Chapter 42: Negotiations
In the end, I fell asleep again and missed dinner. Atheros was the one who woke me the next day. “Father, the rest of the commanders have already gathered! They’re waiting for you!”
Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I groaned, “Oh?”
“Yes! You must hurry!” Came the reply as he dragged me out of bed, and to the door, where I actually started walking properly. He passed me my cap there.
Since we were practically at Victor’s door already, I told Atheros to follow me in. As he had said, everyone was already waiting, including Fenek, who had kept a seat for me.
Victor started the moment I sat down. “Alright, we got your message, so it is decided that you’ll go and talk with the council person.”
I nodded, sipping the provided water while Victor continued, “You will go in a convoy of two rovers, with the eight dragons, the special ones, plus one driver, and another one of your choice. They will serve as your security detail. The time now is eight in the morning, you have four hours to get to the place. Good luck.”
I finished the water and nodded, getting up. “Bit rushed.”
Victor shrugged and held up a scrap of slightly singed paper, in what was the most spidery handwriting that I had ever seen, was a message that read ‘Today, noon.’
“We don’t have a choice.” Victor remarked, “Your vehicles are parked down the road, and your escorts are waiting. You just need to get the one more guy and we’ll go.”
“Who’s the other driver?” I asked, as I beckoned Fenek to follow me, while shooting the disappointed Atheros a look that read ‘sorry’.
Victor got up and went to the door with me. “Me. You ready?”
I shrugged. “I have no choice, do I?”
With that, we made our way down to the ending of the street where the two vehicles were waiting, the group of eight already seated and waiting… Flayme sat next to me, while Fenek manned the gun. Hector and the two skinwalkers who were bright yellow today were squashed in the back seat.
“It will be a long journey, into the middle of the central hotlands.” The mage remarked as I started the engine. I opened the glove compartment to find that it was filled with bottles of water.
“Well, good day as any to be roasted.” I replied, giving the engine a rev and putting the vehicle into gear, “And a good day to test the tuning on the engines. I don’t like being late, guys.”
Giving the horn a toot to let Victor know that I was moving off, we left the city gates in a matter of minutes, and I put my foot down.
Of course, Fenek complained about my gear shifting, since I kept throwing the clutch and causing the vehicle to jerk whenever I changed the gear. However, that was rectified once I got to fifth gear and allowed the vehicle to cruise.
Out of nowhere, Hector produced a bundle of cured meat and offered it to me with a grin. "The state of your mane tells me that you just got out of bed. Here, have some breakfast!" He seemed immensely amused as I thanked him and began chewing on the food with one hand on the wheel.
The countryside whizzed by as we rolled along, as the green meadows and occasional fields transitioned to warmer and much drier arid land, where the road sort of disappeared.
However, neither Victor nor I slowed down as we got jiggled about by the rocks all over the place. Hector enjoyed watching the rest squirm while I tried my best to avoid the worst bumps.
I had to stop halfway to pass Victor my cap, though, lest he get too sunburnt.
Eventually, the giant rock that we had been told about began to loom into view. Or I thought it was the one anyway. We had seen many like it, and I had been wrong about those.
Flayme, however, pointed to it. "That is the one. I believe there's a track on the side that can be used."
I nodded as we careened across the rocky desert, and came to the base of the large monolith, which appeared to be made of some form of red rock.
On the side, I spied a path. I stopped for a moment so that we could all have some water, while I pointed the way for Victor. Meanwhile, I tried and failed to get some of the red sand out of my mane after having several mouthfuls of water.
After about ten minutes, we got back into the rovers and started up the path. A glance at the dashboard clock showed that we still had about ten minutes.
Putting the vehicle into gear again, we set off once again, taking the winding path up to the top.
We reached with a minute to spare, and I had the vehicles parked off to one side.
At twelve noon sharp, a huge shadow raced across the flat, dusty top of the rock and an enormous dragon landed. Nothing could have prepared me for its sheer size. It dwarfed even the huge dragon that had laid siege to the city. In fact, I suspected this one to be twice as large. I could probably have parked a bus in that things ear canal or something.
