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part two.


As Zed walked a little ahead of the group, he tried hard not to think about his two colleagues behind him and what they were wearing.

Mallos looked fairly normal for him, although he had abandoned his traditional black clothing in favour of a pair of pale blue denim jeans and a white shirt which was unbuttoned at the collar. Zed knew from experience that a shirt was about as close as Mallos came to voluntarily donning formalwear, but it didn't make it any less grating. They were a delegation of diplomats sent to handle a delicate situation on a potentially hostile planet, and they ought to be dressed for the occasion. Possibly more offensive than his wardrobe was the Spaniard's posture: his hands were buried deep in his pockets; he slouched as he walked; and he generally gave off a vibe of boredom. That in itself was worrying, since Mallos had a long documented history of turning into a total idiot when he was bored, although just because he looked a certain way didn't mean he felt it. Zed hadn't had the opportunity to observe Mallos' diplomacy in action since before the latter was locked under the Alhambra by Gwythr; he just had to hope that the International Ambassador knew what he was doing.

Lorraine, by comparison, was barely recognisable. When he and Mallos had met her just outside the castle grounds, they'd both done a double-take. The ice-deity was well known for her sophisticated fashion sense, and was rarely seen in anything less feminine than a skirt or dress, but now she looked... well... like a college student. She had on long, black leather boots which came up to just below her knee – definitely practical as well as fashionable. Tucked into the boots were some skinny, dark blue denim jeans. On her top half she had a long-sleeved blue-and-yellow chequered shirt and her blonde hair, loose, flowed over her shoulders. Zed had been too stunned by the dramatic change in look to complain about its casualness. She had her arms folded across her chest as though warding off cold and was hanging back with Mallos, being very careful to watch where she put her booted feet.

Finally he couldn't take it anymore, and turned back to face his companions.

“We need a scope of the situation,” he assessed. “I think it would be better if I went to see the elemental queens alone. Mallos can check out the sun-court and Lorraine can try the local wildlife.”

“Not sure satyrs and centaurs would take kindly to being called 'local wildlife',” Lorraine warned.

“Sun-court's not going to help us much,” Mallos reminded Zed. “The solar nymphs aren't going to open up as quickly as we want them to, and they're not going to appreciate being dragged into the planet's affairs. They prefer to stay separate. Wait...” he turned to Lorraine, raising his eyebrows. “Satyrs and centaurs?”

“Satyrs immigrated about three hundred years back,” she explained with a scornful expression. “Centaurs about fifty.”

“Alright,” Zed interjected hastily before the conversation could disintegrate into bickering. “So Lorraine will go and speak to the satyrs and the centaurs, and Mallos and I will go to the elemental court.”

Annoyingly, Mallos waited until Lorraine had already left before pointing out something that Zed would've liked to have remembered before they split up.

“They'll already know that all three of us are here,” he said as he strolled along, restricting Zed's pace. “You can't hide anything in a planet where the residents make up the air and earth.”

“Thanks, Mal,” Zed muttered. “What would I ever do without you?”

“Probably quit and become a hairdresser.” Mallos nudged him in the arm playfully. “So what are you and Tsi not telling me?”

Zed frowned. “What?”

“Oh come on,” he scoffed. “All three diplomats for a planet which isn't even populated by fairies? What's going down that you're taking the risk of putting me and Lorraine on the same mission?”

How irritatingly astute. Zed didn't bother trying to deny it; Mallos was clever enough to know he'd hit the nail on the head. “Need to know.”

“And let me guess, I don't - ”

“Need to know,” Zed confirmed, and smiled as Mallos rolled his eyes expressively.

They trudged on in companionable silence after that, both privately lamenting their lack of magic. The elemental court moved around constantly, but Zed had a hunch it would find them if as long as they kept walking out in the open. Nymphs operated on a completely different hierarchy to humans and fairies. Individual tribes, primarily consisting of small family units and always all of the same 'type', covered the planet. For everything in nature, nymphs existed to represent it: there were nymphs of lakes, rivers, and oceans; flowers, trees and earth; fire, light and heat. All the nymphs of a particular type across the whole planet were governed by a single leader, like a chief of all the tribes. These queens (all nymphs were female, of course) ruled over people but not land, as human and fairy rulers did. The different queens were then categorised into the four elements, and one overarching ruler was chosen to represent each element. It wasn't known how nymphs elected their leaders. The only nymphs which didn't actually reside on the planet or in its atmosphere were the solar nymphs, who had their own court in the sun. The solar nymphs, as Mallos had said, largely considered themselves detached from the other nymphs and tended not to get involved in planetary affairs. They were not represented in the elemental court.

They'd been walking for what felt like hours. Zed was just about to suggest they find a tree nymph to ask for directions, when the ground rumbled slightly beneath their feet. He blinked, and the light fractured around them. Where there had been blue ferns (there was no grass in Shyllipa Minor) and trees with bases as big as the castle on Shaman, their trunks stretching endlessly up into the sky, there was now what looked a little like an outdoor arena. A large circular floor of pale pink ice-crystal shimmered into the visible spectrum, ringed by arches of the same material which were laced with pink roses. In the centre was a circular table with eight chairs around it, four of which were already taken. Around the rest of the building, other nymphs drifted about – predominantly air and water nymphs, by the ghostly looks of them. Mallos and Zed exchanged glances.

It looked like the elemental court had found them.

    • part three. -
    • part four. -
    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -
    • part eight. -

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