established. Type nine event pathing mapped out for at least the next three ages. We have more clock cycles devoted to setting up skeins and other tuning fields than any thousand of Rhaagm’s High Arsonists. Pennat Gate is as prepared for this paradigm shift as we can possibly make it, short of a near-perfect prophetic matrix.”

He frowned, as he saw the approach of the anticipated and dreaded party, coming from the nearby folding concourse.

“I wish we could have told Lord Galt about it, but I suppose that I wish many things. She will find out soon enough.”

<Soon enough? By some definitions, perhaps. She will be most displeased when you and Tuoamas leave her behind, and if there is a way for her to learn of it and then worm through a temporal loophole to an early-enough savepoint, she will most certainly confront you before the conclusion of this contest.>

“And I suppose that we would deserve it.”

He shuddered ever so slightly, the circlet on his crown prickling the body of his mind with anxious thorns.

“Like I suppose that this is going to be deserved as well,” he added, then began walking toward his rendezvous with the past. “Whatever it is.”

One of two people crossed the diorama of Yrdkish life at a measured speed, and drew Sebastio and the world toward himself with every footstep. The second one of that pair stuck to the leader’s back. Neither seemed particularly disturbed by the distant yet close cacophony, but the way both of them kept their gazes gradually bobbing and weaving and stiffly returning to him reminded Sebastio of dead flowers in a breeze. Black-Green-Season’s writing come a-stepping through his mind for the second time in a year. It was as good of both a warning from his security-contracting days and a bit of situational commentary as he could ask.

“Step down? I shall never step down. I have risen; I have seen; I have surveyed. Much there is wrong. By the ceilings of Hssi and the floors of Dlg, I anchor myself – fall upward, ye Rhaagm sky.”

“Lord?” he heard from one side, and didn’t look at Argyva where she had folded immediately next to him. Sebastio thought about the eight or nine different ways he could set her at ease.

Instead of any of these, he said, “You heard me, Armsman. If this exchange goes sour, I will either be the cause or the solution.”

The armored woman said nothing.

“Protect as you see fit, but ensure there are zero interruptions,” her Lord added. “There may be danger; it will not come from our guests. Cloak-and-dagger agents among our own people? Who can say… but I can and will say that I know my family enough to extend our finest courtesy. I will count on your skill in keeping prying souls from screwing around with the area’s Rochambeau sequence.”

Argyva gave a curt up-sign that was close to a salute, then folded away once more, just as company arrived in the form of a strong-jawed strong-willed Cambrian human.

“Hello, Lord Artaxerxes,” said Iggez Artaxerxes in Yrdkish so firm and well-developed it would bring tears to the eyes of any developer of speech therapy software. The speech in question held about as much surprise at seeing the patchwork appearance of the Lord he addressed as it would have if he’d woken one morning, and found himself astonishingly enough in the possession of exactly ten fingers and exactly ten toes.

A fierce man, this solid Cambrian. Member of Bhushalt Fabricants and Design’s executive board… and incidentally, a person who might be accurately named “Father.”

“Mr. Artaxerxes,” named Sebastio. “I apologize for not extending my greetings earlier. Unfortunately, war has a way of getting into the gears of etiquette and doing a mischief.”

After a short pause – it at least seemed that father dearest hadn’t expected his son’s reputation for baldness to contain quite so much truth – Iggez gave a small up-sign. He considered a tall holojector not twenty meters away, showing a Third Step Pennat Gate platform bombarding two Norridge platforms with suppressing strikes.

“Yes, it does.”

Neither father nor child showed the slightest emotional acknowledgement of the other’s status. Iggez Artaxerxes’s face could very well have been made of stone.

Now, behind him…

“Hello, Nessro,” said Sebastio, smiling with something approaching melancholy at the single most wonderful naufer alive. A second father? Not quite. Compared to how much actual child-rearing had been done by his blood daddy, though, the thought had more than scant merit.

The Artaxerxes manservant had the neatest professional attire that a butler might conceivably don, striped and collared and not a single hair bent out of true. That part of the manservant’s personality was as integral to him as Sebastio’s small sharp-toothed enjoyment of violence was to the Lord of Pennat Gate. What birthed the sliver of upset in the Cambrian’s bruised happiness was the look the naufer wore. Nessro was usually unflappable except when the safety of his charges hung in the balance. He had the tenacity of any psychotic when it came to maintaining the vicarious dignity of his employer.

