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Carbon Black (Locke!)
Wed Jul 5, 2006 10:28 (XFF:

For three days, there had been so little. The Spies gave little. The merchants told little. The news was little. So little–and yet it had consumed the very pith of his thoughts in their entirety. And there, at the daybreak of the battle’s third day, as Lysander was alone in his study fiddling with forms and miscellaneous distractions, he heard noise. There was excitement. Activity rose in the Traveling Yards, and in uniform, they returned. Bodies were milling again into the Black Tower, breaking the morning mist for the intensity of their arrival. Lysander stood, flanked by guards, as he watched his Soldiers, Dedicated, and Asha’man return through shining silver gateways.

Was it a sign of weakness that he’d been worried? Was it a sign of weakness that he now could breathe relief?

Needing no segue, the Asha’man began barking orders. There was no bed for anyone. There was no release of tension. Instead, the Soldiers and Dedicated were sent to training, joining the comrades that had not left the Black Tower. They could not expect anything less.

And from the throng Lysander spied Otis, dusting himself off casually. Lysander approached the Cairhienin man, nodding respectfully though giving no other sign of welcome. “To my office,” he insisted quietly. The short fellow did not make argument of it. Seating himself behind his desk mere moments later, Lysander peered fixedly at the Spy. “Tell me everything,” he murmured. “And there is no information that must be cross-checked with your Track leader. I will hear all that I want to, and I want to hear all.”

Otis nodded gruffly, sparing no thought of moral dilemma. “The Seanchan did not make it to Illian. Our troops met them approximately halfway, and there was combat . . . though we bested them indefinitely. Those of the Ever Victorious Army who had not been slain fled back for Altara, though too many had been killed for them to make another attempt. Not so soon. We can say with confidence that Illian is protected.”

Lysander tented his fingers, breathing embossment. It was a rare moment when his expressions might’ve leaked through his smiling facade, though he did not pay mind to this in the least–not now, anyway. Not this moment, not this hour, not when there was goodness to be counted. The Shadow preserve him, but a taken Illian would have amounted to nothing good. Nothing. “And the Spies? They were returned?”

“Yes, barring one,” the fellow murmured. “Jyaar’s throat was slit when the other seven had been freed. Those that had not been freed by Soldiers or Dedicated were saved by either Paras, Otis, Niamh, or myself.” Jyaar. The fellow had been a Dedicated while he was an Asha’man; Jyaar had shown him the Earth Singing weave, and it had been under his guidance that he’d learned that Earth Singing was not a Talent of his own. Jyaar. The Shadow lay of a blanket of silence over his soul. A Light-blinded fool, perhaps, but an Asha’man nonetheless. Lysander . . . Lysander was finding difficulty drawing lines between where loyalty to the Tower and to the Shadow began and ended, though he would mourn Jyaar in his own way.

“And the Ambassadors? Was the Queen’s Guard deployed? Did the Assassins make good of their duties?”

Otis made a guttural sound in the back of his throat that Lysander only could surmise was agreement. “They came through a pass in the Damona Mountains, slaying the Seanchan. A . . . a Soldier, an Assassin, died in the mayhem. A young woman.”

“I see,” Lysander murmured. “What were the other casualties? Among the Soldiers and Dedicated, I mean, and the Trainees. How many died?” Why did it matter to him how many of the recruits died? Surely if one was to mourn the loss of a life . . . it shouldn’t matter if they had the experience of an Asha’man. It did to Lysander, even though Asha’man were arguably more important.

“Thirty-one Soldiers. Eleven Dedicated. Four Trainees. One Asha’man.”

Forty-seven. On his conscience.

Had Illian been taken, he thought pensively, the deathtoll would surely have been higher. As would the count of damane and da’covale would have been higher. His strategy had succeeded, though he only hoped he would never have to send Soldiers and Dedicated into the face of combat again.

“I want you to assess the participants, Otis, and send me back a report detailing which deserve to be raised following this. And I suppose there were deserters?” The Cairhienin nodded stiffly, almost appearing to take this as a personal affront. “Have them struck from the rosters and hunted down. Does that tie up the loose ends, then?”

Shaking his head, Otis appeared to grow graver. “Not quite, M’Hael Lysander. There is something yet. Captain-General Pargarus was never found. We believe he deserted his men sometime during the second day, hastening north. He was further north to begin with than most of his men, and so he came to arrive in the Damona Mountains just as the Andorans were wiping out the last of the Ever Victorious Army. He is somewhere in one of the passes, likely. It could take days to have it searched thoroughly.”

Lysander nodded, thinking. “So be it. We will find Pargarus. Send Asha’man. Spies, Officers . . . and some Dedicated from those Tracks, too, to bolster the number. Now. Pargarus will be found.”

Otis nodded. “Under what orders? Dead or alive?”

“Dead,” he murmured in a soft reply, casting his gaze out the window. Dawn’s rays of light pierced the night of the Black Tower, cutting through and drubbing carbon black. “To have his head placed upon the Traitor’s Tree.”

OOC: Congrats on winning the battle writing competition. *grins* And here you go! Your own chance to kick some ass and take some names. After this, Locke will be raised.

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