A certain man’s lip curled as he examined several scenes across the surface of the world.
He lounged in a “sophisticated” spaceplane that would have been pretty swanky to anyone who’d never seen the inside of a well-crafted gemship. It had first-line stealth capabilities that would make nearly any observer think it was just a hunk of rock. That hunk of rock, hidden in a stable-orbit cloud of similar hunks of rock several hundred kilometers long, featured the bare necessities: entertainment, biological function fulfillment, and tools for sending and receiving data.
He played back the recordings of his current object of interest, paying close attention to each word, mining the subject’s actions for meaning. Sadly, the subject was inconveniently consistent in his behaviors. Little and less ammunition for an attack on character.
“… while you have free will, there’s the responsibility that you carve that free will into the right sculpture,” said the reproduction of Eihks Richard, as had been picked up by Bjill’s dæmon cluster some time ago.
The servant of his Unseelie Court had had some difficulty in tracking down the pioneer. That said some awesome things about his superior’s means – normally, “difficult” would have been “impossible except by the grace of multiple deities’ interventions and hitting the statistical lottery.” Eihks wasn’t the sort to advertise his intent to travel the gem unless he had VERY good reason. These days, he had very good reason to obfuscate his intent, if anything – Bjill had found no markers in his wake until reaching this very facet, and then only a mated simplex pair (and some associated paraphernalia). Well, the certificate was blunt as anything, but the prior paucity of extrafacetary presence had almost convinced him to not even bother checking.
Until then, it had meant a pursuer needed to do some very interesting guesswork or hypercomplex analysis of facetary physics involving tracking potentially coincidental and extraordinarily faint evidence of travel as well as the comparisons of background radiation projections. Since the latter choice involved essentially recreating large portions of a universe and then walking them back through their history, sampling concentrations of matter the whole way, it required a drastic amount of processing power. He’d tapped his liege’s favor when Eihks’s insistence on running silent became clear, and received a front end general modeling system connection with a truly gigantic bus attached to it. What precisely lay on the far side of the bus was still a mystery.
Bjill didn’t feel the need to poke Leiaren and ask about where his liege had gotten the aforementioned drastic amount of processing power; he just plugged in the raw data, modulated the search and sort algorithms a bit as needed, and got results in practically no time at all. The back end of the system with which he was interfacing for the task must have been capable of some fantastic feats. Maybe an industrial array from one of the giants – Bhushalt or Kraken-Whaite, perhaps.
What Leiaren Ad-Horsig Drjemear, Fifth of His Name, HAD decided to make clear at the time was that he still held a great deal in reserve – only in case Bjill happened to need further assistance in future, of course.
It was a bit of a hint that Leiaren did not want his vassal to fail in his errand, and that said vassal had a much less vague idea of just how resourceful the man could be in making the winter elf’s life a proverb of misery. With that in mind, Bjill had no intention of letting Leiaren’s wants go unfulfilled.
As for Mr. Richard, Leiaren hadn’t wanted him to suffer the same damnatio memoriae that Rhaagm had ages ago lavished on Fallow Srid’s person. He just wanted the man… removed. He just wanted the pioneer to be seen forever through a tarnished lens, or given an uncleanable reputation, or simply banished from shame or other causes. Even better if the man ended up getting offed in some ways. Yes, in all likelihood he (or a facsimile) would get spat out of a revivification clinic.
If that happened, Eihks Richard’s new skin would be as normal a human could receive in a culture where “normal” was far more fantasy than any novel. He might even garner some sympathy if that was the case.
More importantly, key voices would give their support for Taniwen Drjemear Richard and her princely husband in terms of Oh, that’s too bad, but also a bit of a relief, isn’t it? For someone like Bjill’s liege, Unseelie politics could make a family member like Eihks distressing. On a personal basis, for someone with the hauteur of a man who’d once sentenced his own niece to exile in Ilsabal Square because she’d slighted his choices of company, it was intolerable. Let it be transmuted from distaste at relatives to condolences for one’s filial losses, however… uncouth and questionably-legal they may be.
He sighed, and ordered the ship’s specialized fabrication subunit to punch out a dish of slicker tenderloin and pulled pork, served on a bed of roast floutfruit, artichoke hearts, and salted waterlily tubers. The machinery told him it would be done within two minutes.
The unsightly delay earned a growl.
Sadly, Bjill’s mission had some very oddly-shaped constraints. Potential goal one: utterly destroy Eihks’s public character by framing him for some heinous act. Nice enough in principle – he’d already assaulted several people, some of whom had died. It was a sad fact that the extrafacetary public wouldn’t be as incensed at the murder of foreigners as they would at slayings of their own. Inconvenient, but edited footage of the man – courtesy of a great deal of surveillance footage – could easily portray him as an ungoaded killer.