The creature itself was mostly black scaled, but had a grey underside like me. It had a pair of fierce red-pupilled eyes, and stripes that came in sets of threes. One set on the snout, one on the back of the neck, one on top and one below the knee. There was one set near the base of the tail too. He had a small horn on the tip of his snout like me, and a sort of frill that ran along his back.
As the enormous creature furled its wings, it looked the entire group worth of us over with a judgemental air.
The voice, was proportional to the size. I was actually quite amazed that I didn't fly away or something when he spoke, like how it used to be shown in cartoons.
"To whom do I speak? I wish only to speak with the leader." The creature boomed. I had to resist the urge to cover my ears.
Victor stepped forward, and the large dragon didn't even spare him a glance.
"Not you, human! Your leader, the one of black scales! If he is lacking of courage, you may speak of it, and I shall seek him out myself!" The dragon replied with a dismissive flick of his tail.
It was quite obvious who was who, if you went by scale colour, but I supposed that there were many black dragons around. Taking my hat back from Victor as I stepped forward, I paused to adjust my belt before staring up at the dragon. "It is I you seek." I replied, making a concerted effort not to feel small.
The dragon eyeballed me for a moment before nodding. "You do not lie. I'm surprised."
I raised an eyeridge. "Surprised? What's there to be surprised about?"
"It is rare that humans are as honorable as us, and I am aware of what you were." Came the reply with a dismissive flick of its tail. "But that is not why we are here, is it?"
I nodded, and the huge dragon was gone, replaced by him in his biped form. He bowed. "I am Drak'rrth, of clan Kyrreian."
There was a gasp behind, but it would have been rude of me to turn round and ask. Instead, I mirrored his bow as per dragon protocol. We hadn't come up with a proper clan name yet, so I decided to use my position instead. "Keane of the Resistance."
Drak'rrth scoffed. "Come now, you do have a proper dragon name, yes?"
It took a bit of digging in my memory as I vaguely recalled taking one, but it eventually came to me. "Tano'rath."
He nodded. "It seems to fit you well. Do you know my purpose of calling you here?"
"You mentioned something about peace." I replied with a nod. Quite frankly, I wasn't too sure, for he may have his own ulterior motives, but I couldn't quite read his tone, and on top of everything else, sounding unsure wouldn't bode well for me.
"That is correct." Drak'rrth replied with a nod, casting me a curious glance as he did so. ...At least I had gotten his intentions correct to some extent... He subsequently continued, "But there is no need to hide your uncertainty. Even if you do, I can smell it. I do not blame you for it, for we are enemies, meeting somewhere that you're unfamiliar with. It is...acceptable."
...At least I had gotten something right... I simply nodded. "Very well, then. Name your terms."
Drak'rrth huffed, disdain evident in his eyes as he gestured at the general surroundings. "This is hardly an accptable area for us civilised beings to speak, no? Perhaps you should bring me to your little settlement, and we cound speak in comfort?"
I gave him an apologetic look. "No can-do, sir. Neutral ground or not, you're still on the other side. I can't bring you in. Security matters. I hope you understand."
The dragon snorted, but nodded. "I understand. It is a wise choice. I shall make this area more...acceptable for us, then."
With that, he began chanting, and as he did so, a table popped into being off to my right, followed by two glasses, both filled with water, and two chairs. Victor stared for a moment before shrugging, getting the others to form a ring around the table, all eyeballing the mage, who took a seat and offered the other to me.
It was not as if I could refuse anyway. That would not only have been rude, it would have also been stupid. I silently sat, pausing to pass my pistol to Victor, who pocketed it. Drak'rrth shot me a confused stare. "Why do you remove your weapon?"
I shrugged, adjusting my cap a little. "Diplomatic protocol. We don't carry weapons to negotiations."
The dragon nodded, "I see. Unfortunately, I cannot remove my powers and put them aside like what you have done with your...weapon. I apologise."
I returned his nod curtly. "Understood. Now, let us get down to business. What be your terms, sir?"
