Conversations in Cockpits

“I need you. Well, your Warbird. And you, I suppose.” Quinn strode into the Qismet’s home-
slash-warehouse-slash-headquarters as if he owned it, a pack on his back and dressed for travelling.

Qismet was stretched out in a hammock across from said Warbird, reading through his agents after-action reports from last night’s Event. “What for?”

“I’ll have time to explain once we’re in the air.” Quinn peeled open the cockpit on the war bird.

“That’s great. But the warbird only seats one.” Qismet rolled out of the hammock, folding away the reports and coming to the defense of his craft. “Plus… It hasn’t been serviced since I got it. And I’m pretty sure that those things need more maintenance than I know how to give them.”

“Well sure it only carries one – you have this massive plush seat in here. It’s like a recliner!” Quinn’s voice became muffled as he stuck his head under the seat, legs dangling in the air. “I really don’t blame… like that in the First Age… and obviously… mmrr bbrm -” Quinn’s muttering turned indecipherable as he squirmed further under the pilot’s chair briefly “… even penguins!” The lanky Eclipse finished and hauled himself back out with a triumphant grin.

“What are you rambling on about? Are you messing with my bird? It’ll need a pre-flight unless you’re just planning on a short hop.” Qismet hopped up onto the wing, leaning over the edge of the cockpit. If Quinn thought that seat was a recliner, he ought to spend hours in it. “Which, by your gear, you’re not.”

“In a matter of speaking.” Quinn pulled the seat out and dumped it onto the flagstone of the warehouse’s courtyard. “Now is not really the time. People’s lives are in the balance.” He hopped up and pulled his legs up into the fetal position in the back of the cockpit.

“They always are. And now where am I supposed to pilot this thing from? It was uncomfortable enough to begin with.” He twitched to one side, narrowly avoiding being hit in the head with the pilot’s chair. “Nevermind. Just give me the —” Qismet picked up the seat of the chair and chucked it back into the cockpit, followed by himself and a coil of cording. He winched the seat down with a couple of sailor’s knots, strapped himself in and started up the craft. It came to life beneath his hands and feet with a thrum, and, clicking the cockpit closed again, he lofted it into the sky.

The warbird glided out over the island and the black depths of the ocean between Ikress and Blue Haven. The necrotech island looked horrifying. Flesh of the behemoth had sloughed off where it had burned, and the edges of the wounds were putrefying black. Bony projections, coated in slime, had grown up randomly across the dorsal surface.

“Sun above, Bluehaven looks even worse than when we left it.” Qismet banked the craft slowly, keeping the sun behind him as they surveyed the dripping behemoth.

“I know the situation looks dire, and it is. But I’ve already done everything I can to win this battle. It’s battles two and three I’m concerned about. A good strategist always plays several moves out. Blue Haven will fall, that much is certain. Our second battle is to save the lives of the people of Ikress and its environment. That includes making sure the manse doesn’t suffer complete power failure or that our actions don’t create a shadowland outside Ikress. That outcome seems likely at the moment.”

“The third battle is for the hearts and minds of everyone in the West. We need to turn this bloody defeat into a rallying victory that will amass us allies and support. The last thing we need is for the whole rest of the West to join the Silver Prince because we looked like fools. Their cowardice will direct them to serve the winning side, even against their better judgement. So that’s why Ikress cannot fall.”

“The Silver Prince has caught me off guard. I didn’t expect him to make the preemptive attack. It’s overly aggressive for a Deathlord-”

“Tell that to Thorns,” Qismet muttered.

Quinn paused briefly. “You know, that’s a good point. It’s a wonder they’ve survived this long. I think these might be insane ghosts. It’s poor strategy. It paints him as the clear bad guy and aggressor against a bunch of civilians. We must use that to our advantage. That means this war will be shorter and bloodier than I had predicted. We’ll need to up our game to Phase 3 very quickly after gathering intel.”

“Didn’t that grumpy Sidereal person say even Thorns was an outlier to what they know of Deathlords? Is that why we’re going out today? Gathering intel? What’re we doing out here, actually?” Qismet was listening to Quinn’s chatter with half an ear, most of his attention was scanning the skies and the water for possible threats.

“We need to get to Fahkaru.” A small golden spider materialized on Quinn’s shoulder and chittered into his ear. “Turn to bearing 137 relative to the sun. Full speed ahead.”

“An Elemental Dragon would be exceptionally useful in the coming fights.” Qismet checked the navigational readout on his essence display and banked the craft carefully, then punched the throttle. Blue Haven rapidly became a small dot astern.

“I was trying to explain that. We need Fakharu specifically. It’s no accident that Blue Haven ended up on the shores of Skullstone. It’s a dare and a trap and the Silver Prince has taken to it quite enthusiastically.” Quinn’s tone turned rapt with memory. “You see, while the rest of the Circle was busy fighting the Lintha around Blue Haven I found myself alone obscured by smoke from all the burning wreckage. I decided to explore one of the towers on the water…

“Are you narrating your own melodrama?” The snark fell out of Qismet’s mouth before registering with his brain, but Quinn just kept going without even pausing for breath. Tris would have… Qismet stopped that thought in its tracks and refocused that part of his attention back on Quinn.

