Queen Karla of Glacia glacial_queen
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Sidra, Glacia, Afternoon Kaeleeran Time
One of the most difficult skills one needed to cultivate as Queen was the ability to look interested and focused on anything, even while your brain was elsewhere--in Karla's case, hundreds of leagues away, fretting over several small villages that had been covered in an avalanche. While all she wanted to do was remain at the estate, continuing to go over emergency relief plans, she was here instead, smiling and nodding and being overall a gracious and sociable Queen. Raven's luncheon for the caretakers and staff of various Sidran orphanages and children's homes had been a rousing success, raising funds from aristos who wanted to be seen as 'charitable' and raising morale for the people who actually did the hard work in the institutions themselves. Several grinning orphans were there, too, lucky enough to have earned a lunch with their Queen and the Court Healer, the woman who was putting in all the real effort into making things better for children across Glacia.

This was a good event and an important one, one that Karla and Raven had both been looking forward to for weeks, but right now it was all Karla could do not to gnash her teeth in impatience. How much longer did they have to stand here and smile and glad-hand when there were actual lives in danger?

And if this was how Karla was feeling, how much worse was it for Raven, who could teleport up north with a thought and start healing people immediately, if only they didn't have to be here right now?

Even taking the Sapphire Wind, the Coach ride to the mountains had taken hours. Julian was glad that he'd had to spend the entire time focusing on the drive--the darker the Wind, the faster and more dangerous it was for the inattentive. If he'd been forced to spend the entire time brooding about what they would find when they landed, his nerves would have been completely shot right now.

As they left the Winds to descend into Glacia proper again, he steeled himself for whatever they might find, preparing himself for the utter worst. He didn't know if Jono had ever seen the aftermath of an avalanche before, if he was aware just how grisly it could be, under the deceptive layer of calm snow.

And yet, for all of that, Julian found himself completely unprepared for what he saw when the Coach landed. Blinking, he frowned and rubbed his eyes, as if he could clear them and make everything make some kind of rational sense.

"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"

Jonothon's eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed. His hands balled into fists at his sides, and a curl of smoke rose up from underneath his wrappings as he looked around, even taking a few steps forward into the scene laid out before him.

//If what you're seeing involves a chicken sitting on a fencepost while a few children throw sticks for their pet dog and business continues to go on as usual, then yes, I'm seeing exactly what you're seeing, here.//

He spun on his heel, narrowing his eyes at Julian.

//Did we land in the right place?//

He was certain they had. And the more certain he became, the more he became uneasy about that fact.

"That's exactly what I'm seeing," Julian said, glaring at the peaceful mountains as if he wanted to take them to task for not burying the village under several tons of snow. "Believe me, this is the place. I verified it with Mallory several times en route."

There had been several towns that had supposedly been hit by the avalanche, but this was most definitely one of them.

"Should we check on the other towns, or...?"

Or were they going to leap right to the ugly possibility rearing its head at the sight of a happy, contented village?

//Check on our Queen,// Jono replied, fists clenching. //Somebody wanted us far from Sidra, fast.//

He was leaping into that ugly possibility right away, yes. There was far too much effort put into getting them out of there, too many reports of a disaster, the timing was far too convenient.

To be absolutely certain, he took a moment, now that the range wasn't so ridiculous, to confer with an acquaintance who lived the next town over, one who had put Jonothon and his troops up for a night in the dead of the winter during the war. Everything was fine and well there, yes, thank you General, why do you ask?

//We've been set up.//

One of the many, many benefits of being Blood was that one could curse a blue streak while simultaneously reaching out on psychic thread across the entire Territory. Julian would have been very put out if he hadn't been allowed to vent at the same time he desperately tried to contact his Queen.

*Karla!* he sent, a headache forming behind his eyes. The length of a Territory was a long way to try to contact someone, even for a dark Jewel. *Dammit, Karla, answer me, I don't care what the fuck else you're doing!*

Karla was in the middle of three aristos, each of whom was trying to outdo the others in platitudes about how much they were doing to help the 'poor children of Glacia', when Julian's psychic thread came through. Excellent timing, in fact; Karla's patience was wearing thing and she had very nearly interrupted them to thank them for their generosity on behalf of the landen children who were also benefiting from it, just to see their expressions.

