Chapter Twenty-Two: Invading

"Attention, Parliament," said the voice of one of a'vi'Naav's personal assistants. "This is a general notification that the Linnipese Empire has declared war on the nation of Esmaar. Further details are unavailable at this time. A'vi'Naav requests a representative of the Press Committee, a representative of the Committee for Linnipese Relations, and a representative from the Defense Committee to come to her office at once for emergency consult. Security has taken Ambassador Asaria into protective custody and she is not to be permitted off the custodial premises nor harmed. We will continue to issue announcements as more details are forthcoming."

Leekath would have stared at something, but the voice was conveyed, disembodied, from every direction; there was nothing to stare at. "Aaihhhi?" she said quietly.

"Don't worry, dear," said her father, getting up from his desk and patting her shoulder. "We have wards; this is at most a minor inconvenience. Keep doing what you're doing; I need to consult with the rest of the Press Committee."

"Yes, Aaihhhi," she murmured, and she went back to quantifying feedback statements from municipal government pilot programs.

It was an angle before there was another announcement. "Attention, Parliament," said a different one of a'vi'Naav's assistants. "The Linnipese Empire has communicated to us that at first-and-naught tomorrow, Sutaahel the sixth of the year 11253, they will follow through with an unspecified threat to an unspecified civilian target."

They're all civilian targets, Leekath thought. Where else would they hit?

"The complete Defense Committee and the complete Committee for Linnipese Relations are called to a'vi'Naav's main conference room," the announcement continued.

Leekath bent her head over the pilot program feedback, condensing paragraphs into a numerical assessment scale so the relevant committees could make decisions at a glance. Not everyone was on Defense or Linnipese Relations; Aaihhhi wasn't, and he would be back from his Press meeting any tick. Then what, would he carry on with drafting his imports bill? While Linnip had declared war?

The wards were good. Leekath knew a few things about the spells, how they were deliberately entangled to be unbreakable and how they kept out everything and how smoothly they responded to their assignee's wills. She was almost a graduated wizard, too, she wasn't just trusting that someone who knew mysterious things had it handled. But that didn't mean Linnip couldn't have come up with something that would pull Esmaar into the world's usual tussles. A new break that could cut through wards like a knife through silk; a new weapon that could saunter right through them; even just enough secret moles and collaborators in Esmaar would let them do some damage.

What Leekath didn't get was why Linnip wanted to be at war with Esmaar. Esmaar was harmless, Esmaar had no military, it was the only country without one. And wasn't Linnip still supposed to be busy, colonizing Ryganaav, their shiny new conquest? That had been less than a year previous. Maybe it was a miscommunication after all, an ambassador abruptly snapping or someone misreading bad handwriting.

The Press Committee decided not to say anything to the public. This was on the expectation that Linnip wouldn't really be able to do anything, that there had been some kind of mistake or they were posturing for some unrelated reason. They thought that an announcement would do more harm than good. Everyone in Parliament was strictly enjoined not to share the information.

After Leekath was done with work, she hugged her Aaihhhi goodbye, nodded solemnly when he told her not to worry, and teleported to Rhysel's tower, directly into Talyn's room.

"Let's go visit your family," she said without preamble.

"Huh?" Talyn said.

"Tonight. They won't mind if we show up unannounced, will they? Or, if they will, I know, doesn't Rhysel tutor a pack of wolfriders in kamai on the weekends, ones who don't want to come down and enroll? Let's go hang out with her," Leekath said.

"What's gotten into you?" Talyn said. "I mean, sure, they won't mind, my folks or Rhysel either, but why do you want to go all of a sudden?"

"Can we go? Please say we can go," Leekath said.

"Well, I mean, you can go wherever you want, I bet my family would let you stay at their place overnight even if I weren't along, Cyranna loves you, but I've been practicing spells -"

"So we'll go to Rhysel instead of your parents, wizardry will work just fine in wolfrider territory," Leekath said, clapping her hands smartly.

"Would you stop shielding, I'm so confused -"

"I can't," she said. "Please let's just go. Please, Talyn."


"I can't. Please. I can tell you tomorrow probably. I'm going, please come with me," Leekath said. She'd never been to the wolfrider territories, but one of the wolfrider students had to have made a transfer point; she'd get a signature and use that.

"Did something happen at work -"

It was a safe guess; during school breaks she was virtually always at work. But she couldn't say. Was Aaihhhi at home now, trying to convince his husband and daughter to take a sudden vacation in Rannde and look at old temples? One that Aaihhhi himself wouldn't attend because he couldn't leave Parliament at such an important time. Khi, thank God, was already in Barashi studying foreign dances. "I know, we could go visit my brother," she said, clapping her hands again. "I know there's a bed in his room there just because all the rooms have them, you could take that, and I can share his sleeping bar, he won't care, we usually all sleep on the same bar at home."

"What has got you so keen to get out of here?" Talyn asked.

"I can't say. Please trust me." Why wouldn't he just...?

"This isn't about your religion, is it? Because you've established repeatedly that it has nothing to do with me," said Talyn.

"It's not that. I promise," Leekath said. "Do you want me to beg you? Do I have to threaten you to get you to come? Do I have to leave by myself and hope you get curious enough that you follow me just to ask again and again?"

"I'll come, I'll come," grumbled Talyn. "Which do you want to visit, my folks or your brother or Rhysel?"

"I don't care." When he didn't manifest a preference either, she said, "Khi."

