BNN: Good Outpost Make Good Neighbors

April 2, 2010

As Dawn was about to step into the receiving chamber, she paused in front of the mirror near the door and tucked a ringlet of her brown hair back into place. It defiantly popped free again. Dawn clenched her lips and shook her head slowly.

How did I ever end up playing the part of queen? she thought to herself as she examined her appearance in the mirror. I am a warrior, a third-generation royal guard. I have fought orcs and ophidians and demons and giant, mutant plants and all sorts of monsters… and now it seems I must face tea parties with potentates and dignitaries. I am unsure which is more likely to kill me.

Dawn didn’t have a problem with the gargoyles nor with Zhah specifically. Zhah was cordial enough but Dawn always felt that the gargoyles were hiding something… she hadn’t figured out what and she didn’t want to appear suspicious of her allies without just cause. The one thing she was sure of was that Zhah had come to her for aid; that the gargoyles definitely needed help, and it was her duty to the Virtues -- nay, her instinct -- to help them. Nevertheless, Dawn preferred to be more straightforward in her dealings than her current position allowed; all this smiling and posturing and primping made her feel like she was about to split in two.

Wetting her finger to smooth her left eyebrow and resigning herself to the state of her hair, Dawn made a final adjustment to her gown, took a deep breath and then entered the receiving chamber.

Sitting alone in the room, (“alone” if you didn’t count her personal guard of eight well-armored, demonically-bewinged gargoyles), was Queen Zhah. Dawn forced a smile to prevent her lips from clenching again. She found gargoyles to be a bit… well… horrific, and though she had been taught from a young age not to judge a book by its cover, she found herself wishing she was armed with more than the dagger strapped to her calf.

“Welcome Queen Zhah, it is good of you to visit us again.” The two women embraced each other in a cool but cordial greeting, punctuated with a ginger peck to the cheek. Dawn’s hair snagged on one of Zhah’s horns as they did this, but she quickly patted it back into place as gracefully as she could. With the greeting now resolved, the leaders of the largest kingdoms in two worlds sat down to tea.

After what seemed to Dawn to be an eternity of idle chit-chat, Zhah brought their meeting to the point. “My dear Dawn, as much as it pains me to dispense with these pleasantries, I would like to discuss our mutual problem.”

“Indeed, Zhah,” said Dawn leaning forward, “the Stygian Abyss….” Dawn found tactical military planning so much more interesting than discussing the optimal flight paths between her castle and Zhah’s palace. That Zhah wouldn’t use the runebook she had given her was annoying to say the least. “I’ve given this matter a great deal of thought.” Dawn continued, “Britannia has no intention of sealing the Abyss or of trying to banish the entrance as this would prevent travel between our worlds. Britannia remains committed to our treaty with your people and we value the cultural exchange.”

Dawn almost startled herself with the diplomatic flair of that last statement. Had that come from her mouth? She thought it had sounded rather queenly… didn’t it?

Zhah sat back and raised her peaked eyebrows. “Well, we are glad to hear it….” Now it was Zhah’s turn to clench her lips, but she continued without missing a beat. “I assume you have attempted to build an outpost there?”

“Indeed,” nodded Dawn, “and I assume you have as well. I also assume you have met with similar problems. It seems that something is very different about the Abyss relative to the worlds where we live.” Dawn sipped her tea, deferring the conversation to Zhah.

“Indeed we have. There is too much chaos in the abyss to build structures there. And yet, it appears that someone at some time did so.” Zhah examined the dessert tray. “Do any of these have meat in them?”

“The sausage balls do, but the mincemeat pie actually doesn’t,” said Dawn, gesturing.

“Your mincemeat pie doesn’t have meat in it? ‘Tis a pity,” said Zhah, taking a sausage ball.

“I suppose so.” said Dawn with a genuine smile. Dawn was quite pleased; she had always felt similarly. She resisted the urge to ask Zhah what gargoyles put in their mince. “As you were saying, something is preventing us from building there, but my councilors believe that it is actually the taint of evil. It’s most likely from the Slasher of Veils and not Chaos. I’ve always thought of “Chaos” as a political matter, not a magical one.”

“Hmm…” said Zhah. It wasn’t obvious at that moment if she was reacting to Dawn’s statement or to the taste of the hors d’oeuvre. Zhah looked pensive and laid the other half of it on her plate, wiping her long fingers absently on her napkin. “Well,” she said after thoughtfully chewing and swallowing, “I won’t presume that your advisors are incompetent… but if they are right about the demon in the Abyss preventing you from building… then your architects use a strange magic indeed.”

Now it was Dawn's turn to raise her eyebrows; as she did so, she felt the half-hour's worth of careful smoothing and penciling give way. She was sure her eyebrows would eventually be her undoing but no matter; it appeared this parlay was all but over. It was obvious that Zhah did not have the secret to her outpost building problems. However, it was also obvious that she would not take the building of a Britannian military outpost in the Stygian Abyss as an aggressive act. That was all she’d really needed to know.

Dawn picked up a sausage ball from the tray and examined it. She crinkled her brow and thought, I hope those book-hugging mages come up with a solution to this outpost problem before some new beasty pops out of that chasm and eats us all. She popped the savory snack into her mouth and smiled to herself with a new thought as she turned back to the conversation with Zhah. Maybe I can just feed the beasty these meatless mincemeat pies that no one seems to want.

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