The Ivory Tower.
Or, how Asteria gained its capital, and two old enemies became friends.
As the dauntingly tall woman strode down the halls of the ship, she couldn't shake the odd feeling looming over her head. It all felt like something that had been seen before, something that had been done before, but she knew well enough that it wasn't the case. No, Fate reassured herself. Though this meeting echoed the one she had held several years ago, one to prevent war and coax its embers to glow all at once, this time, all the events surrounding this one was different. Watching the shuttle come in and land, the distant thruster wash toustling her white hair, she stood firm, the only guards she had staying far back and in the distance.
Watching the ramp drop, the Fyuunen's sharp eyes already saw that this was very different indeed. The woman once known as Morioka Naoko was pregnant. The wide sash of the dark general's broad golden obi hid it well, but Fate saw the bump despite the garment's form-smoothing qualities.
The new Asterian Mikado set foot on the ship's deckplates, flanked on either side by her black and green uniformed guards. Both sides had produced an honor guard, suitable and proper to both their cultures. The beleagured, recently released Lorathi soldiers under Fate's command bore up surprisingly well with pride and saber, and the surprisingly well equipped but slightly less formal Colonial pirates who wore their clan symbols openly upon their haori as badges of alliegance held hard expressions. The two sides did not meet eyes, but stood where they needed to, and walked where they must. Though they had not been enemies, now or in the past, both bodies of men and women were aware that times had changed and the meeting might not turn out as peacefully as before.
In the end, Morioka and Fate ended up face to face again, though this time in person instead of over private video feed.
"It seems working together would benefit us both again," the Fyuunen began, towering over the former Star Army Taisho by an entire foot in height. Though she had once stood over the dark skinned woman by a much more considerable margin in the past, the rumors were likely true. She was an elf now. Fate leaped right into business, knowing she had to keep momentum on her side. "I have a fleet and its support assets, but no nation to berth at. You have a fledgling nation, second-hand assets from the UOC, and not enough crew. A working agreement between us is in order."
The moment Fate had mentioned the newborn nation in passing, she regretted it, mentally fumbling with her words and giving initiative to Bhelith. It made her uncomfortable and uneasy, that new life inside the other woman.
Bhelith Morioka looked up at her with a sort of strange serenity, and pregnant or not, Fate could feel the intensity behind the expression. At first she had seen a wolf in the woman all those years ago, hopeful and greedy for the hunt, but now she realized the wolf had set its eyes on a different mark than she had assumed. Did she even factor into it?
Silent, fey-eyed, the dark elf looked long at her before nodding towards the path that they would be taking towards more private quarters. It had been cleared in advance by the Lorathi troops, the way made obvious, and the Mikado took it without asking and left Fate to follow.
"I see you do not trust your own," the former High General observed, her face stony and cold as always. That haughty arrogance. That aloof demeanor. As she ended up following, and on her own ship no less, she quietly fumed to herself for slipping. This wasn't like herself, and she knew it. Walking down the hallways of the recently repaired ship, Fate's scarred, toned arm soon reached out, and with a hiss, a door opened.
A meeting room usually reserved for briefings, now being used to discuss the fate of fleets and nations. Fate herself briefly stared daggers at the snacks and drinks laid out, but quickly moved - despite her stern expression, she pulled a chair back for Bhelith to sit. She did, settling politely into the place provided for her, and then she shifted her attention to the chair across from her. For the first time during the walk, her hands left her sleeves; Bhelith motioned for Fate to sit as well.
They stared at each other for a few moments. Eventually, the two guards that had come with Bhelith, strangely masked, took a few steps towards the door, where they stayed afterwards.
Finally, the gold-haired monarch spoke, watching the general with the faintest of weary smiles. Her voice was a little more weathered than it had been as a nekovalkyrja, but the elf seemed supernaturally austere. Not perfect, like too-precise video feeds, but somehow ephemeral, her utterly, infuriatingly authoritarian voice coming from somewhere otherworldly.
