The iVokh are winged, sociopathic aliens, but their motivation is not that different to our own – pride, a Machiavellian lust for power, fear, hatred – and none exhibit those emotions more clearly than the Yellow. As the most powerful Healer in the Guild of Healers, its power is absolute, but only in the Settlement. While its rival, the Blue, remains free, danger could strike from the shadows at any time.
The following is a critical scene from the second book of Vokhtah in which the Yellow’s Assistant brings the news that the Blue may be dead. But it learned this news from someone who might be a Trader. The distrust between Healers and Traders goes back generations, and the Assistant itself was once a Trader.
To get at the truth, the Yellow uses its power to feel the Assistant’s emotions while it’s being interrogated [think paranormal polygraph test], but it’s the Yellow’s own emotions that colour how it interprets the results.
This is a critical scene, and I need fresh eyes to see if it makes sense, if the motivation and the thinking it engenders ring ‘true’. All beta responses gratefully accepted!
Scene in the Settlement between the Yellow and its Assistant:
The Yellow’s eyes narrowed to hard, vertical slits as it stared at the head beneath its hands. A Trader, on the very last day of Tohoh, and carrying the chain of a dead healer who might have been the Blue?
Sitting back on its haunches, the Yellow wiped its hands in the sand as it tried to sort fact from fiction. It very much wanted the Blue to be dead, but that was no secret. Was it being told what it wanted to hear, or was its Assistant reporting what actually happened? Yet if the Refugee really was a Trader, then the story of the Healer’s death was almost certainly a lie, but to what purpose?
“Where being this…Trader now?”
“With other Refugees, Master,” its Assistant said eagerly. “Thinking might being useful…”
Useful, yes, but to whom? If the Blue died while travelling with the caravan, why not simply return the chain it was wearing? Passengers died in the Wild all the time. No one would have given it a second thought. Why lie about how it died? It did not make sense unless the Traders wanted the Guild to think the Blue was dead. But again, to what purpose? They gained nothing from-
…but what of Blue?…
The gears inside the Yellow’s head seemed to click and whir as the events surrounding the Blue’s disappearance suddenly took on a new significance. First the report of a stolen chain. Then a few days later, the return of the missing Timekeeper’s ladle, along with the description of a ‘tall, thin Messenger’ who had paid for passage on the last caravan of the season…with a blue gem shard. Clearly, the so-called Messenger had been the Blue, and now it was beyond reach.
But what if the Blue had not left with the caravan at all? What if its disappearance had been nothing but a cunning charade? What if it had been hiding in the Traders’ Quarter ever since, spinning a web of deceit to undermine the Guild-
Ki!…not Guild, the Yellow thought, its stomach suddenly churning with bile. Self!
The two had been rivals for decades, and the Blue had always hated being second best. It would never just slink away. It would want to revenge itself on the one who had brought about its downfall, and what better place to do so than in the Quarter? Close enough to sneak in and out of the Settlement, but the one place no one would ever think to look. And, of course, the Traders would not be averse to undermining the Guild as well, especially if they were paid well enough.
It all made perfect sense, except for one thing: why had the Blue waited until the very end of Tohoh to have the chain ‘delivered’. It would have been far better to have the Trader bring the chain into the Settlement while there were still genuine Refugees to mask its arrival.
That was what the Traders had done in the past when they tried to infiltrate the Settlement. Waiting until the last moment, and then sending in a lone Trader was simply stupid. They must have known the Guard would turn it away…
…but guard being Assistant…
The sense of betrayal was so overpowering, the Yellow almost lost control and killed its Assistant there and then. Leaping to its feet, it retreated to the other side of the cavern and poured itself a cup of pippa juice, sipping slowly until the bloodlust subsided. Killing its Assistant before extracting every last detail would not be wise…
…especially if being others…
Because Messengers were never assigned to gate duty. Yet that was precisely where the Yellow’s Assistant had been sent, by the Master of Acolytes. Coincidence? A desire for maximum humiliation? Or a sign that the Master was part of the plot as well?
