A Peace of the Action takes place 30 years prior to Nightfall.
|Nightfall: Book One of the Nightsong Space Opera||
I just updated the short story "A Peace of the Action," which is posted below. Now the entire final version is up, which is shortened to 2k words, and tightened up quite a bit. A full version -which details the war instead of summarizing it in two short paragraphs- is available for publications that may want longer-form fiction.
A Peace of the Action takes place 30 years prior to Nightfall.
A PEACE OF THE ACTION
by Maximillian d’Erembourg
Xian Shen sat with the semblance of peace; seated upon a low stack of golden pillows, oolong tea in a china teacup on the low lacquered table before him. He watched the massive barbarian of a man duck to enter their meeting place. It had all been arranged. This was the room within which the war between their vastly different clans would come to a close. Neither of their Households could afford to continue these hostilities, and both clans knew it. Each having been harrowed off the planet of Alaria over the course of the last week by the Alarian King’s Blood Knights and Sentinels, as well as the combined might of the militias of every other Alarian Household, unleashed by the King’s extraordinary order to March upon both of them.
Cormac bowed before the seated form of Xian, uncomfortably — as if he’d never before bowed to anyone. In response Xian -already seated- merely inclined his head slightly. He made certain never to remove his eyes from his guest.
“Ironic,” Cormac poured two slugs from the flask of alkal he had brought to the meeting, placing one on the table before his host, “That someone named Xian would be the one from your Triad to lead your clan as it merges into my Celtic tribe. You know, Sean -spelled differently, of course- is an old Irish name.”
Xian Shen watched the big man take the other seat; he collapsed into the pillows opposite Xian’s without ever employing gravity, as a lazier man would do. Xian observed how Cormac took in his surroundings as he relaxed. The room was small but luxurious, red upholstered rare woods in classic Asian style and blood-red velvet draperies. Several brassy table lamps bathed the room in a diffuse white-light, one too-old bulb in the only ceiling fixture broadcast a brown-yellow light in the unsteady blinking pattern of an electrical short.
Xian poured his guest a serving of oolong into an empty china cup, refilling his own cup from the same pot at the same time, a gesture of reassurance he was not entirely certain the barbarian would even notice. Then he bent to place the newly filled cup on the side of the table before the Celt, without ever standing. Xian resumed his former station, with the flexibility and grace of an assassin, never removing his eyes from his guest.
Outwardly, Xian presented an image of casual relaxation, nonchalance, seated upon the pillows. He was decked out in an almost outrageous amount of metal frills and jewelry on his red and gold silks, including an ancient-looking black iron tsuba -a decorated round sword hilt- around his neck. Xian's colorful silks contrasted starkly with the huge Celt’s dark brown and black leathers. Inwardly, the assassin leader was wary of this huge barbarian, the way the gai-jen had sat down indicated to Xian that he was sitting upon a weapon — Xian merely prayed the thing was a blaster, instead of something more cruel and brutal like a concealed knife. All Xian’s plans had come to fruition, and it had come to this; now one of the two of them would lead the newly integrated clan, the other one would likely be carried out of the room, dead.
“I know… people have been spelling my name wrong my entire life.” Xian sounded genuinely disgusted and weary of this fact.
The huge fair Cormac began to chuckle at this, and the colorfully draped slim Asian man soon followed. They roared like madmen for a few moments, more letting off tension than in actual humor.
Cormac sighed as the laughter ended, “What made you decide to ask for this meeting, Xian, after all that our two houses have been through?”
“To have our two sides come together, and discuss what we have in common, and our possible future.”
“You mean what we have in common…other than the fact that the Alarian King has exiled both our clans, calling Marches on us that just killed hundreds on each side?”
“That is the most obvious, of course.” Xian acknowledged, “Both of us have also -in some macabre sense- benefited from the deaths of each of our former superiors, as a result of these terrible events.”
Xian watched the face of the barbarian for signs of intelligence as he made his ploy. “Did you ever notice, when you were fighting my Triad soldiers, the one thing -an element of iconology- that we both shared?”
“Icona… look, Xian, I’m just a soldier who came up in a shadow-House…”
If that’s true — if you’re truly as dense as you pretend to be, Xian thought, this is never going to work. But he said, “There is -for both of our ancient lines- a creature, one uniting icon and ancient legend, though from opposite sides of the Old Mother Earth…” Xian thought Cormac looked to be wracking his brain, perhaps reaching at this critical moment for anything that might act as a life preserver.
Cormac seemed to pick a thought from Xian’s mind, “You’re talking about the dragon…”
Xian was almost ecstatic, when he’d realized their commonality, he’d wanted to take it as a sign, he took this as confirmation. “Our uniting heritage, the one thing our cultures -our ancestors- shared in common, the great and powerful dragon.”
The big Celt continued, “Both our clans used a dragon in their arms, as symbols of where we came from, our tribes from the Old Earth... But they don't look anything alike!”
