Maud followed Arland into the HQ of House Krahr. The large room churned with activity. Desks and displays sprouted from the floor, each station a focal point for the House Krahr elite, and between them a dozen knights and retainers hurried to and fro. Screens shone on the walls, flashing with data and images. A clump of retainers surrounded Ilemina on the left and an equally large group crowded Lord Soren.
“Lord Marshal!” Knight Ruin emerged from the rush, the look of determination on his face. As far as she could tell, Knight Ruin’s mission in life was to ensure that Arland was where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there, so he could be taking care of pressing matters of which Knight Ruin always had a long and detailed list. She had a feeling the russet-haired knight considered her to be a permanent threat to his success.
Arland veered left to what had to be his desk, with Ruin following and speaking in urgent low tones. Several knights peeled off from the crowd and closed in on Arland like starved sharks.
Maud halted, taking in the controlled chaos around her. The entire wedding venue had to be relocated to the battle station, where things would finally come to an end. The logistics of moving the celebration alone were enough to give one kittens but selecting who would be in attendance to the wedding added an entirely new dimension. Planetside, House Krahr had an overwhelming number advantage. In space, with a limited capacity, half of which was taken up by the wedding “guests,” every attendee counted.
The gauntlet was thrown, the war banner unfurled, and the fangs bared. House Krahr had risen to the challenge.
In his wildest dreams that’s what Melizard had envisioned. A thriving House, bustling with activity and preparing for war. The hum of voices, the chimes of communication alerts, the rapid rhythm of running footsteps… Spacecraft taking off on the monitors. Knights in battle armor. An electric excitement saturated the hall, sizzling along her skin. Her former husband would have drunk it in like it was the nectar of the gods. Melizard would’ve killed, in a very literal sense of the world, for a chance to be a part of this. He had once told her he felt like he was born into the wrong House. She never understood it until now. House Ervan could have never delivered this, not on this scale. This was what he must’ve seen in his head.
He must’ve felt suffocated.
She imagined his ghost standing next to her, a thin translucent shadow and waited for the familiar pinch of bitterness. It didn’t come. Maud puzzled over it.
I’ve moved on.
She was free. Finally. All her memories and bitter lessons were still there but they lost their bite. The present mattered so much more now.
Everyone around her was busy. She should make herself useful. At least she could contribute in some small way. Someone somewhere could use her assistance…
A young vampire knight slid to a halt in front of her. If Melizard’s ghost had any substance, she would have torn right through him. She was tall, with a deep grey skin and a wealth of blue-black hair, braided from her face. She held a tablet in her hands, a communicator curved to her lips, and a secondary display projected over her left eye.
Maud moved to step aside and froze in mid-step. She was the Maven.
“I’m Lady Lisoun. I’m your adjutant. What should we do about the chairs?”
“What about the chairs?” What chairs? Adjutant?
Lady Lisoun took a deep breath. The words came out of her in a rapid sprint. “The battle station banquet hall chairs.”
“They are sojourn style chairs.”
Sojourn style chairs had a solid back. There was no way the tachi would be able to sit in the sojourn chairs. Their vestigial appendages would be in the way.
“Your desk is this way.” Lisoun began weaving her way through the crowd.
Maud marched next to her. “Can we substitute different chairs?”
“No, my lady. They are part of a unit, one table and eight chairs.”
“Are they attached to the table?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Whose bright idea was that?”
“I don’t know, my lady. They stove away for the ease of storage.”
“Are they at least height adjustable?” The lees couldn’t sit in a vampire-sized chairs either.
“I don’t know.” Lisoun braked to a stop before a desk surrounded by people. “I will find out.”
The rest of the knights swarmed them. Everyone spoke at once.
“One at a time!” Maud barked.
A familiar looking retainer – where had she seen them? Ah, feat hall – thrust a tablet under her nose. On it glowed elaborately arranged platter of fruit and vegetables. “Menu for approval!”
Maud stared at the arrangement. “Take out all of kavla – the tachi are allergic. Make sure the honey doesn’t contain any kavla either.” She waved her fingers at the tablet, scrolling through the pictures. “No. None of these make any sense. The tikk igi dishes need to have a pattern. You can’t just put a bunch of pretty fruit randomly on a platter. There must be a progression of taste or color, ideally both. A circular arrangement would start with sour fruit on the edge and then progressively get sweeter toward the center. Or, you start with purple berries and work your way through a spectrum to yellows. This is a haphazard mess. Take this back, bring me an updated menu.”
He took the tablet and broke into a sprint.