When “… Sebastio…?” leaked from him in something approaching disbelief, it ran a fissure across all the warm joy the youthful Lord had felt for days. The fact that the man hadn’t managed to truly believe – hadn’t been able to make himself believe – the wealth of changes Sebastio now wore upon his flesh said some disheartening things about his emotional equilibrium.

The Lord gave a small forehead-thumb at the naufer. The incredibly keen fangs on his smile’s right side pulled forth a hesitant nose-twitch from the butler.

“It is me, Nessro,” he affirmed, ignoring the tremendous and often fatally unforgivable breach in protocol that was a Lord being addressed without title. “I am aware of the similarities between myself and GedGetKroDra. I assure you, though, that this is my only prosthesis, that I do not make a habit of killing people with it unnecessarily, and that I do not have a collection of hands from those I have tricked into clasping arms.”

The tinkling sound of his father’s laughter enriched the world of the far past, but not the present.

The naufer’s ears turned back, and his figure-eight-pupils couldn’t seem to keep away from the orange and the gold eye and the chains of metallic hair adorning the person before him. A hale and intense young man he’d once instructed in martial arts, magic, the basics of philosophy and character. The human who had nearly killed him, something close to a century ago – both yesterday and on the precipice of an elder time.

For just an instant, Nessro hurled his stare past Sebastio and into the untidy sprawl of the Step’s grand mechanism, the many sentient teeth of its gears meshing and unmeshing over the course of business-as-not-quite-usual.

The tableaux held for much longer than it ought. Then the Lord understood that this, right here before him, was real life, and let out a breath that seemed to draw his toes into his feet.

“Come, come!” said Sebastio, back-stepping with adroit grace. He pushed the air with the flat of a hand in the direction of a construction which had caught some form of architectural cancer – Selen Gazebo, where he’d dealt with other politically-sensitive matters – not too far away on the hillside. “Let us retreat to a prettier vantage, and enjoy the finest fruits of hospitality.”

Iggez waved off the offer, but wryly snorted, “We can at the very least move to a…”

He looked around the bustling and hectic square, and intuited the presence, or the suggestion of the presence, of Sebastio’s many trigger-eager servitors.

“… place less fat with people. Might we perhaps go in the described direction without confining ourselves to the skyless indoors?”

Sebastio thought about that one for all of a tenth of a second.

“That would be agreeable,” he allowed.

The pack of three, plus armsmen attending to their welfare at a distance, left the plaza behind in favor of the more verdant stretches of the platform.

Eventually, they arrived at the precipice of a short steep hill with dry-mangroves ringing its base like a picket against the encroaching buildings. It was a place of emptiness. The sounds of squawks and birds were notable only for their absence, and the grasses covering the curved land thinned to micrometer length at the height of its arc. The paths cobwebbing the hill’s surface glimmered with the kind of precious dross that Yrdky took for granted: shards of aquamarine, corundum flakes, tiny chemically-interesting-but-visually-dull stones with messy molecular design and even more messy quantized structure. Far away there was ugliness, and a hard unapologetic beauty was close at hand.

“One thing I have always appreciated about Yrdky is the way its mountains are simply everywhere,” Iggez breathed. He digested the unhumble and unboasted majesty of the nearest spire, a dragon among dogs. Close to thirty six million kilometers across at the base, its very presence demanded accommodations in the contest between the two warring estates. It was the kind of terrain feature which would have been drastically more difficult to measure if Yrdky had been a simple planet, no matter the planet’s size. “Those peaks are nothing compared to many a work of thinking, rational mind. Yet, they lie far, far outside the limits any of us are likely to witness in the wild, short of natural adornments found upon strange-geometry facets and the like. Soaring. Uncompromising. Immodest.”

His tone grew sharp little hooks.

“Are they?” asked Sebastio. He traipsed over to the left side of his father, a small pleasant smile upon his face. The teeth he flashed bared a little bit more of those little sharp inhuman fangs projecting between his lips.

“Nessro,” said Iggez, with a sudden swerving of tone and bearing that fell upon the naufer manservant like a starving grenwall. “Remind me.”

Well. When your cerv-mesh possessed access to eidetics sufficient to flat-pack virtually any knowledge and trivia in which you had even the slightest interest, that sort of statement was about as subtle a way to say THE FOLLOWING IS RHETORICAL as…

Sebastio’s lip curled when a particularly sizable holojector in the near distance depicted a cluster-bomb pandemic descending from a fleet Nor’ridge squadron.