The dragon snapped his fingers, and twin sheets of paper appeared, one for me and one for him. On it was a list of terms. As I picked it up, he spoke. "These are my terms. The treaty is binding, and up until open war is declared, no attacks will be launched by either side. If you wish to add your own terms, they can be discussed, and once they are agreed upon, they will appear on the paper at once. So, what say you, Tano'rath?"
I decided to hold off reading the terms first. "First and foremost, I'll have to read them, then make my decision under advice from my other commanders. Is it agreeable?"
The dragon reclined in his seat. "They are reasonable demands. I shall allow it, but on one condition: You are not to leave this place. You may, however, dispatch one of your men to fetch your comrades."
I sighed and nodded, before beckoning Victor over. "Bro, you heard right?"
Victor gave a curt nod. "Ya, who ah?"
I listed out Sythes, Atheros, Ren Jie and Gerard. I ended with, "Double please. It's bloody hot here."
With that, Victor grunted and sped off in one of the rovers, the engine roaring as he disappeared into the distance. I sighed and settled down to read the terms.
Drak'rrth, however, nodded in approval. "It is good to see that you move with haste. It shows respect. I am pleased."
I looked up, having not even read anything yet. "It pays to respect your opponent. However, he will take quite a while regardless."
The dragon chuckled, pointing at the remaining rover. "Indeed, but that metal box does go faster than flying. If you had flown, you would have been late. In all honesty, I expected tardiness, but instead, I was surprised when you were slightly early. If only my students were as punctual!"
I couldn't help but smile as I began reading. "Well, wouldn't be worth the trouble of maintaining the things if they were slow, believe me."
The dragon laughed, but I found his terms to be no laughing matter. However, to be fair, they weren't unreasonable.
Of course, the first term was asking us to cease all attacks, which was pretty much a no-brainer in this case. We were also asked to stop actively encouraging rebellion, as well as to cease supplying arms to any other supporting factions that we had, of which we only had our branch in the recently liberated KL, and on top of that, we were asked to release our prisoners into their custody.
In exchange, they would, of course, stop their own attacks, not attempt to subvert or undermine our state, as well as allowing us to carry on operating the way we did. They also allowed free passage between my cities and the rest of the land, in essence, open borders. There was also a cause asking for the surrender of our technology, which, of course, I was not going to agree with.
There was also a bit of each side sending in an ambassador to settle any matters there and then.
I raised the point with my counterpart. "This last point, about returning the technology, I can't agree with this, surely you must know?"
Drak'rrth glanced down and waved his hand dismissively, "Of that I am aware, however, my own counterparts wished for it to be added. Do you wish to contest it?"
As if my words weren't clear enough. I nodded. "Very much so. You do realise that my entire establishment is built on bringing back the pre-war status of this land, yes? If you make us surrender the technology upon which this is built, then our fighting would have been pointless."
"I know that all too well, Tano'rath. I hear reports on every battle, about how your weapons spew fire and smoke, and how your tubes of iron and steel bring death to my soldiers. I cannot allow this." He replied, reclining in his chair. I got the general sensing that he was actually enjoying this. Beside me, Fenek fidgeted I motioned for him to quieten down.
"I can't deny that, but that is how we made war before everything got taken away. Note that we haven't had the chance to show the peaceful sides of the technology, and how anyone and everyone is more occupied with staying alive rather than progressing the city and state. Believe me, if this treaty comes into effect, you'll see more than just guns and tanks. You'll see power stations, electric lights, water purification, and perhaps even an accurate clock. Besides, if we are at peace, there will be no need to point guns and swords at each other, no?" I replied, sipping my water.
I received a skeptical look. "I have seen none of this. All I see are the harbingers of death and destruction, and even your own companion agrees with me, whether he likes it or not."
I scowled. "Like I said, I haven't had a chance to bring out the peaceful items."
Fenek cut in halfway, "I did actually take something that may help. May I retrieve it?"
Both of us turned to stare at the brown dragon as I motioned for him to carry on. He went over to my rover and pulled my phone out of one of the compartments. "Victor asked me to bring it along, because of a 'gut feeling..."