The Yellow put the cup down with exaggerated care and forced itself to breathe, long and slow. It had not clawed its way to the top of the Guild hierarchy by being precipitate. Its Assistant might be capable of conspiring with the Blue, but the Master of Acolytes possessed less guile than a rock. That was one reason it had never been elevated to the Council, that plus the fact that it had never shown the slightest interest in politics. Every speck of energy it possessed had been expended on finding a healer-seneschal. And it had not deviated from that obsession despite decades of failure and the open contempt of most healers. Making a fuss in public was very much in character, plotting in private was not.
Yet if the Master was not involved in the Blue’s plot, then the Assistant could not be involved either because it could not have known that it would be assigned to gate duty. Of course that did not preclude the young fool from helping one of its own when it saw the opportunity, but again, the Blue would not have known that. So why would it initiate a plan so likely to fail?
To successfully infiltrate the Settlement, it would need everyone to believe that it was dead, without question. Yet this botched plan had done the exact opposite, raising questions where there had been none. It would have done far better to simply leave the chain somewhere for the guards to find. The gate guards were not known for their intelligence, but even they would know better than to leave seven starrock links out on the…
Shock held the Yellow frozen for a moment. Was that it? Was the Trader supposed to fail? Was it supposed to be turned away…after it delivered the links? Because of course the guards would take the links to someone in authority, and of course that someone would try to discover who the dead Healer had been.
Once the links were connected to the Blue, its supposed death would be accepted as fact because there would be no one to interrogate. In the meantime, the so-called Refugee would be safe inside the Trader’s Quarter, mission accomplished.
A cunning plan, and worthy of the Blue, but something had gone wrong. Instead of being confronted by a stupid gate guard, the Trader had been met by a Messenger with divided loyalties, and now that Trader was languishing inside the Settlement with the rest of the Refugees!
A trill of pure delight burst from the Yellow’s cilia as it stared at its Assistant. Far from being a conspirator, the young fool may have inadvertently helped foil the Blue’s plot!
But only if being true, the Yellow thought as it strode across the cavern and dropped to its knees in front of its Assistant. Arranging itself comfortably on the sand, it reached out and initiated the truthsaying once more.
“Why hiding Master’s visit?”
“Not hiding! Just…not wanting to bother Yellow with…”
The Yellow felt a surge of contempt rise and fall beneath its fingers.
“With?” it asked gently.
“Having great respect for all Healers! Truly. Especially Masters but…”
Again that surge of contempt.
A swell of anger rose beneath the Yellow’s fingers before its Assistant finally spoke again.
“Everyone knowing healer-seneschal being impossible! Master being-…”
The angry out-pouring cut off mid-word, but the seething anger continued for some time as the young Trader struggled to control its feelings. It clearly blamed the Master of Acolytes for its current predicament.
Well pleased with what it had learned, the Yellow sat back on its haunches and considered its options. It was convinced its Assistant knew nothing of the Blue’s plot, but the young Trader might still prove to be useful in other ways, at least for the moment. None of the other Messengers knew how Traders thought. That could be important during the interrogation. If the Trader could be convinced that its story was believed, and it was then allow to escape, the Blue might feel safe enough to return to the Settlement. A lot of ifs and mights, but well worth the effort if the Blue could be killed once and for all.
“At first light should visiting Healer from South. Finding out if chain being one stolen by Blue.”
“Thanking, Master! Thank-”
“Then should visiting…Refugee. Finding out if truly being Trader.”
“S’so! Not being disappoint-”
The flood of gratitude turned into a squeal of pain as the Yellow sank its claws into the body beneath its hands. The squeal turned into a high pitched keen as it dragged its claws through the soft flesh. The wounds were not fatal, but the scars would demonstrate what happened to any iVokh who dared to cross the most powerful Healer in the Guild.
Thanks for reading,