*Report, Julian,* she ordered instead, schooling her features to look as if she were politely listening to their prattle even as her mind raced.

*Funny thing about that,* Julian replied, pulling Jono into the link as well. *There's nothing to report.*

*The Hell are you playing at, Prince?* Karla demanded. *Now is not the time for jokes!*

*He's not playing,* Jono reported, his own voice sounding equal parts exhausted and firm. He wasn't in the mood for arguing, right then. *I've checked in with two--* A short pause. *--Three of the towns that were supposedly hardest hit, now, and all of them are reporting the same bloody thing, Karla. 'Lovely weather we're having, innit?'*

*Mallory would never lie about something like that!*

*Of course not,* Julian said, impatient. *But that doesn't mean people can't lie to him!*

"Oh god..." Karla said, unaware she'd spoken aloud.

"Beg pardon, Lady?" A portly Warlord bent closer to her. "Didn't quite catch that."

Manufacturing a careless smile, Karla waved that away. "Never mind me," she said, grateful she'd used a phrase from Earth, rather than one from Kaeleer. "I'm just so glad to hear how much you all care about the children. Please, tell me more."

The Warlord was only too happy to puff out his chest and continue his prattle. For a brief moment, Karla pictured him as a smug robin, hopping about looking for the tastiest worm to eat...

Pull yourself together, diGlaia. You're a Queen, not some insipid schoolgirl. It was funny how much her mental voice sounded like Ender's at times like this.

*We're still in Sidra, at the Orphan's Luncheon. Everything seems fine here. Have you seen anything suspicious where you are? Anything at all?*

*Aside from the fact that we're four hours away from you by Coach and there's nothing the matter here, no,* Jono replied, sounding irked. *Somebody wanted to get as many people away from you as possible, Karla. If this trap was for us, we would've been jumped by now, before we could realize the mistake, turn around, and head back home.*

*Then I'm the target,* she sent back to them, even as she made her polite excuses to the trio of nattering aristos. *In that case, whoever is behind this--* and it was tempting to just assume it was Hobart, but that wasn't an assumption they could afford to make, not yet *--whoever they are, they're likely here. Or at least nearby. Even with most of my First Circle gone, I'd be too safe in the estate. But here in Sidra, with just Morton and Raven here with me...*

Julian, who had a soldier's gasp of cursing, had nothing on Karla. She had spent time with Lucivar and no one knew how to curse better than an Eyrien warrior who'd grown up in a hunting camp. And if that weren't enough, she'd had plenty of time to soak up a bit of Huttese and other random languages from the island. That was on top of Karla's own charming personality, which gave her cussing a bit of dramatic flair as it was.

*We need to get out of here before someone does something stupid and endangers people here. Too many children and civilians to use as targets.*

*Get Morton and Raven and get home,* Julian ordered. *You can round up the rest of your Court there and go to ground. Haven should still be safe. There's not a witch there who wouldn't cut the throat of someone who meant you ill and that's assuming they got past the Arcerians.*

*I'm not going to run away,* Karla said, catching Morton's eye and nodding him over. Raven was close by, Karla needed only to touch her arm and she had her friend's attention. *This is my Territory and I'll be damned if I let someone run me out of it.*

A quick link and Morton was in the thread as well, being caught up on what Jono and Julian hadn't discovered.

*Dammit, Karla, be reasonable--* he started, but this time, Karla was going to talk over him.

*I am,* she said, silencing the three of them. *We're going to leave and I will take every precaution necessary. But I did not go to war over this Territory just to run at the first hint of trouble. We stay.*

After the mental conversation with the boyos in the north, Karla exchanged glances with Raven and Morton. "I think it's time for us to go," she said softly.

"You're bloody right it is," Morton snarled softly. "You ladies make your goodbyes, excuses, whatever. I'm going to summon the Coach and put the estate on high alert." He ground his teeth in frustration. "Damn Warren for not being here right now!"

Several people glanced over at him in confusion, but his closed expression didn't encourage anyone to approach them and ask what he meant.

"What is going on?" Raven asked Karla, instantly concerned. "Are Jono and the others all right?"

