The ice wars of dominia, p.13
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       The Ice Wars of Dominia, p.13

           Hylton Smith
 
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  *

  Karim realised just exactly how lucky he had been. It wasn’t just the deflected power which caused the damage. On this regeneration trip he had felt a similar disorientation to the first Mercurian one. Careful observation led him to believe that in both instances, matrix twists caused by the initial damage had allowed space dust from the surface of Mercury to breach his particle barrier. He didn’t feel any after-effects other than a gritty sensation. He would attend to it when back on Earth. That return was uppermost in his thoughts. He had to revise some elements of his plan. If Ragna and Ventaninho could refine their deflector principle, it would be dangerous to confront them together. One could deploy the equipment while the other finished the job with normal electro-magnetic discharge. He wouldn’t be so lucky a second time. He would obviously have to abandon the guise of Kiozo, and Sendzai was now sensitised to the ploy of shape-shifting. He had to assume Khaled may have also been informed of his deviousness by those with whom he sought peace talks. He briefly considered Thule, but discounted it on the probability that his relationship with Sendzai would complicate matters. He was quite pleased that the game had seen a tilt in the playing field; the challenge had become more intriguing. He had to count on Ragna and Ventaninho seeking him out, either because they had developed weapons of a different kind, or to try to convince him that the gathering desire for peace would effectively end the game. When he thought about this in more detail, it led him to two main conclusions. He would spend some time in each nation simply as an observing peasant, going about his business without much interaction. This would hopefully underpin his main conclusion – that he should find covert means to kill off these peace talks. If these tactics didn’t prove successful he would consider the challenge of fostering an intermediate diplomatic phase of the game – it was an alternative route to domination. He felt it would also be interesting to observe what they all made of his non-appearance.

  *

  Ragna had returned and wasted no time in contacting Ventaninho. The latter was still in mourning over the loss of Kiozo. Ragna sensed he wasn’t emotionally ready to engage in planning an offensive against Karim. He suggested that they visit all nation leaders in turn to stress the importance of vigilance and the urgent need for the proposal of Khaled to be widened from the western province to the whole of the temperate zone. He remembered that although the Travellers had predicted a reversal of the extension of the ice sheets, since removal of the solar filter, they had overlooked making the humans aware of it. Although it would be a painfully slow process, it carried the very important message that the temperate zone would not continue to shrink. This in turn had the potential to erase the hundred year evolutionary pressure to live by the rule of the ice. The Loci would be free of the need to acquire more land just to offset the shrinking habitable world, which they had been forced to vacate. The knock on effect on Dominia would be one of relief of the creeping claustrophobia of relentless immigration. Ragna also theorised that such news might help hasten the touted talks between West, North and East Korellia. His idea was sufficiently uplifting to raise a smile from Ventaninho. The fly in the ointment was always going to be Karim, and sooner rather than later, the situation had to be addressed. Ragna floated the proposal that they regularly tried to contact him by the usual method, even though he had almost always ignored their calls, and his declaration that such communication was over.

  “I do not expect a positive response, following the use of the deflector, but even a refusal would tell us he is back in Earth space. This we must know.”

  They decided to tackle the most difficult trip first, as this idea rested on unanimity, so if there was resistance they should know at the outset. They appeared in front of Sendzai, who had now almost adjusted to such invasion of privacy. In this case he accepted that it was important, and in any case, he needed their help to begin fulfilling his vow to avenge the murder of Kiozo. The anticipated resistance which was virtually inbred in the Tor-Azen toward negotiated treaties was encountered immediately, but when the revelation of the halting of the ice advance was truly inserted into the equation, Sendzai became uncharacteristically introspective.

  After digesting the significance of this, he called for Mitsuno to attend, as he had redeemed himself in the eyes of the leader. Before the General arrived, Sendzai asked if this was simply a prediction or a certainty. When he was assured it would happen, and given the explanation of the effect of the removal of the giant solar filter, he asked if the ice would merely halt its encroachment or whether there would be reclamation potential of lands already under the glaciers. Ventaninho said it would be a slow process, but the ice sheets would retreat. This statement brought about another few minutes of reflection, by which time Mitsuno had arrived. He was introduced to the two Travellers and became only the second of the nation to hear the full extent of who they really were and the abilities they had. Sendzai then explained the news of an end to the need to run from the white death. It was as though Mitsuno had been sentenced to a different kind of death, as his face expressed severe anxiety. Sendzai basically confirmed why this was the case.