Except that if he tried that, Bjill would be pitting Eihks’s documentary evidence against his own. Bjill’s rapport with Sheyey Duspink and others had put him in good standing for falsification of select narratives or drumming up ersatz credibility on bits of evidence. However, leaning on those clandestine connections too much or trying to manufacture new ones would seriously degrade any credibility they’d claim in the future.
They’d managed to lay a soft thick bed of damning narrative. Padding the fanciful yarn of moderately-well-known modern media sweetheart Kroneninen’s bereavement of fictional relations was a tricky thing. Mutating that narrative so the attention-starved fregnost’s theoretical grandchildren had been slain and resurrected by Eihks’s tainted teeth – and supporting it with the testimony of no less than a member of the Council of Books… well. It had drawn on yet more of those connections held by Bjill’s liege. Those awesome means of his were being put to good use by Ms. Duspink (aside from one regrettable attempt at coercion, about which he and she had discussed), and if he were being honest Bjill felt that particular plan would almost certainly succeed. Not a certainty, though, and a much more long-term resolution. Thus, this current operation of active sabotage.
Potential goal two: interrupt the pioneer, so that if and when he went through revivification he’d be put back together as something other than a Tufcich undead.
Tricky. Very tricky. Not impossible, but he couldn’t see any simple way to grease the man without either exposing himself as the perpetrator of the act… or using his dæmon cluster. The latter was a flat-out no – Bjill’s service was a tremendous burden and honor, but he had no intention to commit a crime that would earn him the death penalty or maybe even worse. The former, he suspected, would be just as bad to his employer as letting the man (un)live.
The ability to get close and dispose of Mr. Richard might change in time, yet he’d seen a lot of signs of caution (maybe even so far as to enter the realm of the paranoid) on the explorer’s part. In his immediate vicinity it appeared that Eihks fairly regularly ran comprehensive short-distance scans, definitely the sort of things that would catch an attempt by Bjill to fold in and plant a dagger in his neck. Not that he would try such a thing, of course; in principle, a Tufcich only “died” with comprehensive destruction of the brain or after sufficient period of separation between brain and arcane cap. That made… other avenues preferable; within a few years Eihks’s paranoia would decrease – though Bjill’s liege obviously hoped he’d take care of the problem sooner rather than later.
Potential goal three, then: cripple Eihks’s worth and ego by forcing him to either consciously allow or participate in an atrocity or some devastating upheaval of the status quo as a direct contributor. That would be a difficult proposition, but one for which he was busy making preparations.
Or rather, convincing others to make preparations on his behalf.
He turned to another set of recordings as a hanging table descended with his food on it. While picking at the seasoned artichoke, he smiled just a bit.
The first was of a man with handsome yet slightly flabby features, listening to a group of politicians. His person wore the vestments of nobility – bought rather than born – and often when his peers came to a lull in their debate over how they should restructure labor or turn over national policy toward taxation of non-domestic trade caravans, they glanced in his direction. They took his little head jerks and throat noises as approval and denial and, though his opinion was obviously intrinsically worth about as much as the thoughts of a succulent plant, they gained a little insight on his nation from said opinion. Allowing him to “participate” in exchange for good food and pleasant entertainment clearly struck them as a bargain.
Everything Bjill had heard of Rollhir inclined him to think of the man as a covetous soul. Watching him in person merely confirmed that he lay between narcissism and sociopathy. He rightly saw the world as unfair and wrongly decided it owed him. That made him a bully, and easily manipulated… and what, during times of conflict, is the best use of someone easily manipulated?
Why, a safely out-of-the-way symbol, of course.
Spearing a morsel of slicker, Bjill turned his attention away, directing it toward a champion of this symbol.
“Brothers and sisters,” said a priest whose congregation worshiped at the altar of an exile. He stood in a dark room in an isolated house, speaking to a crowd of people armed with the hope of reuniting monarch and birthright. They weren’t concerned with the questionable pleasantness of having Rollhir as ruler; they only cared about the letter of the law.
“I have… sorrowful news,” the man named Sginer told them, only the recording dæmon cluster able to pick up the tears staining his face. “The attempt to turn over Dōdielnan’s rulership has foundered. Our most valuable tool was taken from us today. We need to consider more drastic measures.”
He looked around the room at the dim profiles in his company.
“We’ll need to demolish this nation’s very foundation city and break its spirit if we wish any hope of someday succeeding.”
He slapped a palm on the center of the table in the room, and Bjill felt glad that he’d taken the time to invest in waking-dream magic. That time when the mind sat convalescent, returned from freedom of the body – it made a person so suggestible.
“I saw this plan in my sleep some time ago. It’s… bad. But it’s the only way I can think of defeating the usurper.”
Sginer’s fist clenched. Beneath it was a map of Ronnin-Sōlsig-Adur, showing streams and aqueducts and such. The aqueducts were roughly drawn, since the map’s original design dated from a time before that stranger Liliansmith taught their construction. They each had harsh slashes across them, bleeding ink into the papyrus.
Just beneath the fist, a storm of scribbles almost suffocated the shape of the royal palace.