Chapter 2: Dull Blades

A loud voice boomed in the small room: 

A declaration from His Majesty, Maharaja Astir 

This voice belonged to the steward, who was now oozing blood onto her floors. 

Gifted to us is the infallible resolve to deliver our loyal subjects from the current calamity 

The consequence of the present threat of the treacherous

This second one, though, was like that of an elder who overindulged on smokes: the Maharaja’s voice, gritty from his years of shouting orders on the battlefields. 

The safety of the nation and its people have no share in the hearts of these treacherous, who throw themselves in the arms of the foreign to gorge on power

Sura made eye-contact with Pariya and could practically read her thoughts. The Ciketi had always warned the Maharaja against getting too close with the foregin westerners. Trading and sharing their knowledge was conducive to growth, but permitting them authority over major trade routes? The Maharaja was putting a venomous snake in his bed and hoping warmth would soothe its hunger. The bite of this snake would send the whole of Navaka into chaos.  

 These foreign usurpers and their traitorous associates are held together by the need to persecute our own lineage

We hereby assert our right to call upon the Ciketi to ease the intolerable burdens weighing on our great Navakan Empire

Sura made an immediate decision. She held her palm up and watched as candya swirled in the center to form a delicate shimmering butterfly. Bringing the fluttering creature closer to her lips, she spoke the words that it would need to record:

 “Spread the word, the Commander and Vice-Commanders are heading to the mainland by order of the Maharaja.”

The butterfly would carry a record of her words to the nearest perimeter watch-tower, and the sister on duty would simply pass the message to the next tower. Though her butterfly was convenient, it required a high level of precision and abundance of soul energy; Sura had only seen two others copy her method. That unfortunate Maharaja would just have to stick to soul beads.  

With the butterfly gone, Sura called over another sister to imprison the men till their departure and dragged her two Vices to the Kauta pavilion. The columns there, twice her height, surrounded a verdant courtyard that separated the open areas from the private ones. The open areas were often used during mealtimes or for the occasional moments of leisure, whereas the private ones were shared chambers used by Ciketi members or indoor training rooms. They were usually empty on calmers days like today, since the Ciketi preferred to sleep and train under the gentle lull of the warm island breeze. 

No need to get used to luxuries they would not be afforded during assignments. 

Sura entered the room that she had once shared with Jaya, Pariya, and Hiran. Before Hiran left, and before she was promoted. Now, Sura was the only one who used it and she wasn’t sure whether it was out of convenience or sentimentality. 

Once they entered the isolated space, Sura shed her decorative armour for a simple white kurta, the short sleeves and thin cotton suited for the humid May heat. The room was bare, save for two wooden chests filled with clothing and spare weapons. The itinerant nature of the Ciketi eliminated the need for other possessions.

While watching Sura change, Jaya leaned against the wall and finally asked, “I don’t quite understand the need to waste candya to whip that dog.” Canyda, an ability linked to the strength of the soul, could drain and tire out its user. It’s why most users only used their abilities when absolutely needed, hence Jaya’s question. 

Pariya looked at Jaya with her eyebrows raised, “I can’t tell if you are naive or simply stupid. What would the first goal of the Maharaja be when faced with a new Commander? Of course, to test her loyalties.” 

Jaya tsked, “Meeting the steward was a test, then? For Sura?”

Sura changed into a salwar that matched Pariya’s while listening to her explanation, not surprised in the slightest at how quick the eldest caught on. Although she had never gotten along with Pariya since they first met, she could not deny the other’s skill.  

Pariya undid her own damp braid and ran her fingers through it, breaking the curls, “The guard didn’t even struggle to stop me when I whipped the steward. The steward himself didn’t move a muscle to try and escape. This was all despite the guard being a candya user.” 

Jay, finally understanding, smacked the wall with her fist, “They did it all on purpose. You should have let that dog suffer a bit more.” 

 “I don’t particularly enjoy that stuff like you two,” Pariya jeered. 

Ignoring the jab, Sura thought back to how the steward purposefully provoked them – his demand to meet her, then speaking disrespectfully – then how he later accepted the whipping as if it was expected. The coward had obviously been instructed by someone, likely the Maharaja himself. 

The steward was a servant directly serving the Maharaja and her attitude towards the steward would reflect her attitude towards the throne. Was the new commander willing to forgive the steward’s impudence and curry for favour, or was she unyielding with an ego?

With a sneer, Sura thought it would be best for the steward to spread word of this incident all over the Court. Let them all call her brutal and treacherous. It would not be the first time. Best to remind the Maharaja that the Ciketi warriors were not decorative blades to pull out for show, but those sharpened after a life in battle.

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