A man in his natural state doesn’t like dressing formally. The multiple layers of constructing clothes just serves form over function. A high stakes game of dollhouse that is commanded by some abstract ideal from our supposed advanced level of civilization. A man would never dress in a tuxedo, or in my case a dress uniform, unless he was trained to think it served some higher purpose. The clothes we wear to impress each other would be useless in an event that actually mattered, like in battle. Weather and women are probably the only reasons we try to make any sense out of our clothes at all. Take away first dates and Irish winters, and badly stitched together hides of leather would still be in style.
The humidity of this damned rain forest didn’t really help the precarious situation of this formal get together of the races. Each button I fastened felt like I was being slowly encased in an iron lung. At least I would be able to flaunt a number of ribbons and medals in front of the Talons. Calloway’s annoying voice was still in the back of my mind, and it told me not to overdo it. This was supposed to be a peace treaty signing, and wearing too much jewelry that celebrated the number of Talons I killed might put a hindrance on things.
Perhaps my mind is whining too much though. I’ve had to face some truly horrible things in my life that often keep me from sleeping well, and I would dress formally every day of my life if it meant I could take so much of it back. I’m just frustrated because I want nothing more than to return to Amanda’s bed and forget everything. I was so eager to stay that I even tried to convince her that I was good for another quick game of hiding the purple helmeted solider. But she practically through me out insisting that she had twice as much formal prep and that games with me are never quick.
After getting dressed and groomed as if my income was based on male prostitution, the Prussian envoy dragged me to a meeting to discuss the terms of the treaty they hashed out. Given the lack of time or room, we just stood huddled together in a fairly small room just across from the main hall where the treaty was to be signed. I lowered my annoyance at this tedium by pretending I was in the big huddle before a rugby game.
“The high point of this agreement is that we got the pullout from Europe that we wanted,” the head Prussian ambassador was speaking to me but had to go through a translator for me to understand him.
“I take it there is bad news,” I said and then waited for the translator to coordinate the conversation.
“The withdraw involves a year long time table and a large deposit of gold to the Congolese upon completion.”
“Can the Prussian’s afford it with all of their war debts?”
“We’ll manage.” The translator seemed a little smug as he gave the reply. The ambassador, on the other hand, seemed annoyed at the question. A few moments of quiet glances was followed by the ambassador making a short statement in his native tongue. The translator then seemed relocate to tell me what the ambassador said.
“What?” I asked.
“The ambassador wants me to inform you of the audience you must attend before the treaty is signed.”
“Audience? With whom?”
“The Elder Mother. The Talons have, for reason, requested that the heads of the envoys meet with her. That means she’ll have private one on ones with Mongolian General Batmönkh, the American’s fräulein, and you.”
The translator had a great deal of control over his voice, but let his Munich accent slip when he pronounced fräulein.
“Why a private audience with each of us?”
“The Elder Mother is supposed to have some kind of special insight, to make sure you are truthful in making this agreement. Personally, I don’t have any faith in her insights anymore than I would give a witch doctor a license to practice. But we got the impression this wasn’t optional, so you’ll just have to do it.”
I would have sighed if the sound wouldn’t have been so inadequate to describe my feelings right now. I’d admit that a part of me was intrigued to see a female Talon, even one so advanced in age, but having a conversation with one wasn’t high on my to-do list. My blood gets up each time I’m forced to look at a Talon that I’m not allowed to shot. Now I was being told to have a one-on-one with the holy mother of the whole damn feathered race. Just thinking about it was already putting my veins into a slighter higher than average boil. I had gotten use to the feeling since arriving here, but this was the first time today I was reminded of it.
I was missing Amanda already.
We were let out of our small meeting room and I was motioned to take the lead. I paced myself slowly towards the end of the main hall where a pair of very tall double doors stood. The Utahn guards in front of this door looked down on us with what can only be described as disgust. I turned my head back to the small group of diplomats as an indication of what do to now.
The door behind the Talon guards creaked loudly as the left side of it opened slightly. The door was solid wood, foreboding, and over twenty centimeters in thickness. Some kind of light mist was seeping through the opening door and the room inside was kept dark. No detail of what was inside could be gleaned from the little that was revealed.
Once the door had widened open enough for a person to slip through, Amanda slowly exited the room. Instantly I could see that she wasn’t lying about the amount of preparation she had to do. Her hair was piled up and behind her head in a bouffant style, but not as long down the sides as most women would wear it. Light makeup to highlight her natural beauty. The green dress from before, but clearly washed since I saw it last. I also noticed that infernal collar still attached to her neck. I’d had hoped she would have broken the lock and agreed to come with me. But maybe she was waiting until after the treaty was signed before she did that. Or maybe that is my brain creating a sense of wishful thinking.
One other thing I noticed was that her skin was a pale white. Like the blood had been drained from her face.