Fenek passed me the phone, which I plonked onto the table. Drak'rrth eyeballed it suspiciously. "What is this thing?"
I powered the phone on, and it started up with a chime, while the screen showed the boot animation. "This is a phone. A communications tool, among other things. Though I can't use the communications functions right now since the supporting infrastructure is gone. It can also play music, take pictures and let you play games. It used to be able to access the internet too, but that is also gone."
Narrowed eyes. "Is is not a weapon?"
I half wanted to say something about annoying people to death, but thought better of it. "No it is not. It's because of things like this one that I could talk to someone on the other side of the world, albeit after paying for the service. It let me access the internet, which is a repository of most, if not all information known by man, and also allowed me to send text messages to people, like mail, but delivered in the blink of an eye. However, the servers supporting the internet, as well as the broadcast towers for the calling services all came down during the war. I cannot show you those functions. Instead, I'll play music."
As the device finished it's boot sequence, I opened the music player and played some random song. Drak'rrth snorted. "I see, but I require proof of these 'other functions'. A memory would suffice."
It took me a while to realise what he was asking for, and recoiled at even the thought of it. "Bit demanding, don't you think?"
Drak'rrth got up and walked towards me. "It is the best I can do. You have my word and honor that I will only see the memory that you so choose to show to me."
I had a good mind to get up and leave, but that would mean trashing the whole treaty, and probably offending Drak'rrth as well. In the end, I sighed and had a sip of water. "Very well, but after this you will be satisfied?"
Drak'rrth nodded and paused to pull his seat over. "So, are you ready? If you wish to be a witness, now is the time."
I beckoned Fyre over and nodded. "Let's get this over with."
The mage walked over and stood by my side, while muttering under his breath. He gave me a quick nod before conjuring up a chair for himself and sitting down.
I shook my head, muttering about not getting out of this and shifted in my seat a little.
Drak'rrth sat in front of me. "Very well. Let us begin."
Another day, another dollar. I woke to my phone blaring loud music, as usual. I glanced at the screen and sighed. Third alarm. I was going to be late. I hurriedly freshened up, grabbed a piece of bread as breakfast and struggled into my uniform.
It took a while to find my car keys, which had dropped behind the dresser during the night, along with my wallet. After which, I grabbed my phone and called the lieutenant, just to let him know that I would be around ten minutes late.
As usual, I keyed his phone number in and hit the call button. He picked up almost at once, sounding mildly amused. "Going to be late, platoon sergeant?"
"About ten minutes." I replied, glancing at my watch, while tossing my bag and wallet into the car's passenger seat, and throwing myself into the driver's. The officer told me to carry on and put down, and I tossed the phone into the passenger seat too.
The radio came on automatically as I started the car, and hurriedly turned out of the parking lot. I drove a small Toyota. Nothing much. It got me from A to B, and that was what counted.
I hurriedly accelerated out of the car park and drove to the camp, where, as usual, I was stopped at the gate...
It took quite alot of blinking to get my eyes to focus properly again. Across from me, Drak'rrth looked to be lost in thought...or perhaps also as dazed as I was. I couldn't tell.
"Good enough?" I muttered, shaking my head to clear my thoughts.
Flayme asked if I was fine, and I nodded, adjusting my position, while Drak'rrth replied that he was satisfied. A glance at the paper saw the term vanish, only to have a new one replaced.
I had to re-read it at least five times before I convinced myself that I was reading it right. "You want me to...go to your academy to be...trained?"
A nod. "You obviously need training."
"In what?" I couldn't help but shoot back, some of my indignance leaking through to my tone.
"Etiquette, for one." The dragon replied with a snort, "How to conduct yourself, and how not to embarrass our entire race when you speak to someone, and of course, how to be a proper Rider."
I sighed. "Is it that bad?"
"Bad? They'd might as well not exist, friend." The dragon replied with a huff.
I made a face, "I'm already trying. I think you know."
"Pft. Yes, I know. I saw how you spoke on that metal thing of yours to your superior. It's disgraceful. Do that in our legion, and you'd be flogged." Came the reply.
As if on cue, Victor came roaring in with two rovers with the people I had requested for...