She gave Morton a sharp glance. "Warren would surely be here if he could. He had important things to deal with in his home world."

"He did," Karla said, giving Morton a quelling look. That didn't explain why he wasn't home yet, considering his last message had said his portal was leaving within just a few hours, but, for once, she had bigger things to worry about.

"And that's the problem, Raven. Everyone is fine. Everyone."

"Everyone is fine?" Raven repeated, trying to comprehend why that was a bad thing. If there had been such a terrible avalanche and no one was hurt, that would be miraculous. Or perhaps the avalanche had not been as bad as originally feared. Or...perhaps there had not been an avalanche at all.

"...oh," she said. "Yes, we should leave here immediately."

"Sorry to cut your event short," Karla muttered, pasting on a bright for the crowds. "At least it's mostly over? Other than the schmoozing and small talk, I mean."

Karla would actually have been grateful for the opportunity, if, y'know, it hadn't come with the possibility of innocent bystanders and murder.

"Say whatever goodbyes are appropriate," Morton ordered, voice tight. "And make whatever excuses you need. But we're leaving in three minutes, no matter what."

His cousin--his Queen--was in danger. He didn't know from who or from what angle the attack was coming from, but he did know that he was going to bundle the ladies up and shove them to safety as soon as possible.

Raven knew better than to argue, and she wasn't willing to risk Karla's safety, either. She nodded and turned to one of her assistants, Kiris, letting the woman know that the Queen had an important matter to attend to, so they would have to leave a little early, and would she please give everyone their regrets that they could not stay longer?

"I am ready," she said. "Kiris will cover for our absence."

Karla was ready to give Kiris a warm smile and a thank you for covering for them, but Morton wasn't having any of it. He began escorting them to the door, nodding at Raven to flank Karla's left while he stayed to the right.

It was more a controlled march to the door than a walk, Morton bulldozing past anyone who put themselves in their path to get one last word with the Queen. Anyone who didn't get out of the way quickly enough was simply pushed aside.

The Coach was waiting for them outside, the driver having wasted no time after receiving the First Escort's psychic summons. "Back to the estate," Morton ordered as Karla was hurried inside. "Make all possible haste."

It seemed hard to imagine that anything was amiss in the beauty of the early spring afternoon. People thronged the street, taking advantage of the bright sun and the gentle warmth. Snow still clung to the darker corners where the light couldn't penetrate, but small shoots of green were poking through the earth in gardens and windowboxes. An avalanche had made sense, yes; they were all too common in the spring when warm weather weakened hold of the ice and snow to the rock face.

But an attack on her? That seemed ludicrous, even with the knowledge that Hobart was out there somewhere, agitating against her, and that the aristos were unhappy as she restricted their freedoms even as she increased the landens'. But there were people waving at them as the royal Coach passed--waving!

At least, they were before Morton leaned over and pulled the heavy cloth curtains down over the windows, admonishing 'No sightlines!'

"There has to be some mistake," Karla said finally, looking to Raven for backup. "Some other explanation, that we just can't think of."

But Raven had been fearing an attack on Karla for some time, and it made her able to leap instantly to the worst possible conclusion.

"I would hope that it is," she said, "but why would someone claim there had been an avalanche when there had not been one? It is not even an exaggeration; it was a complete falsehood. No one would do such a thing only for a jest, would they?"

No, much more likely it had been a lure. Warren's absence had been noted, so whomever was behind this -- Hobart, she assumed -- knew that was one less obstacle out of the way. Then the "avalanche" took several more. Perhaps he assumed that the Court Healer surely would have rushed to the avalanche as well, but she had been away when the report had arrived.

"Perhaps I should just teleport you back to the Estate," she suggested. Though, then again, they didn't know what might await them there. Perhaps that was just what Hobart was waiting for.

"We stay together," Morton said, every muscle taut. "I'm waiting on a report from the estate. If I get the all-clear, we can teleport. Until then, we keep moving. We--"

The driver cried out, one noise of surprise that turned into a keen of pain. The horse screamed and bolted, dragging the Coach along behind it. One of the wheels locked tight and as another rolled free, they felt the sickening lurch as one corner sank low.