“The chairs are not adjustable!” Lisoun reported.
“Get me a station engineer.” Maud looked at the crowd. “Next!”
Konstana thrust herself into Maud’s view. They hadn’t seen each other since the Communal. The red-haired knight’s arm didn’t show any signs of ever being broken.
“I’m your security chief,” she said.
She had a security chief. “How many people do we have?”
“Three squads, sixty knights total, but they are only letting me take six. They expect me to secure thirty-eight aliens with six vampires.”
Maud raised her eyebrows. “Is that a problem?”
Konstana scoffed. “Of course not. But I do need to know how they are getting to the station. Are we transporting them or are they transporting themselves? And if they are transporting themselves, are we going to let them dock or are they shuttling over via their shuttles or via ours?”
“What does Sergeant-at-Arms say?”
“He said to ask you.”
Thank you, Lord Soren. “Get battle station security chief on the line and figure out if a non-regulation shuttle can even dock there. Let me know what you find out.”
Lisoun pushed her way into the circle. She grasped Maud’s arm and half -guided, half-propelled her behind a podium next to her desk where a large screen presented her with a tough looking female vampire standing in a large hall. The smooth black floor split, a glossy onyx contraption spiraled out of it and unfolded into a round table ringed by eight sojourn style chairs. The chairs were big, rectangular, and blocky. The worst-case scenario.
“How wide are those chair backs at the seat?” Maud asked.
“Twenty lots,” the engineer reported, which her implant helpfully converted into twenty-eight inches. Right.
“I need you to cut a hole in the back of the chair at the seat level, twenty-four inches wide and eight inches tall.”
The engineer stared at her, incredulous. “You want me to deface the an-alloy chairs?”
“Yes.” She glanced at Lisoun. “I need the sitting chart?”
A diagram popped out on side screen. Oh Universe, what in the world… “This is wrong,” she told Lisoun. “We cannot put the royal in the back of the hall.”
“Lord Soren said…”
“Go back to Lord Soren and ask him if he would like to have a war with the Tachi Protectorate. Lady Dil’ki is not just a scientist, she is a member of the royal house. She and the Nuan Cee have to be seated in the front. This needs to be reworked.”
Lisoun took off.
“These chairs are a marvel of function and durability,” the engineer growled. “The an-alloy is nearly indestructible.”
“I have…” she checked her personal unit. “Thirty-eight aliens, of which twenty-two are too small to sit in these chairs and the others have vestigial appendages which prevent them from sitting at all.”
“These chairs were never designed for aliens!”
“Well, now they have to accommodate some, so find a way to destruct indestructible chairs. I will send over an updated sitting chart. Every chair marked tachi must have a hole. Every chair marked lees must be adjusted for a being of three to four feet in height.”
The engineer bared her fangs. “On whose authority?”
“On my authority. I’m the Maven. Look at it as a challenge.”
The engineer opened her mouth.
Maud loaded steel into her voice. “When these aliens go off into the Galaxy, they will praise House Krahr’s hospitality instead of telling the Universe that the elite of vampire engineering couldn’t solve a trivial problem of the appropriate seating. We will not embarrass ourselves. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“I see you are settling into your role,” a familiar voice said.
Maud raised her head from the screen. “Lord Erast?”
The Scribe nodded at her and passed her a tablet. “The Preceptor would like you to make the necessary edits. She wishes to deliver the document to the parties in question as soon as possible.”
Maud raised the tablet. A green spark of the scanner flashed at her. The contents were locked to her. The screen flared into life.
Mutual Cooperation Pact.
The following Articles are to outline the involvement and voluntary participation of Clan Nuan and Tachi Protectorate…
Oh no. “This won’t work.”
“What’s wrong with it?” the Scribe asked.
“It says involvement.”
“Involvement is a perfectly good word.”
“We’re dealing with the lees. It’s like making a deal with…” the devil. She grappled with her knowledge of ancient sagas, looking for a reference. “Yarlas the Cunning.”
Lord Erast raised his eyebrows.
“If we leave any gap, any hint at alternative interpretation, they will drive a spacecruiser through it. We have to make this super simple. Short clear sentences. No ambiguity at all or we will end up explaining to Lady Ilemina why the lees now own the station and half of the planet. This will require an extensive edit.”
She stared at the gathering. Six vampires. If she could cull this to a reasonable number, she could devote all of her attention to editing the articles.
“Everyone with immediate need step forward. Everyone whose issues can wait see me this evening.”
The six vampires in front of her took a step forward in unison.
It was going to be a long day.