… well, that.

“Certainly, sir.”

The manservant sounded as clinically detached as Sebastio could ever remember him sounding, but Sebastio didn’t particularly think was actually separation of self. More likely, the naufer was so intent on preserving Iggez’s charade that he had slipped into the same kind of automatic function that had helped him survive Sebastio’s upbringing.

Oh, but “survive” was such a poor choice of a word.

“What was our business with Tillasg supposed to yield?” asked Iggez, almost smiling in his voice, and clearly the furthest thing from happy imaginable. “That massive seventy six facet contract that we drew up two hexadecades ago? An extra quarter, or two extra quarters, depending. And what did Bhushalt get out of the arrangement instead?”

Nessro’s nose twitched, a humor obviously more in spite than in recollection of the specified dealings.

“I believe it was something to the effect of a seven year loss,” he supplied, tone as naked as any eulogy and as rough as any pumice.

“A seven year loss,” said Iggez, teeth grasping the air like shank nails. “And how many of our clients did we lose after the Western Sunrise, between deaths by Beast and partners going under and other maledictions?”

“Your personally-vetted contracts and supply, or those of the rest of the company included?”

Iggez turned farther away from Sebastio. He sighed, and seemed to deflate.

“Let us start with those specific to my own departments’ portfolios,” he said.

“Thirty seven percent, plus or minus two tenths of a percent.”

Iggez brushed something invisible off of himself, acting as though some filthy recycling mass that needed gamma-sterilization had been dropped on his clean-cut accoutrements from a great height. Then he faced his son with a gargoyle’s ferocity writ over his whole person.

“More than a third of the work I have striven to maintain, upkeep, make better with time,” he said. “Gone. Completely unmade. That, Lord Artaxerxes, is something that would be ruinous to any facetary corporation. What do you think it is like to incur that sort of damage in Rhaagm, where anything greater than half of a percent gain in a single year is essentially equivalent to usury?”

Sebastio didn’t bother falsifying any amount of passionate sympathy. He didn’t bother falsifying anything.

“I suspect ‘quite bad.’”


Iggez’s whole self curdled, and he glared back out toward the distant spoor of warfare as a huge spaceplane convoy zipped right by their platform, doubtlessly headed for the front line. Nessro glanced once at Sebastio, then averted his attention, ears twitching. It was a good several minutes before the elder Artaxerxes spoke again, with shut eyes and wide nostrils and hands around each other like pneumatic clamps.

“Let me be perfectly frank, Lord Artaxerxes.”

With planetary languorousness and total stiffness of the back, he turned to his son, clean-shaven face frowning almost gently.

“Our business ventures have not been the worst of Rhaagm’s casualties. Indeed, there are not a couple of companies even worse off than we at this moment – God watch over them.”

Those hands of his untangled once more.

“We, for that matter, have had leaner times than the present; long past, but still true.”

Nessro jumped, and more than a couple of instances of unseen offensive apparatus trained themselves on the man as his voice knifed out with quiet razor phonemes.

“But the difficulties that have come from one single shipwright of Pennat Gate, and accusations made concerning the administration of this estate, have… in the space of a single month… brought us to our knees.

Sebastio found he hadn’t really known what father dearest was going to say to him after all. Not in the slightest.

“I have heard great things about this great estate,” reminisced Iggez, turning once more aside from Sebastio, staring out into the distance among the violent fireworks. “I have heard some shrivelling lies.”


The elder Artaxerxes pointed far, far to one side of the platform, at the hive of activity kicking up as a clan of Nor’ridge shock-troopers arrived in a carrier. They fanned out, and in practically no time at all coalesced on a hill hosting a massive quantity and variety of guns. Obviously intending to disable the weaponry at the site, they quickly got swarmed under by the camouflaged battalion who intended to keep the weaponry at the site functional. They settled their disagreement with firearms first, loud words of a military content and mentality second. After several bullets seemingly managed to triple-book enemy combatants, the defenders cleaned up the rest of the assault element in good order and started taking their prisoners off to await exchange.

“Those assets,” he said, “are… not… ours.

Sebastio kept his surprise from showing on his face. The words, he’d expected. The densely clenched fists holding their leashes, he had not.

“Indeed,” repeated Sebastio.

