From the Desk of the Nagaraja: Prologue
Pencil-pushing was the most boring part of Jinso’s job. Unfortunately, it was also necessary – reports from field agents needed to be recorded, expenses needed to be calculated, and the number of heads that the Naga brought in for the bounty project was definitely better dealt with in paper. The result was Jinso’s desk was perpetually covered in stacks and stacks of paper, save for a tiny space for him to rest his current work, and a hole to place a mug of kawhe. After almost twelve solid hours of bureaucracy, however, the mug was empty. The stacks remained, however, stacked.
At this point, any distraction would be welcome.
Knowing his subordinates proclivity for dramatic timings, Jinso paused for a long moment, pen suspended in mid-air. Silent seconds passed and nothing happened, so the Nagaraja sighed and returned his attention to his work.
Nagaraja. Do you have a moment?
Visteon’s voice, through the medium of telepathy, echoed through Jinso’ head. With a silent sigh of relief, he dropped his pen and leant back in his chair.
Go ahead, Lord Visteon.
Shallam’s forces are engaged in Ashtan. Looks like they’re winning, for the moment.
Jinso snorted in derision. No doubt Sarthen or Salis was leading some sort of action against Babel’s city, which he would have seen if his deathsight was attuned. It distracted him whilst he worked, though, and paperwork was tedious enough. If there was any appearance of Shallam winning, it was probably due to Risnat. A master tactician in the Occultists, Jinso’s file on him was starting to grow to worrying proportions.
Whilst they are engaged in the involved process of experiencing Chaos first-hand, there is almost no-one left in Shallam proper. Visteon continued. Jinso nodded, and then remembered the other end of the conversation was probably not even in the city. He frowned for a moment, extending the range of his vision beyond the strictly material.
Jaru. Not entirely unexpected.
What are you getting at, Visteon?
The reply was tinged with a sense of excitement, masked with false innocence.
Well, you were saying how the House’s coffers were a little empty recently…
Having the sun beat down on him was not a feeling Jinso particularly relished, and his fellow Naga shared his discomfort. It took a certain effort to relax, to let the warmth seep into Jinso’s serpentine blood. The heat made him feel calm, relaxed – a feeling that was entirely at odds with the tension of standing within sight of such a target as Shallam.
“Well, Nagaraja? Your thoughts?” Lord Visteon was as bold as ever, a carefully crafted mask of indifference hiding his expression of eagerness.
Jinso took a long moment to think. Shallam was well protected, and her defenders would no doubt come running if they knew she was under attack.
And what concern of that is mine? Strength through Suffering.
“Let’s move.” Jinso said quietly from beneath the hood of his cloak. Visteon nodded once, turned on his heel and stalked off toward the city gates. Jinso kept his eyes on him until the last possible moment, watching him slowly fade from perception, then vanish from reality in the time between two steps. Jinso pulled a skullroot flower from the Rift, ate it and shivered as his mind attuned itself to Thoth’s presence, the better to keep track of today’s operation. Two deathsights immediately settled into his mind.
Jinso frowned, put them out of his mind. At least Shallam’s forces were engaged.
Naga. Begin your infiltrations immediately. Jinso’s mental command received a half-dozen acknowledgements. It felt odd to be issuing it over the city’s telepathic channel, but the Tyrannus insisted.
“Why should you get all the fun, Nagaraja?” He had said. “I’m sure there will be enough of the Eastern heathens to go around.”
The discipline of the Mhaldorians was excellent – no-one else in the city spoke. Nevertheless, Jinso could practically feel their enthusiasm and excitement, tempered by the cool detachment of his Naga. Or so he liked to think. Those Maldaathi had better not screw this up. Jinso’s opinion of the Baelgrim’s knights was mixed – they were effective killing machines, but tended to fixate on their precious honour rather too much for his liking.
Nagaraja. Xie’s voice, quiet and restrained.
Parasis remains in the city. No emotion flavoured Xie’s thoughts, but Jinso suspected there was a healthy chunk of paranoia being brutally suppressed. Parasis was a blademaster of some renown, famous amongst the Naga in particular for wielding a sword named Enduring Serpents.
We’ll deal with him as and when. Maybe let the Tyrannus take care of him.
Xie did not reply. Jinso took that for an acknowledgement.
Jinso. The Tyrannus’ voice echoed around Jinso’s head as he started towards the city. Report.
Jinso counted the seconds that had passed without communication from his field agents, Xie’s report notwithstanading. Everyone is in position, Tyrannus Sabian.
Excellent. I await your instructions.
Now that was a strange feeling. Jinso had to fight to control his expression, mouth twitching up at the corners. The Tyrannus was waiting on him – and so was the entire population of Mhaldor.
This was going to be excellent fun.
Arbela Park was deserted, which suited Jinso fine. He kept his hood raised out of habit, but allowed himself to stroll along at a comfortable pace, taking time to glance over the gardener’s work. Pointless waste of time and energy.
It had taken him just under fifteen minutes to get from the edge of the city to here, avoiding any notables that might have barred his way. The pleasant stroll through the gardens was almost decedent, by his standards, but it let enough time pass that Jinso could be sure everything was set up adequately. Right on time, Visteon’s voice called over the city’s channel.
Anteion and I have reached the bank. Jinso nodded to himself.
Xie’s voice came next. On Kashshi Way now.
Other Naga reported ready.
Sulamain Avenue is empty.
Scythia square, likewise.
Four decadents at Fish street. That one was tinged with disgust. Permission to inflict Suffering?
The joke sparked a wave of amusement among the listening Mhaldorians, but they had the good sense to keep quiet. Another pair of acknowledgements, and Jinso took over.