“The interesting thing about the arcane, far beyond what it can accomplish, is how seemingly little the world has adjusted to defend against its works. Practitioners have managed to convince the populace to fear only the raw destructive power of magic – the manifestation of great gouts of flame or bolts of thunderous lightning – but its true strength, its real and tangible influence on the world, looks far more innocuous in practice. Indeed, to the untrained eye, it can easily be missed.”— Magus-Ascendant Naraya XIV, The Influence of Arcana
“Enter,” came a voice from behind the door, and Tanatine twisted the handle smoothly, entering the office and crossing to the centre of the room. The rear-admiral stood tall and proud, arms clasped behind his back.
“You wished to speak with me, Iakim.”
Garada stood at the window looking down onto the bustle of activity that was Surosir, workers scurrying like beetles to prepare the fleet for war. The lord of the Suros turned to regard the rear-admiral, shafts of sunlight glinting off her polished bronze scales through the window behind her, a pair of spiralling horns extending backwards from her forehead. She was dressed in simple clothes today, forgoing the usual uniform befitting her title and station – her only appointments for the afternoon were trusted allies and the stack of papers piled neatly on the great glass desk between the two. No need to put on the show.
“How have the patrols fared?” she asked, crossing around the desk and leaning casually against it.
Tanatine nodded, smiled. “Well, my lady. All has been quiet.”
“The men say differently.”
Tanatine’s expression changed, a look of confusion setting in. “Oh?”
Garada ran her tongue along the underside of her teeth. “There was an independent merchant vessel? Travelling with the, ah, “Fogrunner”, is that correct?”
Tanatine nodded. “Aye, my lady. Returning to Orminth with citizens from the mainland diaspora. Minor mix-up with the papers, but they came right in the end.”
Tanatine found his gaze locked by Garada’s icy blue eyes. “Is that so?” she asked, brows raised, an expression the rear-admiral knew to mean he was in treacherous waters.
“…Aye, my lady. Signed and stamped by your hand, no less. What rumours have the men been spreading?”
Garada stood up straight. “They say you escorted this ship for a day and a night, until the captain suddenly remembered valid papers were in his jacket pocket the entire time.” She crossed back to the other side of the desk, opening a drawer and placing a small piece of metal on the desk with a muted ring. “And they say they found this.” She withdrew her hand to reveal the insignia of Scale’s Sixth Legion on the desk, crossing her arms as she watched the admiral’s response.
“My lady, I…The papers were in order, I saw them with my own eyes…”
“And the insignia?”
“They were carrying citizens scattered across the continent. A retired soldier, I presume…”
“And you don’t consider this confluence of circumstances to be…unusual, in any way? After the events on the mainland? The defection of large swathes of the Sixth Legion to insurrectionists?” Garada narrowed her eyes.
Tanatine spoke falteringly before falling silent, his posture loosening. Garada sighed.
“We…the ship will be in our records, my lady, I assure you, I cannot doubt the evidence of my own eye—”
“I have already had the records checked for any mention of such a vessel. There is none. And only one independent ship has docked in Orminth in the days since. I am afraid,” she said, “you have been taken for a fool.”
Tanatine’s expression hardened, but he said nothing. Garada maintained eye contact, splaying her hands upon the great glass desk and leaning forward. “I want that vessel found, Admiral. I want it found, I want its officers captured, and I want the ship scuttled. We cannot afford to take any chances. Do I make myself clear?”
Tanatine nodded and gave the Suros salute. “Aye, my lady. I will see it done immediately.”
A gentle breeze was all that disturbed the trees, light snowfall drifting down from above to lie smooth and crisp upon the ground. There was a rustle in the bushes as a creature emerged from its burrow to forage for the day’s food, pricking up as a small point of light appeared, hovering in the air and beginning to grow. With a burst of air that blew up snow and jostled the surroundings, a tall, alien figure appeared, hovering in the clearing, the snow around their feet melting with the raw energy. Silvery-gold skin lay under burnished robes, a sigh of relief breathed from under a sidereal mask.