The laconic response drew forth a response in turn, and Iggez turned to Sebastio. He actually looked like he was about to advance on his son with intent to box his ears, Lord or no. When Sebastio’s gilded Caladhbolg-eye settled upon him, though, the mogul froze.

For half of a quale, the elder’s eyes moistened. But then, the moment passed.

“It would be beneficial to bring Lord Tuoamas into this conversation, one would think,” he grated. For some reason, that particular pronouncement made Nessro’s ears perk up and quiver.

Sebastio brushed a braid of his human hair back, fastening it into the curve of his circlet.

“Lord Tuoamas and myself have each others’ full confidence. If you wish to confirm this, I will be more than happy to arrange a meeting to that end.”

“… No. If you claim to be of one mind, I shall take your word.”

Sebastio eyed a small commotion upwind of their chosen place of respite, where that irrepressible armsman Bark was discouraging a family from coming any closer to the VIP trio.

A world-weary hum from behind Sebastio.

“Now,” said the mogul, “Bhushalt Fabricants and Design hope that this meeting can help bring some sort of final happy conclusion on the matter of lost face. I would like, but do not expect, to find an easy out.”

“I sympathize,” Sebastio replied, and meant it to a painful extreme.

“I am not happy with gross negligence of the truth,” the other Cambrian declared. He pointedly did not look at his son. His son pointedly did not look at his father.

“It would be far stranger if you were.” Sebastio rubbed his chin. He let his warped focus transfer to a nearby gleaming sculpture, grimacing as he realized that it depicted himself and Lord Tuoamas – thankfully now only nearly in the nude. He made a note to get the thing moved to some other distant section of public property.

“You did not prevent such libel from occurring in the first place.”

Iggez had the sound of a man gradually working himself into a froth.

“Also, I enjoy having no answers of any kind released to the public about a man who may have represented a danger to local authorities. I enjoy it very greatly.”

A sensory was extended to Sebastio, and he accepted. He fiercely scowled on the inside as he watched and heard the cranial evisceration of Hereld Upswitch once again. The gory display resembled what usually happened to a person on the receiving end of a quadratic accelerator projectile, when the weapon’s configuration was set to “spalling.”

“That is privileged information,” Sebastio said, allowing a bit of his frown out through his teeth. He didn’t add that Pennat Gate had been in a minor uproar over the fiasco in the hours since, and that he and many others had been pulling every string within reach to try and track down what organization or corporate entity was responsible for managing Upswitch’s backups. He further didn’t add that, should such records come to light, there would be a mad dash to organize many, sanctions. Many, many sanctions.

“Do you have the right to tell us that it is privileged information?”

The question came not from Iggez, but Nessro. It contained some confusion, some amount of interrogation, but a very considerable freight of surprised hurt as well. It was the sort of question very obviously deployed as a smokescreen, a substitute, for another question of greater value. Its voicing contained, or perhaps referenced, a flowing-forward of the lips whose purpose in social contexts evolved from the fact that naufers – like a great many creatures – lacked the versatility of tear ducts available to humans.

Sebastio had taken a country by storm, had killed a Beast not meant to be exterminated by mortals, had forcibly come to terms with both his old divided self and the differently divided new. None of those feats came close to how difficult he found it to keep his eyes on his father of blood and off his father of spirit.

Please, Nessro. Please don’t do this to me now.

“This is a delicate matter,” said Sebastio.

He debated saying more.

He debated saying less.

Neither sustained.

“Your association with Bhushalt means that Upswitch debacle has indirectly caused us an impossible-to-predict amount of damage.”

Iggez cut off, visage as wrinkly with rage as any sail thwarted by an ill wind. Then it softened a bit, allowing through something that might have been bemusement if it were less lethally serious.

“This is the sort of thing that makes one wish for the ages before context distribution. One light-day out from this little mishap, and we could be picking up conclusive visual proof that the man in question had nothing to do with…”

He trailed off and left the thought unfinished, something which had not happened for at least three hexadecades to the best of Sebastio’s knowledge.

“Regardless, Bhushalt offers you conditions, Lord Artaxerxes.”

“‘Conditions’ sounds suitably – dare I say uninformatively – broad. Conditions of what variety?”

“We of Bhushalt intend that we might yet do business with you and yours. That state of affairs is contingent upon your cooperation in a partial disarmament program.”

