The Commander shifted on her throne as she listened to the councilors drone on about new road construction and trade agreements. Normally she would be more than pleased over the peacetime plans, but not today.
Something felt off. Something had felt off since the Sand Walkers, Sea Clan, and Ice Nation did not send delegations to the Spring Gathering several months prior. Hell, if she was truly honest with herself, something had felt off since she accepted the Mountain Men’s deal. In a few weeks’ time, it would be a full year since she broke the Kongeda’s alliance with the Sky People. A year that should have brought peace and prosperity. A year that should have been about unification and celebration.
After all, their people thought forever lost to the Mountain were recovered, many of those forced to become Reapers were returned to themselves, and the Mountain itself was destroyed. But the year had not been peaceful, not truly. While no official fighting had been reported amongst the Coalition nations, the bombing of TonDC and subsequent loss of several clan leaders and generals had left many of the clans on shaky ground. She and her most loyal advisors had spent the better part of the year doing damage control—trying to keep the Kongeda from crumbling. She would not see it fall apart now, not after all she had fought and killed and sacrificed. Not after…not after all she had lost in the name of “peace.”
So far their alliances had held, some more thinly than others, but they had held. The Fall Gathering was not long away, and they would be celebrating the triumph over the Mountain Men. It would be a bittersweet festival for some, herself included. Not the least because it was not her hand that brought their enemies down. No, it was their uneasy new neighbors from the Sky—specifically one girl from the Sky who she had searched for in vain for almost a year. And because it was the Sky People who finally brought down their oldest enemy, the Commander had allowed them to stay in their metal villages on Woods Clan land and had ordered that no member of the Coalition was to harm a Sky Person unless they attacked first on threat of death.
The problem was, however, that the Sky People were…well, a problem. The locations of the Sky People villages often got in the way of existing trade routes. The people themselves were ill-equipped to live on the ground in many ways, yet were insistent on relying on their technology to save them. It would be much easier if she were able to bring them into the Coalition, but all hope of that walked away with her army when they abandoned them to the Mountain.
Sometimes she thinks it might have been better if they had all died in that Mountain instead of the Mountain Men. At least the Mountain Men were an enemy she knew, an enemy that—while she’d never beaten them—she had fought to a stand-off.
She took their deal, not because she trusted them to keep their terms. She knew the nations of the Kongeda would never live peacefully with the Mountain Men, that the Maunon would attack her people again once they were able to leave the Mountain. But she also knew that the Mountain was the only thing that had saved the Mountain Men from her blades and arrows. Inside the Mountain, she couldn’t reach them—her armies were almost useless. Outside? Her armies were the far superior fighters, even with the Maunon’s guns and bombs. Once they were outside the Mountain, she would have killed them all—made them pay for the centuries of pain they’d caused her people—made them pay for making her once again choose her people over herself.
She took their deal because it gave her back hundreds of her lost people, without losing hundreds more in the process. She took the deal because she could rescue now and revenge later. She took it because, as impressed as she was with the audacity and cunning of the Sky leader—“ Wanheda ” (Commander of Death) her people called the Sky girl now—she never thought the girl could bring down the Mountain alone. But she’d been wrong.
And now she found herself in an uneasy truce with a former enemy turned ally who she’d betrayed. Most of her war advisers advocated to go to war with the Sky People—destroy them once and for all before they could capture the Mountain and seek revenge. The Sky People had technology similar to the Mountain Men, and there were more of them than there had been people in the Mountain. They could breathe the air and were much more unpredictable opponents. If they took over the Mountain, they could repair their fallen enemy’s weapons and defenses and would be even more formidable. Her advisers were afraid the Sky People would be out for blood—as they would be, had she done the same to their clans.
But the Sky People were not fully like her people, nor were they truly like the Mountain Men. Their leaders had once told her that they did not want to fight her people—they just wanted to live in peace. She had believed them then, and she still believed them now. So she allowed the Skaikru to stay in Trigeda lands and had managed to keep her people from engaging them in any hostilities…so far. At this point, she genuinely felt the Sky People were less of a threat than the Ice Nation.
After all, it had only been a few days since she’d received word of a large army of Azgeda who destroyed one of her villages. Upon sending some agents to investigate, the report that the village was indeed destroyed, but the bodies had been burned by the time they arrived. There was no definitive proof that the Azgeda were behind it, though she had little doubt. But the others on her councils did not all agree with her, and she did not have enough backing to thrust them into another war. Her decision at the Mountain and to leave the Skaikru alone did not come without their downside. She was on thin ice, politically, and could not risk making such a bold move without more support…
Listening to the council drone on in Gonasleng (English) allowed for her mind to drift, but her attention was snapped back to the meeting when the voices of several councilors began to spike.