Wood snapped and glass shattered. Debris pelted their faces and hands with bruising force. Morton's head snapped back as something cut open his left cheek. Karla's face bounced off the wall of the coach--she felt a sickening crunch from her nose and a gout of blood poured down her face. That, at least, galvanized her into action. She threw up shields around them all just as the Coach tipped over completely, crashing on its side before continuing a sickening flip with unnatural speed until it smashed against walls of power. There was another equine screech and then silence, though the Coach was still hurtling end over end in defiance of physics. It was also moving forward, as well. They'd just crested a large hill when the horse had run for it and now they were hurtling down the other side.

Below them, Karla remembered, was the River Sid, it's waters cold and high from the spring snowmelt.

"Craft!" she gasped. "This isn't a natural--" The upper frame of the door swung wildly and slammed into the side of her head. Her shield stopped the jagged wood from piercing her skull, but the force was enough to knock her out completely.

"Hell's fire and Mother Night!" a pedestrian gasped. "It's a runaway Coach!"

Raven had grabbed for Karla as she heard the driver cry out, intending to teleport her out immediately, but the sudden lurch of the Coach tore her from her grasp. A flying piece of glass sliced open a deep cut in her forehead as she slammed into the side of the Coach, and she felt a rib snap.

Blood flowed over her eyes, and the pain made it hard to focus. She heard Karla call out, then an awful crack as her voice was cut off. But she didn't need her eyes to find Karla, and her flailing hand found her Queen and gripped her tightly. With her other hand she fumbled desperately for Morton. When her fingers caught his sleeve, she pulled them all out of the tumbling Coach and into the Netherverse, depositing them on the top of the hill they had just crested. The Coach continued its slide down the hill until it left the road and crashed into the river.

Raven let go of Morton and flung herself over Karla, shielding her with her own body as she frantically began to heal her. Her injuries weren't fatal, thank Azar.

Morton's eyes followed the Coach until it hit the water, immediately sinking under the thrashing waves. If they'd still been inside when it had gone in...

He couldn't think of that. They hadn't. been and now Raven was Healing Karla. That was what was important.

"She's okay, right?" Morton demanded, calling in a sword and clutching the hit with knuckles that were white with strain. An Opal shield shimmered to life over the three of them. "She'll be okay? You're the Court Healer, Raven, you have to be able to help her!"

ith all her attention on Karla now, Raven didn't answer. She took quick stock of Karla's injuries, relieved that they were nothing fatal. A lot of bumps and bruises, a few fractures, broken nose, and a nasty concussion from the door hitting her head. The last two came first, and Raven's body jerked and shuddered as she took those injuries from Karla and into herself.

Which was probably the best time in the world for seven rough-looking males to crest the hill and find them, right?

Hopefully that answer was yes, because that was exactly what was happening. "Well, well, well, what do we have here?" one asked, grinning, his hand glowing with Yellow fire. "Looks like a bitch-Queen and her companions had a little trouble here."

Karla groggily pushed herself up onto her elbows, conscious again thanks to Raven. "And from where I'm sitting, you lot look like a walking advertisement for contraceptive brews."

She coughed and spat some of the blood that had leaked down her throat.

"The best parts of you ran down your mothers' legs and into the gutter she lay in. Fuck off." If anyone asked, she was going to say her diplomacy skills had shorted out with the beam to the head.

"Do not move; you are not entirely healed," Raven said quietly, but she pushed herself to her feet, wiping the blood from her face with one hand. Her head was spinning as she struggled to banish her own injuries and those she had managed to take from Karla, pain and anger coming together to make her eyes blaze red as she glared at the men.

"Surrender yourselves now," she said evenly, fury still controlled but hungry for release, "and name the one behind this attack, and you may be treated with mercy. If you do not, I promise you great suffering."

Part of her hoped they wouldn't obey. They'd hurt Karla. They'd hurt her friend, her Queen. They had to pay.

It was Raven's lucky day! Their attackers didn't seem all that keen to comply.

"You're not real Blood," another one of them sneered. "That Jewel is a fake. Is that what your bitch-Queen wants to do with all landens? Dress them up and pretend they're Blood? Does she have you roll over and beg, too?"

