The open space around the lift station on the lowest level of Twaa-Fei was always crowded. There were the people waiting for the lift for transport to the middle or upper islands. Thrice a ten-day there were formal markets that took place in the plaza, and there were always at least a few vendors taking advantage of the traffic.
This crowd, however, was an entirely different beast.
Standing in the center of the plaza, Yochno, Seneschal of Twaa-Fei, observed the situation. Barricades of scavenged materials—tables, small boats, even a few manak bones—blocked off two of the smaller avenues out of the plaza. Twaa-Fei security forces were arm-linked at the mouth of another, a roaring, chanting crowd behind them. A messenger ran up and handed Yochno a folded note. He read it and turned to the captain standing beside him. “Send more troops to Bard’s Neck and coordinate with the dockers’ union. I’ll be back in three hours.” The captain saluted as Yochno, drawing his robes around him, withdrew to the single lift still authorized for travel to and from the lowest island.
The air grew noticeably sweeter and cleaner as he rose. Despite himself—because Yochno tried not to play favorites among the citizens of Twaa-Fei, even when some were busy destroying things—he found his shoulders relaxing and his breath coming easier when he stepped off the lift to the pleasing and strife-free boulevards of the upper island. He walked briskly to the council building, entered, and navigated the corridors to the circular chambers. The warders, unused to being kept waiting, turned to him immediately when he entered, wearing expressions of varying degrees of irritation or eagerness.
Without letting his eyes stop on her in his survey of the room, Yochno noted that Bellona was seated in Lavinia’s place. At this rate, none of the older warders would be left.
Clearing his throat, Yochno stepped to the podium. “I have come directly from the lowest island to inform you of the situation there.” He let a modicum of exhaustion into his voice; he had been with the security forces all night. “The unrest has spread. While the initial disturbance came from a small group of Rumikan refugees unhappy with the assistance they’d received, the riots have now become a catchall for any number of discontents. Twaa-Fei residents have been fighting in the streets; we have confirmed reports of”—he glanced at his notes—“Quloi and Rumikan citizens scuffling. There have also been attacks on the Zenatai community. We’ve identified Kakute and Vanian gangs, and there may be others.” He glared out at the warders. They had all been looking at Kris, but almost all of them were implicated. “Warders. I ask you to each fulfill your role and calm your populace.” After a moment of heavy silence, Yochno continued. “However, please use caution. Some of these groups predate the current unrest and may be armed. In addition, the dockworkers have been agitating for higher wages. It is not a full-on strike yet, but it may reach that point by the end of the day. If so, I need not remind you, not only goods transfer but communications will be heavily impacted. We have only minimal food stocks on the triple islands. It is imperative that we keep the docks open.”
Yochno removed himself from the podium in a flurry of robes and seated himself in the chair allocated to him against the wall of the room. There was silence, and he found himself hoping that he had impressed the seriousness of the situation on the warders, so many of them callow and young.
Kris Denn rose. They looked as though they hadn’t slept, hair sticky and lank and eyes bloodshot. “Fellow warders,” they began, “we have many issues to discuss. I had hoped to come before you today to ask for your assistance with the refugees who have been driven to Twaa-Fei by violence beyond their control, and who are in need of sustenance and shelter, and, as the seneschal has told us, that question has become only more urgent over the last day.”
Yochno saw Bellona’s lips moving, and imagined she was muttering something to herself about the impudence of refugees who burn down their own shelter to ask for more. If it had been Lavinia, he would have been sure; but then, Lavinia wouldn’t have let her lips move.
“However,” Kris said, and their voice become more strident, “a yet more egregious atrocity has occurred, in complete disregard for the system of balance and justice that has been constructed here in Twaa-Fei.” Kris’s rhetoric had certainly improved since they’d become warder, Yochno noted, approving. Then he saw Kris’s fingers shuffle: note cards. Yochno sighed. This was a diminished era of diplomacy. “Some of you may not yet know that yesterday morning a Quloo dreadnought, in defiance...