“…in which trade with the Horse Clan could be increased. They would be able to trade all year, not worry about ice in the mountain passes. I could—“
“A new passage would take us near the northern Sky village!”
“And, they are not part of the Coalition.”
“Yes, but we’ve had no fight with them since the Mountain—“
“The Sky People shouldn’t even be on that land! Why are we—“
“Exactly! They are on Woods Clan—“
“But why would we want to start a fight with them now when the Ice Nation—“
“When we what what, Boatman?”
“The councilor from the Boat People speaks out of—“
The Commander slammed her fist down on her throne arm, as her two guards stepped forward on either side of her throne, swords still sheathed, but gripped.
The councilors fell silent immediately, though several still held protests on their faces.
“You all talk round and round about the Sky People. I made my decision then, and I stand by it now. They stay where they are, and we will not start another fight with them. If we need a new route, then we will make a new route. We will speak with their clan leaders and—“
Just then the door to the meeting hall swung open. The Commander had not seen the face of the interloper in almost 3 years, and her guards immediately moved to intercept the uninvited woman quickly approaching them. Before they reached her, the woman called out, “Heda! Ai souda chich yu op. Jus yumi. Ai biyo moba, ba em set nou na raun…beja…” (“Commander! I must speak with you. Alone. I’m sorry, but it can’t wait…please…”)
The Commander was silent for a moment as she sized the woman up. There is no reason she could think of that the woman before her would be before her unless it were a grave matter. The others in the room looked between the two women, a mixture of annoyance and curiosity displayed on their faces. After the moment’s contemplation, the Commander nodded, then subtly waved her hand as she spoke, “Ogeda bants osir.” Seeing the confusion on some of the councilor’s faces, she repeated herself in their common tongue, “Everyone leave us.”
Her councilors began to file out, but her guards turned back to her, questions clear on their faces. She gave them a quick nod, “Yo seintiem.” (You all as well.)
At that, they filed out after the others, leaving only the two women in the room. The Commander waited for the other woman to speak, but sighed when she did not seem to find her words. “Yu gon prom fo ain chichnes…jos yumi. Sha? Ai ste set raun. Chit gaf yu in, Ayden?” (You asked to speak with me…alone. Well? I’m waiting. What do you want, Ayden?”)
Ayden took a deep breath. “Ai kom hasta Azgeda-de, Heda. Fou ai nou chich ridiyo op—” (I’m here about the Ice Nation, Commander. I did not speak true before—)
“Yu gon spichen kom ai?” (You lied to me?)
“Nou, Heda. Ai…ai nou get klin chon…oso na gada ste in pon klin.” (No, Commander. I…I am not sure who…we may have been tricked.)
“Chit yu sei, Ayden?” (What do you mean, Ayden?)
“Ai sei Azgeda-de nou na gon flush Saris kiln.” (I mean, the Ice Nation may not have massacred Saris.)
“Haukom get yu in disha?” (How do you know this?)
“Fou sonchan fouteim, Natronas en splitas kom nouseim krus, chek seim au Azgeda gonakru, jomp Skaikru stegeda-de Mekka Kapa op. Skaikru-de en ai don gonplei emo. Oso frag mani bagas op, ba mani don ron seinteim of.” (Four days ago, traitors and outcasts from different clans, disguised as Ice Nation warriors, attacked the Sky People village, Mecha City. The Sky People and I fought them. We killed many of them, but many others escaped.)
“Get yu kiln?” (Are you sure?)
“Hashta emo bilaik don jomp Mekka Kappa op? Sha. Hashta emo bilaik don jomp Saris op? Nou. Bilaik ste—” (About those that attacked Mecha City? Yes. About those that attacked Saris? No. That is—)
“Dula Skaikru wich Kongeda-de in don jomp emo op?” (Do the Sky People believe the Coalition attacked them?)
“Ai don tel emo op bilaik oso nou dula jomp emo op—bilaik emo ste natronas, nou Azgeda, nou Kongeda…nou yu.” (I told them that we did not attack them—that they were traitors, not Ice Nation, not Coalition clans…not you.)
The Commander regarded Ayden for a moment silently, her mind whirling.