  “Our primary objective has been achieved. We have outrun the devil, and along the way we have outstripped those who saw us as enemies. It was never in our heritage to kill in order to survive, but we had no choice except to meet fire with fire. We have always used minimum force to convince our various opponents of the wisdom in adopting our culture. This strategy has served us well in most respects, but it also had a price, especially in the beginning. The battles in traversing Chinese lands took all three of my sons, and when the youngest was slain, my woman took her own life. This was not an uncommon sequence of events for many senior warriors, and underlines why I had considered bestowing Kiozo with the honour of inclusion into my family heritage. The original pledge of the Tor-Azen became a dual one – we would survive the ice at any cost – for the nation, and those who did their duty but are no longer with us. Mitsuno suffered in the same way I did. In many respects it was harder for us to continue to live through this than it would have been to end our lives.”

  Ragna and Ventaninho were spellbound and had no idea what was to follow. Sendzai continued. “This information you bring will signal a new era for us. The Tor-Azen, under my guidance, have always tried to keep our blood pure. Part of that discipline was to avoid unnecessary alliances, especially through strategic marriages. Mitsuno and I never thought we would see the taming of the ice in our lifetimes. It is also enshrined in our law that if such an event did occur, it would require a new approach of social order and diplomacy, rather than military leadership. I now have to let the people know that the new leader can be chosen. I will be the first to retire, and that will be quickly followed by Mitsuno redeploying warriors to the new cause. The peace invitation from the other nations will now be of interest to whoever becomes leader. I can concentrate my full attention on Karim. You see, one of your kin Kiozo, became the son I never really got to know. I am therefore available to participate in any way you have in mind to gain justice for your lost brother.”

  Mitsuno echoed this commitment. Ragna promised to involve them both in some way and said they felt it would be prudent to inform the western alliance that the new Tor-Azen leader would welcome peace talks.

  “We should do this with some urgency as we do not know where Karim is or when he will strike.” Sendzai acknowledged this and asked Mitsuno to assemble the Sages.

  *

  Things were moving so quickly, now that the ice was going to relent. The long-mooted discussions of all Korellian nations had been timetabled, and Thule wanted to meet with Sendzai before this date. Even though he understood his friend was stepping down he wanted Jaden to benefit from his wisdom. As Sendzai was in less demand, now that the selection process of a new leader was underway, he readily agreed to have the future figurehead of East Korellia stay with him. This was appreciated by Thule and it negated any premature official requests for the heir to be introduced to the n
ew Tor-Azen leader.

  *

  Karim was ready to blend into his temporary observation role. His options had shrunk, being persona non grata with both Sendzai and Khaled. He ruled out Korellia even if they joined forces, feeling they were unmanageable. It left only the Aurorans or the Machu, and although he knew little of either, he did know of the death of Grenthe. Having a transitional leader did appeal, as he could be malleable, so he headed for the northern province of the Aurorans. His assumed character was in the expanding agricultural initiative. He was banking on this activity becoming a very important cog in the machinery of brokering and maintaining peace. It would initially be subordinate to diplomacy, but that would be too high profile for him at present, and in any case he was intending to sabotage the process. He became known simply as Aggar. There was one aspect he was concerned about. The gritty feeling he had contracted with the space dust around Mercury, although not really harmful, was not showing signs of decline, and actually altered his voice projection from time to time. He really needed to spend some concentrated time on removing this irritant.

  *

  The meeting between Salamand, Thule, Berbus and Negrosa was not overly ambitious in its objectives. Furthermore, there was the small matter of Negrosa being officially ratified. Lupus had left no heir, that much was undisputed, but with peace in the air, many North Korellians were contemplating whether a military leader would disadvantage them when the time came for negotiation of the terms of integration. Salamand and Thule only really knew one another by name, although they had heard of the respective feats which had been attributed to all prominent Korellians over the years. They seemed to find instant accord, and this left Berbus and Negrosa feeling a little isolated. What they all agreed was that apart from any interference they could expect from Karim, a total peace accord throughout the temperate zone was even more likely, because of the receding ice pronouncement. Berbus thought hard on this and reflected on the situation of the Tor-Azen. He articulated an offer to support Salamand - to be the sole representative for West Korellia.

  “I am not getting any younger, and my experience is not in the arena of diplomacy or agriculture. I have to confess to have been influenced by the declaration of Sendzai that the time has come for a change. Although I have never met him I empathise with his decision. I pledge my support for Salamand, in any capacity asked of me.”

