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Posted on February 23, 2015 at 08:19:43 PM by aspelta
The traditional greetings were lengthy. As Zed was the senior diplomat, Mallos introduced him first – which was largely unnecessary, since everyone knew who they both were. There wasn't a nymph on the planet who didn't know who either of them were, especially after the council's recent agreement with the elemental courts of the sister planets.
As he finally took his seat, Mallos glanced up at the clear pink sky, through which Shyllipa Major was clearly visible. The council had had a base on Shyllipa Major for longer than Shaman had even existed, although not as long as Mallos had been holed up in the Alhambra for. After the Shaman civil war and subsequent trials, Gwythr had been jailed in the Scipius, the council-owned palace which had, ironically, been built there under Gwythr's reign as Chairman. The demon himself was up there, hovering a few hundred miles above their heads.
“Bekhen-shenu, kha-tu” Anai, the Queen of the Air, continued formally. “It is our honour to meet with you. If it is not impertinent to enquire, will nefer-wa be joining us soon?”
Neither of the fairy diplomats reacted outwardly, but Mallos imagined Zed's sense of frustration mounting. So the nymphs did know Lorraine was here. Anai's choice of epithets didn't spark any sense of comfort or trepidation in Mallos, but he filed away the information anyway: one who does not accept bribes, one who shines, and the beautiful one. They were all common enough.
“She offers her deepest apologies, as do we both,” Zed answered smoothly, without hesitation. He'd obviously taken time to think about it since Mallos pre-warned him that this might happen. “As Interspecies Ambassador, it is her responsibility to attend to the mythical creatures before she can enjoy more sentient company.”
That was interesting. Zed had a 'nice guy' approach to diplomacy and rarely upset anyone. In fact, he built most of his career on his ability to form and strengthen positive relationships – unlike Lorraine and Mallos, who both preferred a sneakier approach. For him to downplay the intelligence of the other races sharing this planet like that, there had to be some pretty strong ant-satyr and centaur feeling going on. Elys, the Queen of the Earth, confirmed this by picking the corners of her lips up into the beginnings of a very small smirk. Anai and the fire queen, Jahi, didn't look particularly unhappy either – but Coya, Queen of the Water, shifted ever so slightly in her seat. It was a tiny move, and one which most people wouldn't have caught if they weren't actively watching the nymphs for reactions. Mallos zoned in on Coya. She was the odd one out in all of this.
“Is she not the Interspecies Ambassador of Earth?” Anai enquired, crossing her hands prettily on the table. Most nymphs were not oblivious to the effect they had on fairy men. “And, forgive me, kha-tu,” she smiled apologetically at Mallos, “but are you not the International Ambassador of Earth?”
The first direct attack: questioning what he and Lorraine were doing here. Mallos let Zed take that one too, since it made him seem less threatening if he didn't talk much.
“Yes, that's quite correct,” Zed smiled. “Neither, however, are limited in their work to a single planet. I'm sure I don't need to list my colleagues' qualifications.”
That was unusually passive-aggressive for Zed. In the past when he'd done missions with Zed, Mallos had always played the 'bad cop' role while Zed played 'good cop'. The Spaniard pushed back his shoulders and opened out his body language to make himself seem more honest in preparation for an unexpected role reversal.
“But of course not,” Elys sat forward, her little smirk still in place. “To what do we owe the honour of a visit from the Ambassadors of the Council of Originals?”
“We have come to pay our respects to the new elemental queens,” Zed mimicked Elys' body language, suggesting he was trying to get her on side and making Mallos' theory that he was going to try and be a bad cop drop in likelihood. “It is unusual for four new elemental queens to ascend the throne within such a small time frame. The council wants to affirm our long-standing friendship.”
“If I understand the terms of our friendship correctly,” Elys was still smiling. “The four of us would have to call upon you, bekhen-shenu, and your nesut, to end it.”
Cards on the table. Now it was really time to play.
A slip of the tongue? It was unlikely to be a misunderstanding. Elys wasn't just a tribal queen, she was an elemental queen: she should know better than any nymph that Tsi wasn't a nesut, a king. Finally, Zed picked his strategy. His knee brushed against Mallos' under the table, signalling that he was going to 'fluff talk' – speak without saying much – in order to buy Mallos more time to observe and analyse everything that was going on. Fortunately, Mallos didn't need the time.
“Who is the fifth seat for?” He asked genially, completely throwing the elemental queens.
Now that Mallos was officially in play, the nymphs deployed their best card against him: Jahi, the Queen of the Fire. She leant forward in a noticeably seductive way, her fiery hair, which had a life of its own, curled around her breasts to emphasise them.
“I'm sure I don't understand what you mean?” Her smile was gradual, sensual; her lips the reddest he'd ever seen. “What fifth seat?”
Mallos leant back in his chair and folded his arms, playing his favourite role: the arrogant smart-arse who was bored by the proceedings around him. Hopefully Zed was prepared to play good cop, because Mallos was about to seriously test the bad cop water.
“Well, there are eight seats,” he replied with a little sigh, as though it was completely obvious. “Four of you, and you knew that there would be three of us, so you must have been expecting a fifth person your side. Five and three makes eight. Who's the fifth seat for, dama?”
That made them pause. Coya gave a very small smile for the first time.
“But of course you'll know, ra ankh, that the solar nymphs are not represented in the elemental court,” her coral-red eyes twinkled warmly. “To honour them we always reserve a seat for the Queen of the Sun, but she rarely graces us with her presence.”
“Her Majesty, the Queen of the Sun was informed of our coming, then?” Mallos raised an eyebrow sceptically. “And how was it that you were aware of our arrival before we were?”
A longer pause.
“Well, naturally,” Anai began, “we did not have time to send word to the Sun - ”
“¡Ay de mí!” Mallos rose rapidly from his chair and raised his hands, appropriately snatching the attention of everyone present. He paused for dramatic effect, before turning away from the group with a melodramatic, “Zed, I cannot – I cannot - ” and finishing up by lamenting for a while in Spanish. None of the nymphs would know a word of Spanish, so he could display distress without them being able to document anything he said to use against him later. Zed couldn't understand Spanish either without divinity, but hopefully he was intelligent enough to piece together Mallos' plan.
“Grave apologies, Majesties,” Zed stated in his calming voice. “My colleague finds it difficult to envisage an affirming of our friendship without a representative of his people present. I understand,” he added apologetically to Jahi, “that the fire nymphs do not speak on behalf of the solar nymphs?”
“His people?” Elys' voice was a hiss of discontent. “Mallos is a god of fairies, not nymphs!”
It was a better slip-up than he could have hoped for. Not only did the Queen of the Earth plainly lay her agenda out for all to see, she accidentally referred to Mallos by his name – a culturally damnable offence. Mallos reacted instantly with another loud cry of “¡ay de mí!” and exited the court before anyone else had a chance to respond, leaving Zed to pick up the pieces.
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