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part eight.

“So,” Tsi was leaning back on his chair and looking worn out, even though the conversation had only just begun. His body language indicated that he wasn't hopeful. “Did the little ploy with the lake work?”

Zed grinned. “The pair of them made a damn good show to the contrary when I saw them, but the nymph I hired assures me that she heard them agree to stop fighting. They might make a public display of winding each other up now and then, but the big battles should stop.”

“Thank Aura,” Tsi sighed.

“They're pretty annoyed with us,” the Brazilian's eyes twinkled. “They haven't realised that they were their own mission. They almost cottoned on to mine, though.”

Tsi raised his eyebrows. “Speaking of, how did yours go?”

Zed's face sobered, and his smile turned grim. “Couldn't just let me savour outsmarting Mallos and Lorraine for the first and last time in my life, could you?” He rubbed his temples and sighed. “I couldn't pin it down, but Gwythr is involved somehow. He's definitely been egging these zealot nymphs on. The question is why.”

“Support?” Tsi suggested.

“Yeah,” Zed nodded slowly. “He's gained rapid and widespread support since he's moved there. Bit frightening, really. If there is a civil war on the nymph planets, there's a good chance it won't be between the two factions – the pro-fairy and the anti-fairy – which we're seeing now. It could end up being between supporters of different deities. If things carry on, the nymphs are going to be polarised in their support between the two most popular nymph deities: Gwythr, and...”

“...and Mallos,” Tsi's face was pale, although Zed couldn't tell if that was from the conversation or from his illness. “A war between Gwythr and Mallos' supporters, on another planet... this is starting to sound scarily familiar. What's the worst case scenario?”

“Worst case?” Zed thought about it, but not for long. “Tensions on Earth between the Spaniards and the Italians are already at breaking point. We're basically in a state of cold war between Italy and Spain – everyone's just waiting for the final spark to light the fuse, and when it comes it'll put the planet into another world war. If the Shyllipa planets get involved, then it'll be inter-planetary war.”

“Can't Mallos do something?”

“He's tried,” Zed grimaced. “Genuinely tried. He's already stopped war about a dozen times, but there's only so much control one man can exert over an entire country... especially from a distance. Whether Gwythr is trying to stir up or calm down the Italians, I don't know.”

“Great.” Tsi closed his eyes, put his elbows on his desk and rested his head in his hands. He stayed there for a while, thinking. “Why would Gwythr want to drag the Shyllipa planets into an Earth war? What does he gain from riling up the nymphs?”

“That, my friend,” Zed replied in a heavy tone, “is the million-renminbi question.”

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