Sebastio felt something inside himself, concentrated along his right arm. Caladhbolg silently said something in Mefonite that was a pun on “disarmament,” and Sebastio graciously accepted it by not ripping half of their own shared body out in protest.

Besides, he did actually want to hear the gory details on what sort of deal was being floated.

“Disarmament of what, in which sense, for whom?”

One imperious digit speared out from Iggez’s hand, indicating once again the now-uncontested battery.

“Those, along with any other components of the machine of war fallaciously held as some product of favoritism between our august bodies. They must be removed.”


“Within what parameters?” he asked, though by Iggez’s slowly modulating timbre he knew, and he had known before they’d even come together once more.

“Upon extricating them from the theater of war,” the executive said with a mechanical drone, “the utilities of this estate which were identified as associated with Bhushalt Fabricants and Design’s make shall be consigned to recycling via destabilizer construct. Upon their recycling, receipts for their mass-energy will be presented to myself or another representative of Bhushalt, along with their bills of model lading, any Ktarebte machines or other proof-of-ownership, and a fee equal to or greater than fifty percent of their estimated collective production cost, as measured by the company’s manufacturing and informatics standards.”

Sebastio remained silent, one eye squinting.

“In exchange, Bhushalt shall credit this estate with two hundred percent of the surrendered monetary-equivalent specie in any form that Pennat Gate desires, redeemable in no less than one hexadecade’s time.”

“And how long do we have to perform this extrication of the concerned utilities?” Sebastio asked.

“Until the end of the ninth hour.”

A little less than one hour in total, to perform a fairly involved series of bureaucratic and engineering contortions. Probably, unless he was mistaken, about half of an hour less than they actually required.

“If you wish to see the contractual details, they are these,” said Iggez.

He extended another digital resource. This time, Lord Artaxerxes accepted and activated his overclocking, taking his sweet time to peruse the document. He put out a call, and requested that Telmbian leave off his other stewardly duties and examine the contract as a second pair of more-worldly eyes.

{That, Lord, is a blatant example of psychological bullying if ever I have seen one,} said the entity.

Sebastio weighed. Sebastio measured. Sebastio divided.

{Thank you, Telmbian,} he told his personal eidolon. {That will be all.}

“No,” he said, rubbing the gilded sphere of his inhuman eye with his inhuman hand.

“That is your adjudication?” asked Iggez, with a sudden total flatness; a storm passing for but an instant.

“It is,” Sebastio managed to heave from the depths of his lungs.

Then the storm arrived, delivered in a drink cell and all the more rattling for it.

“When the game is untenable, you must lose. When the game is rigged, you must quit.”

Iggez stared salty flames at the Lord, obviously trying to parch the parts of his progeny’s skin that were still recognizably human. Behind him, Nessro’s hands suddenly clenched as the naufer’s eyes shuttered, and his employer spoke.

“The man who left the world with the Beaten Brow, who engages in the thoughtlessly arrogant trade of words for trinkets, who will give us a place where Beasts roam in their darkened glory… that man does not strike me as one who wants for anything.” Abruptly, the condemnation in his voice dropped, split, became rotten, and turned to dust. It made Sebastio’s flesh and Caladhbolg-stuff crawl.

A squawk tittered in the distance, a-too-a-too-tooooooOOOOoooo, and another called in reply.

Iggez Artaxerxes bent forward and spat on the ground before the feet of his son.

“Very well,” he said, shortly after half a dozen armsmen materialized from thin air, brandishing a slew of weaponry and offensive functions at the mogul. “If Lord Artaxerxes does not want for anything, then presumably ties to people such as myself are little more than burdens.”

Sebastio’s father forced a scowl onto his comely face.

“I swear before the assembled witnesses, upon pain of judgment by Crippled False, that Bhushalt Fabricants and Design, and its representatives, will have nothing to do with this estate from this date forward – if I should have the capacity to prevent such dealings.”

That scowl turned yet harsher, as Iggez extended a resource to his son over the Monolith. His son accepted, feeling the dull I-cannot-believe-you-said-that nerve ache that all Rhaagmini felt upon hearing the formal framing of an oath before Crippled False.

“You are eywoalgnhi to me,” came from Iggez.

In some far away place, Sebastio heard that sentence echo a thousand times; from the pronouncements of gods and ghosts, from the deeply sorrowful and the apathetic, from loud objection and silent atrophy.