“…most valuable chest because it had the strongest defensive enchantments. After examining it I concluded it would summon a Second Circle Demon if disturbed. Thankfully, the dim-witted enchanter left signs as to what direction the demon would be summoned in. So I just knocked out holes from the top level to the sea so when it was summoned it just dropped straight into the ocean. Some poor rock demon is still down there, picking on the fish. Sorry, did you say something?” Quinn cocked his head.

“Nothing worth writing down. How far are we going today? We’ll both need sleep and food if we’re going for longer than a day. And the Warbird will need care.” Once outside of the known archipelagos, islands were few and far between and Qismet knew this from hard experience. He had no intention of plowing into the waves from failed endurance.

“I don’t think it should take that long. Help me get my bearings. Where is Lighthouse?”

“We passed it about twenty minutes ago.”

“Ok… where is Stark’s Reef?”

“Also behind us.”

“Newstone?”

“Off to port – also behind us. But not as far.”

“Sun’s Balls! We’re moving fast! Uh, it shouldn’t be long now. I guess we don’t have to miss much of the fight then.” Quinn said, amazed. “I need to investigate how this thing works.”

Qismet rolled his eyes. “You’re asking for a smiting, swearing by Sol’s shining testicles. We’re just passing Azure now. Look to starboard, I’ll turn so you can see it.”

“Well I better make this quick then.” Somehow Quinn started talking even more rapidly. “Uh… Blue Haven is booby trapped with canisters of Vitriol that will dissolve most of the island and kill it more dead than it already is. Problem is, it will also poison the waters around Ikress since it’s so close. That’ll kill everyone on Ikress eventually if the Silver Prince doesn’t, then there’s the poisoned dragon lines, and the fish. So we need Fahkaru to create a sustained whirlpool that can contain the toxic waters and not kill… everything. Blue Haven wasn’t supposed to be so close to Ikress. Now everyone’s in danger and it might be my fault!”

“Not terribly unusual for us – the being in danger part, not that it’s your fault. That is a change.”

Quinn took a moment to collect himself then turned suddenly cheerful. “Good news is after this we’ll have the Silver Prince on a silver platter. I’m going to use the recordings of this atrocity to—”

Qismet interrupted Quinn. “Look Quinn. You don’t need to reveal your master plan to me. I trust you. Well, as much as I trust anyone. Plus, the less I know the less I can tell… should something unfortunate… happen. You want desperately for someone to know, to see how clever you are, I know. Tris was the same way, when she came up with something particularly good. Almost bursting at the seams to tell someone who could understand. But given who we’re dealing with this time… Just tell me where to go, and who needs to die for what good reason. The whys and hows can wait till we’ve won. In the meantime I’ll trust that you’ve been exceptionally clever and thought of everything.”

Quinn grew more sober. “No, that’s not it at all. I have the approval of the Unconquered Sun. That’s all the approval I need. I just don’t want to turn out like Ten Stripes. She rules the island I grew up on as a false god.” Quinn let out a bitter grunt. “Turns out she actually had good reasons. She was trying to make a better Creation and protect us from the Wyld. But she treated everyone like chickens in her pen. She killed anyone who disagreed with her. I… actually masterminded the bloody revolution that took her down before I was exalted. So I guess when I’m making these plans and putting people’s lives on the line, I’d just like someone else to be in on it. To make sure I haven’t crossed the line.”

“That’s the problem with being mature, particularly with a lot of power.” Qismet pulled the throttle back slightly and the hum of the craft dropped in pitch to a gentle hum. If they were going to talk, he didn’t want to potentially overshoot their goal. “There isn’t just ‘the line’ anymore. Nothing’s black and white, even though I approach things that way. Veiled Eagle has to be confident for the Order, but every single kill I make is carefully thought over to make sure I’m not doing more harm than good.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.” Quinn frowned. “About the risk of being captured, I’ve been thinking about that. If essence can allow us to gain knowledge or think more clearly, I think it may be able to do the opposite as well. I bet you could practice a charm where you forget something until you hear or see a key phrase, and then your mind would have access to it again. That would help for deep cover work. Especially for fooling Deathlords.”

“If anyone knew of a charm like that, it would probably be Master Grey. We can check when we get back.”

“Ok, I’ll skip the details, but there is part of my plan your order needs to know. I released a plague on Blue Haven a couple months back. Nothing much but it spreads through undead and living alike. I’m using it to track a person’s connection with the Silver Prince’s forces. Have your agents check the backs of people’s hands. One freckle means that they were on Blue Haven at some point. Two, that they know someone who was. Three, that they’re two connections away and so on. You can safely ignore anyone with 5 or more freckles on their hand. The effects should fade off shortly after that. It should have reached the whole of the West by now.” Quinn held up his hand with two freckles on it. “See? We probably caught it from Weeping Raiton.”

Qismet glanced back over his shoulder at Quinn’s gesticulating then at his own hands on the steering controls. “Lots of people have freckles. But I’ll make a note of it in the next directive I send out.” He banked the craft again, taking note of the angle of the sun and their location over the archipelago. “So, where am I going?”

Conversations in Cockpits

Silver Sun - Solars in the West Asrai Redkite7