"I will legitimize you, ennoble you, and allow you to take control of the assets that you had upon Asura before Yui removed me from command. I am told many of them are still there, planted among the governments on the surface. I will also help you find the ones that will wish to ursurp you for your betrayal of their priests, but the wise ones will see this for what it is and accept it. We will no longer war, even by proxy, as I understand that the peoples of Asura and the peoples of Lor were never enemies, and I shall not make them so.
"You will be allowed to maintain with your own soldiers the rest of your fleet, will be appointed a national general of rank equivalent to command our combined forces without question. Your culture, your religion, your social hierarchy, shall be maintained, along with the dignity of your station. You will be responsible for your granted territory, for your people, for their law and well-being."
Settling back against the chair's cushioned upholstery, Bhelith continued, "In return, I will have this ship, temporarily, for a capital. You will formally hand it over to me along with any ships of carrier, or capital classes, still operational in your fleet. Additionally, I will receive your personal fealty and the fealty of your next of command. You will mobilize troops for the national interest, for governing those who wish to follow the banner I shall have you strike."
The Mikado - that's how she acted, now, and the formality seemed precise enough to at least lend that title a bit of credence - didn't seem half as frustrated as Fate felt. Not unwise herself, Fate could read between the lines; this was, perhaps, a little more than could have been expected. They had set their bargaining positions. This was politics. Empress Vishta had released Fate relatively unharmed, when she could have done a great deal worse, and it seemed that Fate now had the opportunity to stare the reason in its yellow eyes - and the yellow eyes, somehow, knew the nature of the gift. Fate could have said anything, done anything, and it might not have changed this meeting, or the way the elf held her eyes, one damn bit.
After a few moments pause, Fate realized that it was her turn to speak.
"Your perception is excellent," the Fyuunen tried not to chew on the words. A single vestigial wing twitched in annoyance however. Deliberately or not, Bhelith had a tendency to get under the woman's skin or push the most aggravating buttons, and this was no different. "These terms are acceptable," Fate added after another moment's thought. Deep down, the Lorath woman knew that there was likely more she should have pushed for, but politics and negotiations were not something she was born or bred for.
More than ever, she resented the caste system and its rigidity.
"In addition to our agreement, I am also here for another reason," Fate began, briefly glancing at that pregnant belly - again, that feeling of revulsion returned, though she fought to crush it. Quickly. Quietly. If Bhelith noticed this, she patiently ignored it. "Empress Vishta of the Gartagen Union sends her good regards, and is hoping for future relations between our nations," she began to explain. Fate loathed having to relay a diplomatic message, but kept on at it. "As a sign of good faith, she has given us several support vessels to aid our logistics chain, and hopes that an alliance will be beneficial." Now, the part where she was more comfortable in. "It is her belief that war is coming."
And as always, there was never enough of the good part around.
This, too, the elf accepted without undue strain or comment. Instead, she looked around her new demesne as though for the first time. Fate could tell that she had relaxed a little bit, though, as usual, assumed it were some manner of deception. This woman had teased her like a cat when she had been a Yamataian admiral, and why would now be any different?
Bhelith returned her hands to her sleeves, though she didn't seem cold. It seemed an excuse to settle them over her stomach. She was uncomfortable! Suddenly, the woman's abrupt manner made a little more sense to Fate, what had seemed off about her old nemesis. The thought of why the elf was uncomfortable only made the Fyuunen herself uncomfortable, however. It conjured back memories of Destiny and her own children, now all gone.
It didn't seem to change what the elf said next, which was, "War is always on the horizon. I expect you to fight for your people when it does come."
"Agreed," the Fyuunen readily replied - it was her specialty after all.
"You may address your men when you feel it appropriate. I will remain onboard this ship to take command of it. Beyond this, you may speak informally to me if you wish before you make this public commitment." The fey woman's golden eyes shifted back to Fate. "Is there aught you would say?"
"Yes. That we are home."