  He admitted to himself that Negrosa’s situation could end with him being passed over by his own people for the honour of leader, and Berbus did not want such humiliation to tarnish what he had achieved for his own tribe. The broad principles of short term objectives was reached surprisingly quickly, and the most pressing one they listed was for the overall peace process to acknowledge the amalgamation of the common borders of West, North, and East Korellia. This had to be completely accepted by all other nations, and effectively meant they were creating a block of land which separated the Loci from each other. Prior to this declaration of intent, there had been corridors of access, albeit dangerous ones. A consequence of this demand would mean there were no direct borders between the Loci and Dominia. This would have been welcomed by the Loci before the first strike, but it was now seen as an unnecessary hindrance to cooperation. It indirectly put pressure on the Loci to move agriculture to the top of their priority list. Passage through Korellia would be permitted, but the introduction of border controls would be seen as a lack of trust, especially as both the Machu and Aurorans had fought alongside Korellians against T’slane. The ripples of this new cornerstone of Korellian identity brought every nation to the same table for the very first time. The Tor-Azen were represented by Sendzai, as the election of a new leader had been put on hold. The euphoric air of the drive toward peace was stuttering slightly, and illustrated the chasm which could open between concept and implementation. One individual was enjoying the building apprehension.

  *

  The provisions which Khaled had left with the western alliance were hurriedly shared and consumed during this shadow of unease. This knee-jerk response was in total contradiction of the previous intent to use the gift sparingly, while the agricultural era was set in motion. Prudence had lost out to panic, but worse still, a lot of people became seriously ill. The condition began with retching and fever, soon followed by skin discolouration and extreme weight loss. The worst affected by far were the Aurorans. Although all other nations had sporadic clusters of the ‘plague’, there were few fatalities. The Aurorans were decimated and within three weeks their numbers were down from just under three thousand to approximately four hundred and twenty. Despite crude quarantine procedures, and the incineration of all provisions supplied by Khaled, the death march showed no signs of slowing. It did however allow idle minds to suspect the sustenance had been knowingly infected, as there were no reported fatalities in Dominia. Further decline of Aurorans, including Grun and Emana, caused a spill over of anger, when no other so-called allies offered any help. The reality was that they were simply scared of creating the same epidemic levels of the plague within their own nations. The truth may never emerge. The problem was nothing to do with Khaled’s gift; it was caused by Karim, alias Aggar. Even he didn’t know that the space dust harboured long dormant viruses, now enjoying climatic conditions more to their liking, and a relative abundance of hosts within which to flourish. The past hundred years had seen these Loci nations and the Dominian-Korellian interface evolve in isolation. A fractional difference in genetic shift became the Achilles’ heel of the pale skinned northern people. When Karim had settled amongst the Aurorans, and finally rid himself of the irritation picked up around Mercury, he had unknowingly created the epicentre for nurturing the virus in the most fertile hosts. The entire peace process receded much quicker than the ice, and fear reigned once again.

 

  Chapter 15

 

  According to Auroran custom Lennart should have succeeded Grun, but everyone knew he was not even capable of sustaining a straightforward conversation without being distracted by anything and everything. This left Meridia, but she was not prepared to preside over the nation’s slide to extinction. She left her brother and the people, heading toward the western province of Korellia, to tell them it was a mercy mission to ensure they got medical help from their nearest ally. Even though the integration of all Korellian nations had stalled, Berbus did not withdraw his gesture of inviting Salamand to represent both tribes. Meridia felt it was only a matter of time before Thule saw the sense in asking Salamand to bring Jaden under his wing. This was underpinned by Negrosa having failed to convince his people of his credentials to officially succeed Lupus. The fear of contagion was greater than the threat of war, they were dangerous times. All Korellians began to feel that a new leader should be able to cover both military and diplomatic strategy. To Meridia this was an opportunity not to be missed. She wanted to be perceived as more forward-thinking than any of her male counterparts. Most of the other nations had already blamed Khaled for the Auroran plight, based solely on the coincidence of consuming the provisions and the outbreak of the plague. She seemed to be the only one who insisted that, as the sustenance was shared evenly, there should have been more casualties in the other nations. She knew that her most difficult task in this plea was to convince them that she must have had sufficient immunity to survive, and her contagious period had passed. Her natural instinct was to blame Khaled, just as everyone else had, but there would be a much better time to settle scores, such as when she shared greater power. The Aurorans had become an irrelevance in terms of numbers – that needed to change.

  She had chosen Salamand as the first target, because he fitted exact the profile which was increasingly demanded by Korellians for any new leader, in the event of the integration talks resuming anytime soon. They also saw, as Meridia did, that attracting East Korellia into their alliance would help offset the loss of so many Aurorans, which would otherwise have reduced the potency of their collective power. She correctly assessed that the sticking
point with the other Loci was still the intention of Korellia to ratify the effective sealing of their borders. If, as she expected, even Salamand the wise could not broker support for compromise on this, she would complete her task by turning to Altocotl. She sensed he had desire for her, and by gallantly trying to resolve the Korellian question when her own nation was suffering so badly, she would gain respect. In the back of her mind was the Korellian access to Machu fish farms; it was this bargaining point she was really after.

 
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