He spat on the ground at her feet. "That sounds like fun, bitch. I think I'll make you do that, too."

Morton ground his teeth, forming an Opal shield over Karla, who'd dropped the Ebon-gray when she'd been knocked out.

"I think that's enough of an answer, don't you, my lady?"

He was going to enjoy this.

Had Morton ever seen Raven lose her temper? He was about to have a front row seat.

"I gave you fair warning," Raven said, her voice deceptively calm. "You will not be allowed to harm the Queen."

Just like when Jono's life had been threatened, it was a conscious choice she made. She didn't lose control of her demon side; she deliberately relaxed her grip on it, letting loose the hungers inside her. She was Pride, and all Sin sprang from her. Since rage was foremost in her mind, it was Wrath she called upon first, filling two of the nearest men with an intense anger with each other.

"What did you say?" the first asked, wheeling around on his companion. "The Hell did you just say to me?" His questions were followed up with a harsh shove.

"I didn't say anything," the second replied, shoving him right back. "But I was wondering whether you needed a quill for when you pissed or if you just spread your legs and squat like a female."

They were on one another like starving weasels after that, pulling knives and using Craft to attack on another. Morton, seeing no reason to let a perfectly good opportunity go to waste, flung himself at a third whose attention was distracted at the sudden unplanned violence to his left.

The others were slightly more disciplined, however, fanning out in a half-circle to surround Raven and Karla.

Between the four advancing males intent on doing her harm and an enraged Raven who wanted nothing more than to protect her, Karla was perfectly aware which constituted the graver danger.

"Raven, calm down," she said, reaching out with soothing spells. "These bastards aren't worth it. Look at them. They're no threat to us. We can take them alive and find out more from them that way than--"

"Shut your mouth, whore!" the Yellow Jeweled prince shouted. "Or are you only quiet with a landen cock in--"

Oh, wrong thing to say, Yellow Prince. Raven shrugged off Karla's spells and stepped forward, seizing the man around the throat with one hand. Her other hand went between his legs, claws digging into his cock, twisting, tearing, and throwing the bloody mess at his companions.

Not a good sign! Not a good sign at all!

While the other two enemy males acted like the detached organ was a grenade, diving out of the way, Karla pushed herself up and flung herself at Raven. "Whoa, whoa!" she said, waving her hands. "That is waaaay past bounds, sweetheart. Leash it, Raven, or you're going to be sick when you come back to yourself."

One of them sent a gout of witchfire, but Morton's shield kept her safe from harm within the circle of angry flames. She sent an Ebon-gray backhand towards her attacker, not even sparing enough the attention to see if it hit. "Raven, all four eyes on me. Focus, darling, focus!"

Sadly, the attackers were not complying with Karla's attempts to calm Raven down.

"Bitch you bitch you fucking bitch!" the maimed male screamed from where he was writhing on bloody ground. "Mother Night, my cock, you fucking bitch, my cock..." He trailed off into hysterical sobs of pain just as one of his friends leapt up and charged at them.

"I'll kill you!" he roared, blasting at them with bolts of Summersky power. "I'd kill you for free!"

Even the pair that Raven had infused with unnatural rage were going out of their way to be difficult. One of them sank to the ground with a bloody gurgle, his throat a red ruin. The other didn't pause before launching himself at Morton's back.

Maybe that had been a little over the top, but Raven had a one track mind at the moment -- protect Karla. There were other Sins she could wield, however. Sloth, for one. And the three charging at her and Karla were going to get a large dose of it as she reached out to sap them of energy.

Karla gave a small sigh of relief as the males' furious race ended abruptly with them sinking to the ground and gasping. Raven had stopped them in their tracks, leaving them quiet and docile, and she hadn't used violence to do it. Even the Yellow Jeweled male was quieting, his frenzied writhing slowing until he was prostrate on the ground.

As far as Karla could tell, it was a job excellently done. She'd seen Raven do this in the past, remove the negative emotions from people to calm them down. "Good job," she murmured, giving Raven a hug.