A pale blonde eyebrow and an incredulous look met the declaration. The elf left the statement alone for just that moment before she tested it. "Are you?"
Disappointment. Fate got the distinct impression she had said something wrong. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait to find out what. Bhelith continued; "Politics have never been your virtue. In truth, they are rarely my virtue either. You do not need to mouth politeness for its own sake, I have enough people kissing my ass. We have matched wits before. You deserve the chance to speak. At least, to why you rebelled if you honestly have nothing else to say."
Words. How was she to say this?
"We are...few now," the Fyuunen slowly began, showing the first real glimpses of emotion on her face since they met again. "Stating that this is our home, we will know our backs are to the wall," Fate explained. It was, more or less, something she had said to herself, and soon, would for her own people. They were in a dangerous, precarious position now. The specter of extinction was something that disturbed her sleep. Again, she furtively looked at Bhelith's belly before meeting her eyes again. "As to our rebellion, there were many reasons."
Yes, there were quite a few, drawing in even the most unlikely allies.
"Some felt this was our home. Others believed it was an elaborate suicide, following Velor to serve even in death. Plenty feared to find new, alien guns being leveled at them," Fate spoke. "If it were not for so many reasons, the insurrection would not have been as widespread, or long as it was." For once, she smiled. "Not even our absurd Intelligence could keep pace." It became a frown, however. "You know how the moment of truth ended." The words weren't meant to be harsh or hostile, but simply a statement of fact. Fate was never the wordy kind of woman.
"Often, things we set aside for ourselves, or for our friends, end up in the hands of our enemies," the elf observed, more gently than her previous tone. "That is often simply the way things go. For what it is worth, I thought that you might end up in a position such as this, and you have my sympathy."
The circlet held most of the Mikado's hair out of her face, but she moved what few strands had found their way forward aside thoughtfully.
"If you are being serious with me, I suppose I should accept that. I do have one other question since you have not asked for clarification. Though my terms are harsh, I wonder if you understand them?"
"Too well." Fate paused for a moment. "I was expecting worse," she bluntly added. Staring at Bhelith with her typically cold, dispassionate gaze, the Fyuunen went on. "I will be loyal, as long as you are loyal to our peoples," the former High General replied. One could have taken it as a threat, but for Fate? It was simply stating the facts. There was no other way to gain and then maintain her loyalty. They both knew this. Fortunately for them, it shouldn't be a problem. At least, in theory anyway. Looking away at the view screen, Fate then said something completely unexpected.
"I don't like the idea of being bred," the Fyuunen finally admitted, her words dour. It was the biggest thing that Bhelith's own pregnancy made her think about. In turn, the elf blinked at her, perhaps a bit taken aback by her bluntness - for once. A bit bemused, Bhelith answered, unable to maintain such a straight face as before.
"I had not proposed to do so."
"You misunderstand," the white-haired Fyuunen bluntly replied again. It couldn't be helped - the elf had been a Nekovalkyrja for the longest time. Or, perhaps she was always that way? It didn't matter. "I have been uncomfortable since meeting again - I understand why now." Crossing her arms and pushing up her ample bosom, she continued. "Selective breeding is important. Ensures our numbers, or strength. Now, more than ever, and I have been failing to find a proper source." Her words grew more bitter. "I do not look forward to doubling my efforts to find one, finally finding one, or what comes after."
The elf flexed her fingers within her sleeves, perhaps clasping her hands together in her lap as she listened. After Fate had finished, Bhelith explained, "I had only been joking with you. It seems that everyone I meet instantly begins to think, like you are, about children. Perhaps I should start sending other people to these meetings." Ruefully, she gave that statement its alotted space, just enough that it could carry some weight. Then, she continued, "If you want my advice, you would leave this to others and do as you will. Your nation is dissolved, so far as we are concerned, and you may safely dissolve or remake its customs with it. You and I are not so dissimilar in this."
Thoughtfully taking in what Bhelith said, Fate couldn't help but smile, just a little bit.
"Yes. It would seem we are not too dissimilar."