In the hands of his mind’s eye, he held a formal digital document, serrated with such sharp embroidered borders that to “touch” it made his cerv-mesh feel like it had received a paper cut.

“Like as ancestor to descendant, you are not, you deliverer and you recipient,” said the blocky Rhaagmini in the underused center of the reproduction page. “Go your own ways forevermore.”

He’d imagined that he’d have to formally separate ways from the man that was his father at some point in his life, like almost all good extrafacetary families eventually had to do. Declaring a cut-off point for those officially recognized as family became a logistical requirement after so many generations, lest ancestral trees stretch back to include cousins of relation practically expressible only through exponentiation. That was one thing; Sebastio had actually expected to discuss becoming eyworith with his father, and part amicably. Well, expected at an earlier, simpler time of his life, at least – maybe expected to work out the terms of his severance of filial bonds with Iggez over drinks, then take on a new name and start his own family someday. Now, eywoalgnhi and entrenched in a fight for the continued amity of his people and possessed of sibling as well as spouse and intending that he very well might not see his father or Nessro ever again after the conclusion of this confrontation with O’Casey…

“So as of today, I have no paternal lineage,” said Sebastio.

“Think of it as you will,” growled Iggez. “Consider that a small measure of interest to go atop our grief.”

He began moving off, and barked, “Come, Nessro! We are done here.”

The naufer looked after his master, and gave languid chase. As he followed Iggez’s footsteps, Sebastio extended a direct connection request to his naufer caretaker.

Nessro declined to accept.

Sebastio declined to credit such refusal, and for the first time in a while abused Caladhbolg’s talents. He effectively forced his way into the naufer’s mind. An almost imperceptible wobble in the other man’s gait signalled his distress.


{Sebastio!? What-}

Sebastio the Effulgent put down his crown, and Sebastio Artaxerxes the no-longer-son took his place.

{Nessro, you have done a very great deal for me throughout the years.}

{… Yes. I have.}

The manservant’s bytevoice had settled down, if only to the level of frantic rather than outright terrified.

{You know what Iggez did. Thank him for me.}

{I do not-} began the naufer, defensive of his employer by reflex. Then, like a stressed woodglass log, he ruptured and released little microscopic emotive razors everywhere. Sebastio remained silent as the manservant put together his thoughts.

{No, No. I will admit breeze. This affair does still conform to the shape of honor, but it is an empty shape, an honor that deals you a mischief.}

{There is no other way he could have realistically wriggled out of Leanshe’s accusations of collusion. I would not have surrendered our resources and will not do so in future. But an oath before Crippled False – that is something no person in a position of judgment will undersell. The… change in our relationship is good stage dressing. Very good.}

{I regret that any of this was necessary,} Nessro replied, sending the sensation of a nose-twitch. Sebastio thought it was actually legitimate humor, and not demi-ironic or pohostinlat-being-exceptionally-rude behavior.

{I as well.}

{But one thing I do not regret, Lord Sebastio Artaxerxes, is that I was there when you were younger – just as you were there likewise.}

{Godspeed and may the wind favor you, Nessro bin Simon bin Ittush binnin Loalph the Grand.}

And just like that, the Artaxerxes line fragmented.

A human and a naufer walked away from the altercation, permitted to leave in almost-conjugal fashion by an array of armsmen. Before long, they were both gone.

<Do you regret that you will not see them again?>

“No,” said Sebastio. “I think I will see them again, but perhaps not as myself. If I need to pattern a digital personality or begin coming up with…”

But of course, a digital personality would have different state, different behavior, different identity – if not immediately, then eventually.

“Ah. I believe that we will find some acceptable solution. Eventually. But no matter what creature Lord O’Casey might be tomorrow, today we shall teach him how to fear, and that with conviction comes power. Enough power to reconcile? Well… we shall see.”

That was the final bridge the Lord needed to cross, to let himself remember the times past when he’d cut loose, and allowed himself full rein to do violence to those truly deserving. The stuff that ran through his veins, whether blood or the less concretely defined substances contributed by Caladhbolg, chilled as he felt his teeth unlimber themselves.

Eywoalgnhi. Well, we shall see.

Sebastio the Effulgent had the dire need to quench the flames of his tears in the water of others’ weeping. He didn’t need to resort to violence, though.

There are more ways to kill than interruption, after all.