“Precisely,” Xian said. “Both of our houses used a dragon as our symbols -different in style- but, both dragons, nonetheless. Our Asiatic dragon symbol was black and gold, classically Chinese, long and sleek, wingless, serpent-like. While your Celtic dragon was a European tradition, four-legged, red and green, winged and breathing fire.”
Cormac took up the theme, “Saint George of England slew one in legend. Knights under King Arthur used them as arms.” Cormac concluded, “This could be used to unite our people in spirit, as the Alarian King has united us in fact of exile.” Cormac sneered at his mention of the King.
“Oh, we will have our revenge on the Alarians… or our children will.” Xian took up the line of thought. “Until that time we must become as shadows passing through the blackness of deep-space. Black Dragons in the Black Void, hunting from the thousands of ships that fare the Sea That Has No Shore. They will forget about us… and we will grow strong. My people are a patient people, my friend, as yours shall learn to be. In turn, we shall learn from your ferociousness, and your long history of being outcast from your government. You see, my people are used to controlling our government from the shadows, not running from Sentinels in the night. Together our peoples will become a dragon that will terrorize the skylanes.”
Together they smiled at the thought for a while, sipping, then Cormac broke the pregnant silence. “You know, we’ve settled everything except for primacy… who will lead our peoples now that they’re one.”
Xian folded his fingers like an Asian emperor of old, slouching backward in his deeply upholstered chair, completely disdaining any sense of danger - or mortality. “I will. And the title will be Draco. It means Dragon in our language.” Xian considered the shot of alkal. “My name will no longer be Xian, it will be Draco Shen.” Xian Shen unfolded his fingers so his right hand could grasp the shot-glass of sea-vegetable distilled alkal from the bar-tray, holding it so that the ring on his hand clicked against the shot.
As soon as the ring was pressed against the glass, the diamond flashed and turned yellow. “I do hope you don’t mind that I took certain - measures to ensure this outcome.” After a few moments the stone on Shen’s ring flashed and turned green. Smiling slightly -ensured that no poisons were present in it- he then downed his portion of alkal; his face contorted from the heat only momentarily, before relaxing into a even more satisfied grin.
The gai-jen rumbled, “You know, Draco Andronicus has a real nice ring to it, as well.”
Xian smiled faintly as he calmly put down the empty shot, and in its place once again picked up his china cup of oolong, “Your son… Ciro is his name, I believe?”
The giant Celt paled and stared a deadly laser beam at his erstwhile opponent.
“So sorry, my honored guest,” Xian suddenly sounded like everyone’s worst impression of a holo-vid Asian; Charlie Chan from two-thousand year old vids. “Your son is also my honored guest, but on a Triad raider on it’s way toward Halsion Four at this moment, I took the liberty of starting his internship as a raider on-board our training ship.”
“You’re lying!” Cormac sprang from his pillows with a look of fury and the balance of a man who had fought -and killed- many underworld brutes and even assassins, having risen from the ranks of of the warriors to come to head his clan.
Momentarily, Xian re-thought his plan, but knew he was now committed. “The training captain -of course- expects my regular check-ins with his com officer.” Xian showed absolutely no fear. “He is known to be... a bit high-strung. In order to… insure his complete attention to the safety of your only son, he requires periodic assurance of my… well being.”
“This is a trick, you couldn’t have…”
“I believe you organized an outing? For an astrological survey of constellations viewable only from deep-space? In order to… keep your son far from Poseidon whilst these negotiations occurred?”
“How could you possibly know…”
“Your Captain Mosley -the captain of the ship and the man in charge of the outing- has actually been taking my pay for… oh, three years now.”
“Ciro’s seven years old!” Cormac had gone from angry to desperate.
“Oh, not to worry, Cormac-san, he is only along for the ride, to become familiar with our ships, and to witness the business which he shall inherit. The… safety record… of my raider ships -especially the one set aside to train our children- is almost impeccable.”
Xian watched as Cormac’s thick -predictable- mind worked through all the angles. He could see that Cormac knew he’d been beaten — but hadn’t Xian Shen used the word ‘inherit’ to describe Ciro’s future? Was the Celt subtle enough to understand the implications?
“You’ve won.” Cormac finally admitted. “I can see you will be a great leader for our people.” In one motion Cormac with a sure conviction drew his hidden plasma-blaster and -kicking his chin upward- planted the small but deadly weapon firmly under it, ready to blow his entire head into a cloud of free atoms. “I die with honor.”
Xian seemed taken entirely off-guard. Good, Cormac thought, I foiled whatever plans he’s had to take my life and secure this position. To Shen’s mind, I will be the first Eurocelt in history to commit sepuku like one of his Eastasians. This will be a moment of legend, the name Andronicus will be forever hallowed in the history of our new clan. Having been willing to sacrifice himself so bravely, his son Ciro would certainly have to be adopted and honored by Xian. His son’s place in the leadership of the future clan was assured.
