“I’ve fought countless battles, seen the horrors of war, the evil that mortals can do. I’ve taken my fair share of lives and had mine threatened enough to match, but seldom have I felt the trepidation I felt on that flight. You tell yourself the tales are just that, embellished through word of mouth, gross exaggerations to make titans out of ordinary men.Charred journal found in the ruins of Keld Rock, author unknown
But they were all true. Every one of them.”
Valasar placed a bookmark in the page and closed the book, setting it down gently beside him before rising and crossing to the door. The thin, elegant robe he wore drifted along the floor behind his bare, ebon feet, the gilded fabric glittering in the light. He sighed, gripped the doorknob firmly, and eased it open.
“My apologies for disturbing you, my lord.”
In front of the Scalelord stood the Red Dragon, Raikos Keldrath himself, standing straight-backed, arms clasped behind him. In his armour, he seemed a good deal taller than Valasar.
“It is no matter,” Valasar said, somewhat surprised to see the iakim at this late hour, though attempting to keep a veneer of impassivity on his face. “To what do I owe your visit? We’ve a full step before the Cerulean and the others are to arrive.”
Raikos placed one hand on his breast and dipped his head. “It doesn’t concern the meeting, your grace. I’ve received news from the Rock, I wished to have your counsel before I send my reply.”
Valasar stepped to one side, beckoning Raikos into the solar. The iakim bowed and moved into the centre of the room, the Scalelord closing the heavy door behind them, then crossing to the fire in the corner and stoking it.
“Out with it, then.”
Raikos cleared his throat. “After the Lady Suros has evidently met with little success in the hunt for this ship, I dispatched a drake to scout the area, your Grace.”
Valasar knelt down, rearranging the fire with a hand. “Is this not a matter for Garada?”
“I should have expected so, although I suspected you would wish to be made aware of the specifics, sire.”
Valasar stood up and faced the general. Raikos’ single eye regarded him with severity. “Very well, then. I assume this scouting has borne some manner of fruit?”
Raikos nodded. “The rider I dispatched was able to locate the vessel in question, sire, a short ways away from where the Riptide lost track of it. Nestled behind an island offshore.”
Valasar maintained eye contact, one browplate raised slightly.
“The rider made contact with the vessel’s skeleton crew, sire. Needless to say they claimed to be a different vessel under a different captaincy, with at least one human crewmember. That woman, and indeed a number of others sighted on the vessel, match descriptions of members of the adventurer’s crew. The blue that speaks in riddles, for example.”
Valasar’s eyes widened. “And the ship?”
“Did the rider detain any of them?”
Raikos shook his head. “Nay, your Grace, he returned to Keld Rock and this missive was penned to me for orders.”
Valasar sighed. “You don’t think they’ll have simply…” he made a gesture with his hands, “sailed away before anything can be done?”
“It’s possible, sire, but they didn’t have the numbers on board that the initial report stated, not to mention there was no sign of a second ship. I suspect they’ll have moved forces inland, it would be some time before they could mobilise them again, not to mention the naval patrols in that region. We have a window yet.”
Valasar nodded. “Salient points. How many forces can we divert?”
Raikos grimaced. “Precious few, sire, without leaving an opening. Drakes would ensure the best chance of success but we’ve only a few to spare.”
“Send a detachment. The best you can muster. I shan’t follow in the footsteps of others and underestimate them.”
Raikos bowed his head. “I’ll have Draymor and four of Keldrath’s finest dispatched at one, sire. What are your orders?”
Valasar narrowed his eyes, fixing Raikos in his gaze. “I want them taken alive and brought to me. The separatists are of highest import, of course, but any of their companions could prove a useful bargaining chip if needs must. Have Draymor file a report afterwards, I wish his measure of the twins.”
Raikos nodded. “Of course, sire. I shall see to it at once.”
The Scalelord kept the iakim in his sights. “Alive, Raikos. Make that very clear.”
“As you wish, your Grace.”