The intricacies of Yrdkish warfare made for very interesting perfectly acceptable loopholes. Terms of engagement usually limited virtually all aspects of conflict resolution to a very specific range of inputs and outputs: munitions and the equipment for disbursement of munitions, spectra of thaumaturgic disciplines, vehicles, augmentations and alterations to one’s soldiery, recovery and reclamation and restoration means. When your culture had long sharpened the practice of codifying and reconciling nearly-infinitely-esoteric protocols of battle, certain bottlenecks had to be excused while others came to the forefront. As any nation with networked information technologies might happily explain, the coaxing of different computational devices to play nicely together constituted a pinnacle of social and engineering achievement.

To avoid recriminations of computation and telecommunication rulebreaking, custom and regulation alike dictated aggressive establishment of closed network environments. In a standard disagreement, each platform of each participant could host at most a single hub for passing information into and out of the scope of the conflict’s participants. A very few access point centers were permitted in Pennat Gate’s architecture as constantly available sources and destinations of intra- and inter-estate traffic, and through these came and went all orders and eidolons and network penetration payloads and the like. Each such center had to comply with standards anal and rigorous and arbitrarily restrictive enough to bring a Rhaagm auditor to joyfully appreciative bureaucratic sobs, and was subject to spot-checks by a Lawmaster’s appraiser – usually one distinguished by having exceptionally unforgiving standards.

What happened inside the doors of one’s digital house, though – that was one’s own domain. Plural law operations or self-constructive quine frameworks or any number of symbol manipulation tricks (including retrotemporal functions) were permissible inside the restrictions of an estate’s informational ivory tower. The confines of a particular access point center formed a black box, and inside that black box all restrictions were off. Rules were, you could put anything or do anything within an access point center, and nobody would bat an eyelash-analogue. You could set up a fun little honeypot that caused eidolons who broke through to hallucinate the mother lode of confidential operations documentation, then drew them in and fork-bombed their cortical processes. You could load up a server with enough stupid popular sensory audio-video productions to outlast the expected lifetime of every universe or multiverse or sub-reality on a facet.

You could, say, integrate an immersion suite into which a man with a killer godlike sword might socket himself and act as domestic information warfare warden.

When you were a good little contestant in wartime, you both published the findings of those Lawmasters associated with your estate and invited unaffiliated Lawmasters to do the same. Failing to do so didn’t quite qualify as illegal, but it was the sort of gaffe that made your allies and enemies seriously reassess your value as a friend or foe. In the case of Lord Artaxerxes, he had no intention of bringing about another incarnation of something in the vein of the Œlthlant Goldspire-Traders conspiracy. He and Lord Tuoamas were very clearly on the “good standing” side of the Lawmasters’ approval for their ongoing showdown… doubts about the clandestine providence of certain supplies notwithstanding.

Now, Sebastio intended to exploit the perfectly acceptable loophole in digital combat restrictions by putting himself into the fight on the homefront. No, it wasn’t guaranteed that turning Nor’ridge back conclusively on one front would result in his estate’s eventual victory.

He just had a very good hunch that that would be the case.

Though it wasn’t strictly necessary, he sat down, closing his eyes. He mentally prepared his composite self, ignoring the breathy tide of winds fluttering his clothing and setting his gold-chain hair to ringing like windchimes. He stretched his hand forth, to set it not on the face of a building, or a monument, or a crystalwillow trunk, but the pure thought-stuff of semiotic-syntactic-semantic communication.

This will be unpleasant, perhaps, but at least the Maker’s name will be magnified. It’ll be… somethinged.

<I believe you are quite correct.>

I hope that he’ll be happy.

<If he is not, it will be in spite of a great effort.>

If he is not, presumably it’ll be because we committed some offense on par with the Great Indiscretion.

<If you desired Fallow Srid’s breed of infamy, I would have relieved you of that ambition long ago.>

Despite their many years in each others’ company – very many indeed if one included their extemporal incarceration – it seemed that the Cambrian Lord still had the capacity for surprise.

All was well.

Then he thrust himself through the veil separating him from the warfare network.

He dove out into the digital realm, spun across the fray of embattled abstractions, and found the local traffic to be a howling tangled mess of data structures, trenchworks of anti-patterns being thrown up in droves, steganography, failed steganography, and a profusion of frustrated digital personalities.

A Lord knelt to the anvil of war, and a cold-forged weapon rose to drive back the distributed masses. And in him there was no mercy.

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