When Ayden’s report had come through two weeks before, the Commander was initially skeptical. As much as she would love to have a reason to destroy the Ice Queen once and for all, she had to consider the fact that the information was coming from the only person she knew to hate the Ice Nation’s former leader more than she did. But she ultimately had no reason to believe Ayden was lying. After all, despite the bad blood between them, Ayden had never lied to her before and knew that doing so would end not just Ayden’s life, but the life of the remainder of her family. Unfortunately, the Commander’s sheer belief was no longer enough to spur the Coalition to action without any actual proof, and the Wood’s Clan could not defeat the Ice Nation alone.
“Haukom gon tel ai op disha nau? Yu na gon pas em. Ai breik yu au, Ayden, ba yu gon kom bak. Haukom?” (Why would you tell me this now? You could have gone after her. I set you free, Ayden, yet you came back. Why?)
“Bilaik ai ste non branwada. Ai na ste jos yun swis, ba ai get skrish in teim ai chek em au. Emo gaf osir in gon wor, ba ai get nou klin kom Azgeda. En teim ai teik ain jus daun, em na nou ste gon bakon kom spichen.” (Because I’m no one’s fool. I may be just your tool, but I know shit when I see it. Someone wants us to go to war, but I’m not so sure its the Ice Nation. And when I get my revenge, it will not be on the back of lies.)
Ayden saw a flash in the other woman’s eyes. For a moment, she didn’t see the ruthless Commander, she saw her former friend staring back at her in gratitude.
Their history was complicated and strained—Ayden was another piece of herself that Alexandria had been forced to sacrifice for her people as Commander—the last living childhood friend she had that she’d been made to turn on to keep the Coalition whole. She’d virtually chained her former friend into being one of her most vicious—and effective—agents against Ayden’s will, while denying Ayden the thing she desired most—the thing they both desired most—revenge on the Ice Queen.
Ayden’s report on the loss of Saris and the her Blood Hunter squad had been accompanied by Ayden’s request to finally be granted permission to go after the Ice Queen. In a moment of rage against her old nemesis, Alexandria’s grief overpowered the Commander’s calculating spirit and granted it. So little of Alexandria was left—being chosen Commander and all she’d had to do under that title had destroyed so much of who she’d been. Her mother’s death, Daxon’s sacrifice, Enrik’s torture, Costia’s murder, Narin’s treachery, Ayden’s breaking, Anya’s loss, Gustus’ betrayal, her own betrayals…so many pieces of her buried with their ghosts…
Alexandria snapped her attention back to Ayden, who was staring at her intently. In a flash, the Commander settled back into place, once again tucking away the remnants of her former self.
Osir Kongeda-de nou souda slip daun. Nou nau. Nou pas eting. Teim Azgeda gon jomp ain kru op, den disha teim ai na flosh Azkwin-de klin ains. Emo’s az na fleim au, en ai na ron yu op yun jus daun— yu na teik Narin’s hed op. Ba, teim Azgeda nou jomp oso— (Our Coalition cannot fall. Not now. Not after everything. If the Ice Nation attacked my people, then this time I will slaughter the Ice Queen myself. Her ice will burn, and I will give you your revenge—you can take Narin’s head. But, if the Ice Nation did not attack us—)
Den ai na hon chon dula daun en frag em op. Emo’s gonplei na ste odon foutaim Slipdaun Geda, Heda. (Then I will hunt down whoever did this and kill them. Their fight will be over before the Fall Gathering, Commander.)
Dig em au. Dig chit au gaf emo in. Dula yu dula-de bilaik yu ste toli badas, Ayden. Fou osir. (Find them. Find out what they want. Do the job you are so good at, Ayden. For all of us.)
Sha, Heda. Ai badan yu op en nou moun. Em na ste odon. (Yes, Commander. I serve you and no other. It will be done.)
With a bow of her head, Ayden turned and left the Commander alone. She could send other agents as well, but Ayden was her best Jus Hona still alive. Still, she did not intend to leave this up to Ayden alone.
She intended to seek out the council of the Sheidfisa. She had not spoken with him in almost a year, not since after the first 100 Sky People fell from the stars. Before that she’d not spoken with him since making Polis her capital four years ago…at his suggestion. Maybe the Night Doctor knew who was behind the attacks, but even if he didn’t, his council might prove useful…Tomorrow she would take a small guard and set out for Arrisbur.
It was time she took matters into her own hands…