“Princess,” I said, reframing from calling her Amanda in front of the envoy. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she replied. Amanda didn’t seem fine, but I didn’t want to press the issue too much in front of others. She walked closer to me so that we could talk more privately. The weakness in her voice made it easy for her not to be overheard.
“I can tell something is wrong,” I whispered to her with a strong concern in my voice.
“It’s the Elder Mother. She’s… not what I expected.”
“Can you—,” I tapped my head to nonverbally ask if she could read the female Talon’s mind.
“No. I’ve been trying to since we got here, but their minds are too alien to me. Even when I can pick up a strong emotion from them, it’s a jumble of chirps and croaks.”
“What did she tell you?”
“Nothing I didn’t already know,” she said while warmly smiling at me. “She just seemed to know it a little better than I did.”
One of the Talon guards behind us made a hissing noise to get my attention and then motioned his head to the open door. It was my turn to go in, and they weren’t too keen on waiting. I made a motion to touch her on her arm, but I pulled back since we were in public. Amanda hanged her head, wanting me to touch her, but knew it wasn’t right if she still insisted on being with another man. I stepped around her, and didn’t look back as I approached the dark chamber.
“Liam,” Amanda said, catching me just before I went inside. “Just be truthful. There is more to her than just appearances.” I nodded without looking at her and finished walking through the door. It creaked even louder as it closed, and a loud echo filled the room as it shut tightly behind me.
The room was dark and musty, a feeling of being in a greenhouse without any light. Small openings in the ceiling shined in enough light to make out the shape of the room, and the large figure sitting on the other end. All I could really see was the shape of something very wide, sitting down, and had short stumpy legs. I walked a little closer to see the rusty red color of the Utahns robes covering the upper body of the being in front of me. The stomach had to be over three meters in diameter, and every breath it took was displayed as it made wide expansions and contractions. Another few feet closer and I could make out the head which was bent down and tucked into the large chest of this creature. The head was much larger than most Talons, and the snout was also several inches longer. Even with the eyes closed, I could tell they were also bigger in size. Her feathers were gone, if she ever had them, and her scales were a darker brown. God only knows how old she is.
“Welcomesssss,” she hissed, sounding more like a serpent than a Talon. The significantly longer mouth only moved at the tip, while the rest of the chamber remained closed. “We finallysss meet, Liam of the Ireissssh Isssle.”
“You know me?” I was thinking that the Talons must have fed her some information about me.
“Issss been looking over youssss for a long time. I know youss different than other humansss. And yousss have fought againssst some of my most cherissshed children. I ssstill mourn Kee’zah.”
“Kee’zah? Do you mean your child figuratively or literally?”
“I am the lassst mother of the pure bloodsss, before the deviants became to emergesss. My children were the best of ourssss race. Kee’zah and F’ell had a father that was from acrossss the sssea. They went back with him once theysss become of age. I wasss ssso proud of them, even after you struck down the eldessst in battle. I had ssso hoped they would return our race to glory, but yousss ruined that.”
“So you know your people are dying,” I said, postulating out loud. “And you felt this was your last shot to reverse the tide.”
“Yessss, but tides are not so eassssily changed. The end will ssssoon come for me and the rest of my children will sssooon join me in our afterlifessss.”
“I’m not ashamed to say that I consider that to be good news, but I’ll be respectful enough not to gloat.”
“Oncesss we are gone, the ressst of your people will not be assss kind. Not many yet realizessss the end of a shared world is coming. But oncesss they do, man will become a cruel beassst indeed.”
“That might happen sooner than you think. Once the powers-that-be realize that the last of the Utahn matriarch nobility is dying, and the only females left are of common blood, the whole treaty could fall apart.”
“If youss tell them I’m dyingsss, then I will let the northern conquerorsss know that you mated with their prized female.”
“How did—,” my shock echoed through the hall.
“Isss can smell her on you.” She lifted her head slightly and slowly opened her eyes. The iris was a light red, with an almost piercing gaze. A curl along the left side of her mouth made it appear she almost seemed smug about her strong nose. “And Isss smelled you on her.”
“Even if this treaty lasts a fair amount of time, it still won’t change the outcome. Why delay the inevitable?”
“Oncesss we die, we die. Every moment betweensss birth and death issss a gift from the Maker. Even though wesss cannot stop the death of all of ussss, we can try and make that gift last assss long assss we can.”
“So, we’ll just sign the treaty as planned while you’re content with your extinction?”
“Content issss not the word. Iss weep every night for mysss people. The only thing Isss content about isss that when we are gone you’ll turn on eachsss other.”
“Maybe… but at least we’ll survive.”
The Elder Mother didn’t have anything else to say after that. She just spent several moments just looking me straight in the eye, maybe thinking if she did it long enough, my soul would reflect in her eyes. Surprisingly enough, she blinked first and tucked her head back into her chest. A stubby looking arm crawled out from under her robe and pulled down on a rope next to her. A bell chimed and the doors that lead me in here opened again. I wordlessly left the chamber to let the queen of my enemy die in peace.