The decision made, Cormac allowed himself a mere moment to reflect on reaching this flash-point, which would ensure his immortality in the new Black Dragon Clan.
A fortnight ago, war broke out between their two clans, who had existed in peace on Alaria for four-hundred years. The daughter of the head of the Triad had been abducted. An informant left a message pointing the Triad Intel Corps to an address… a warehouse far from Triad territory, well within the realm of the Eurocelt Labor Union Household.
However, the Eurocelt Union Headquarters had also received a tip… this one saying that Triad drug runners were selling in Eurocelt territory, and that a shipment was going to be delivered to that same warehouse. The Union responded by sending Cormac’s enforcer team to intercept this shipment — if , in fact, there was one. Cormac and his team were not expecting a corvette full of five Triad Shuriken Commandos.
The battle had been bloody and swift, with only Cormac surviving. Soon thereafter, a plasma-bomb had gone off inside the Eurocelt War-room, wiping out the entire command structure of the Tribe. Similarly, the head of the Triad had been assassinated. The war had lasted a week before the King of Alaria had had quite enough, declaring a dual-March, driving both Houses from his planet.
Only a mere moment had passed since Cormac Andronicus had drawn his own plasma pistol and was prepared to end the challenge to the Primacy of the new clan. With conviction -gusto even- he pulled the trigger. Cormac heard the trigger click.
“I’m sorry that I ruined such an elegant exit, but you didn’t think I’d actually let you sneak in an operational plas-pistol… did you?”
Cormac’s face shifted from rage to acceptance as he deflated into the seat once more, clearly awaiting whatever fate his worthy opponent had planned.
“Be my Lieutenant.” The huge Celt shot him a look of mixed shock and disdain; Xian instantly saw he was on dangerous ground. If he made Cormac re-evaluate his strength and leadership capabilities, he might decide Xian wasn’t the leader he presented. “I need you. Yes, I will lead our peoples with vision and strength; however, I need your insight as to how the minds of your people work, so that we can better merge the clans.
“You are honorable and brave, Cormac-sama; we can move into the future together, neh? No more killing amongst us, Hatamoto, we are as family now. Enough of our blood has been spilled by the Alarian King, and his Blood Knights, neh? Let the next blood we spill be theirs!”
“Then I will willingly become your lieutenant and vassal. I commit my strength, and my people, to ensuring the future of the Black Dragons.” Surely, thought Cormac, Xian could see that one who would die to make a future for his son, would make for a loyal vassal.
Xian finally rose from his seat. He took the iron tsuba from the chain around his neck, and pressed both the golden dragons visible on its surface. A paper-thin power plant inside the black iron tsuba started to faintly whine, then the noise became a series of steel click-clack-clicks as all of the metal shards Xian seemingly wore as ornamentation lept off of his silken robes and necklaces, guided into position by programmed magnetics, they quickly formed a grip and blade on the ancient-looking tsuba.
So, he concealed his weapon in plain sight, eh? Why draw it now, Cormac wondered?
“Since we are merging the tribes -so to speak- and the traditions, I will institute a new tradition from your side of the Old Mother Earth. Kneel before me, my lieutenant.”
Well, Cormac thought, if he wanted my head, I suppose -since I have acknowledged him as head of the clan- I could hardly deny him. The big man knelt, as abjectly as he could bring himself to.
“I dub thee Sir Andronicus, the first Black Knight of the Black Dragon Clan. Arise sir knight, take your place at my side.”
And while the two toasted their futures together, Cormac Andronicus -the most brilliant schemer produced by his clan since the legendary Fionn mac Cumhaill on Old Mother Earth, considered his future. This huge brute had hid his intelligence behind his great mass and great fists for decades, to rise to this position. This man who had seen to it that the one Celtic captain he had known all along to be working for Shen, came to be in charge of his son on this particular day. This man who had been almost entirely certain -almost- that the flickering light in the ceiling of Shen’s office was a magneto-generator set to disrupt operation of electronics such as his pals-pistol’s ignition trigger. This man who had personally arranged for the abduction of Sho Meng’s daughter, and had himself made the call that -falsely- tipped them off to where she was being held, knowing a war would erupt. Finally, this man who had personally arranged for the explosion that had been blamed on the aggressive Triaders which had cleared the way for him to rise to the position of Clanchief.
He had tried hard to come across to Shen as not intelligent enough to be a long-term threat, yet not stupid enough to be useless to the Triad. Cormac knew the only way this could end with both of them still breathing would be if Xian offered him a position inferior to his own. The Eastasians of the new clan would not obey Cormac -yet. If he had been the one to leave the room alive, everyday they would plot his death and replacement. As Xian Shen's second, all that would change.
He would live in Shen’s shadow long enough to learn their languages and ways, and this would allow his son and him ample time in Shen’s complete protection to establish his own loyal network — even within the Asian members.
Yes -indeed- Draco Andronicus did have an excellent ring.
Maximillian d'Errebourg is an SCA Black Fox Award nominee, and First