And while she clung to Raven in that hug, she missed the ways their lips and fingers went blue as their hearts ceased to beat, their brains ceased to function. Mouths slackened as they tried to draw in air, but their lungs lacked the energy to expand, their body shutting down completely as their cells were depleted from lack of energy and died by the billions.

It was Morton who spotted the bodies first, pulling his sword out of the skull of his first opponent. The one who'd tried to attack him from behind had been blown apart by blasts of Opal power. His Rose shields hadn't lasted long under the brunt of the attack and once that had been gone, the next bolt of the Opal had fried him, body and mind both.

"No survivors over here, either, huh?" he asked, casually wiping his blade across the shirt of one of the prone bodies. "Any of them going to make the transition to demon-dead, you think?"

"What--no!" Karla said, turning to look for herself. "I thought they were just lying down..."

She crossed over to where they'd fallen and knelt, scanning them with Healing Craft to see if any of them still clung to life.

Nope. Even their Jewels were dark and cracked, not a glimmer of life to be seen within. "Balls," Karla muttered. "So much for interrogating prisoners."

Shrugging, she pushed herself back up onto her feet. She wasn't concerned overmuch with their deaths, save that it would have been useful to keep one alive to pull whatever information they'd had about who'd hired them directly from their brains. No, her concern was for Raven and how she would react once her anger cooled and rational thought returned.

"You okay, sweetheart?"

"I am fine," Raven said, mostly returned to normal except for the red gleam in her eyes. Her stomach felt a little queasy, but not remotely like how sick tapping into the power of Sin had made her feel in the past, as if her body wasn't rejecting the use of those abilities as it once had. Some part of her was numb and shut down, though not to the extent that it had when she'd killed to protect Jono.

One hand still dripped with blood, and she quickly wiped it away on her cloak. "I am sorry," she said. "I did not want to do that, but I could not afford to be gentle with them, not with your life in danger."

She frowned as she looked Karla over. "You need more healing."

"We're alive and that's what matters," Karla said, calling in a water bottle and a cloth so Raven could wash her hand off properly. "Believe me, darling, I'm a Hell of a lot more concerned with how you're feeling than with how they are."

"You two stay right here and stay shielded," Morton ordered. "I'm going to go check and see if the driver managed to jump off the Coach before it hit the river. If he's alive, he might have more information about just what happened."

From Morton's steely expression, it wouldn't bode well for the driver if he did.

"If anything threatens you, teleport right to the Queen's chambers and barricade yourselves inside. I'll catch up." He looked at Karla and shook his head. "Let her heal you up. You're a wreck."

"Yeah, well, you're no looker yourself right now," Karla grumbled after him, but shook her head at Raven. "No. Leave the bruises. Well, maybe reduce the ones around my eyes a bit so my vision isn't impaired, but other that that, they remain."

He voice turned cold and sharp, she'd brook no arguments here. "I want everyone to be able to look at me and see what happened. We're not going to hide this. We're going to make a goddamn point."

Raven was not pleased, but didn't argue. Much. "What if you were to allow me to heal everything that was not visible in clothing?" she suggested. "There is no reason for you to be in pain from bruises that no one but you and Warren will see."

Whenever Warren came home. Most of her was even hoping that it was soon.

"I shall leave the rest alone, though. To make your statement." Karla's nod was grudging, but it was enough for Raven, soothing the hurts and bruises and slight injuries that Karla had taken in the Coach.

"He's dead," Morton reported when he returned. "But he's still got some psychic energy left, so I've ordered some of the crowd to care for the body until nightfall. I'll send some additional guards down to watch it while he makes the transition."

And then he and possibly the General would have a little chat with the driver. Just in case.

"I've also gotten word from Mallory. He and Helene have done a thorough sweep and haven't found anything. It should be safe to return." Safe enough to return, yes. But just safe? It would be awhile until Morton would be able to let his guard down after this. "Raven, could you bring us home? I'd prefer to take no more chances with Karla today."

Raven fervently agreed. "Of course," she murmured. "Directly to Karla's chambers."

And anyone there who was not supposed to be?

Would be dealt with.

[Part 2 of 3. Thanks to both furnaceface and trigons_child for their wonderful help with this preplay. NFI, NFB, OOC is enjoyed. Warning for violence and NPC death].


2014-08-20 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)