"If they run a public dance lesson while we're there maybe we can grab Cyranna. Maybe Erryl too," said Talyn, getting to his feet and holding out his hand for Leekath's hand.

She grabbed her suncloak from where she'd left it under Talyn's bed, and teleported them both to the circle, loose-limbed with relief. "Sure," she said. "They're so cute when they dance."

It was morning in Barashi, and Khi was in the middle of a lesson, but he waved them along agreeably when Leekath mindspoke a quick question about whether they could stay with him in his room. Leekath and Talyn amused themselves by wandering the rest of the artists' commune and looking at paintings and glass and impractical furniture. Leekath thought that one object intended to be a hatrack would actually make a nice perch, but it cost a staggering amount and when she tried it out as a perch, it wobbled.

Leekath was up fretting until Barashin nightfall, though Talyn crashed after they'd toured much of the commune. Khi didn't turn up to his room, and this kept Leekath up with more worry still (perhaps Khi had run back to Esmaar for - something? Without telling her?)

But then Talyn woke up, muttered a remark about how he hated sleeping near people like Khi and his girlfriend when they couldn't shield, and rolled over to go back to sleep. Leekath was only kept up another few degrees wondering why Khi hadn't yet told their family that he, too, was dating a non-vampire. She couldn't imagine that Fheeil would take it much better from him than from her, though Khi had always been more resistant to their fheeil's requirements than Leekath.

When Leekath finally awoke, she was sure it was later than first-and-naught on Elcenia. She wasn't typically awake that early anyway. But she didn't have a clue what time it was, and couldn't cast the spell that would check. At least she wasn't prone to oversleeping and likely wasn't late for work.

Talyn was awake, lounging in bed. Leekath fluttered down from the perch and shifted.

"Can we go back yet?" Talyn asked.

She wasn't sure; an "unspecified attack" might take any amount of time. It might still be ongoing. It might not have happened at all.

"I shouldn't be late for work," she said in agreement.

"Can you tell me what's going on yet?"

"No. Not yet."


"Soon," she said.

They didn't say goodbye to Khi, as Talyn reported that he was sleeping in the girlfriend's room, but Leekath penned him a quick note before they went.

They transferred to the circle, and found it mobbed.

Based on the clothes and the proportion of the crowd who were vampires, halflings, and other non-Barashin species, most of the traffic was from Esmaar to Aristan.

At least whatever it was hadn't closed or destroyed the circle.

Leekath and Talyn had some trouble getting through the crowd in the opposite direction, but managed by taking to the air.

"I suppose you don't want me to listen to any of these people either," Talyn asked, looking at Leekath strangely.

"If they know, you can too," she said. "But I don't know what they know, so I can't just tell you instead."

Talyn nodded slowly.

They reached the circle, flashed their tickets, and went through.

<Leekath, everyone's thinking ->

<I'll find out at work,> she said. <I'd rather not go in confused by more rumors than I need to hear. Is the consensus that it's safe here? What about Daasen?>


<I'm going to Parliament, then, and I'll see you this evening,> she promised with a kiss, and she recast her sunscreening spell and then teleported.

She landed directly in her little corner of her aaihhhi's staff offices, but out the window, she could see that the place was thronged, and the crowd was testing the ward. Only some of them had press clips attached to their ears. She didn't spot anyone carrying a legible sign, though. Two of her co-workers hadn't come in. Aaihhhi was locked up in his office, levitating a communication crystal by his ear and shuffling papers frantically.

On her desk was an internal release, hastily written by Aaral Sathal or someone in her office; if Leekath remembered right she was in both Defense and Linnipese Affairs.

For Members of Parliament and political staff only, read the release, a summary of the events of Sutaahel 6, first-and-naught, Aabalan, Esmaar.

Leekath couldn't immediately call to mind where Aabalan was; she touched her municipal index and it flipped through itself to the relevant entry. It was apparently a tiny little town in the middle of the Iv Hills whose only feature of note was a pediatric psychiatric facility. It made no sense as a target of an attack - not unless the Linnipese were trying to be demoralizing and had gone after the hospital - those children...

Leekath looked back at the release. The manner of attack is yet unknown, but it has the apparent sole effect of killing (without visible damage) all living things (including residents, pets, plants, livestock, and wildlife) within a half-mile radius of Aabalan Town Center. The nearby psychiatric facility and some remoter families technically resident of Aabalan were not affected by the attack and there are no apparent ill effects to any living things beyond the described radius.

The kids in the hospital were okay. But not the ones who'd lived in town, apparently.

Preliminary death toll subject to possible mis-estimate is 442 deaths total, 84 of legal minors. Outskirts of town and pediatric facility claim 321 survivors, 140 of legal minors, within Aabalan's borders. The Empire of Linnip has confirmed responsibility for the attack and has asked the surrender of the nation of Esmaar. The Empire has announced its willingness to negotiate terms over a period not to exceed three weeks, after which it has announced its intent to repeat the demonstration of the unknown attack type unless surrender has been tendered.

The Aabalan wards had been centrally raised at the time of the attack, along with the wards of the rest of the nation. They exhibited no effect.

Press Committee, Defense Committee, and Committee of Linnipese Affairs members will receive separate notifications regarding meetings, assignments, and public statements. The Committee of International Community Membership is asked to produce two representatives to participate in same. Members of none of the above committees are strictly enjoined not to discuss the events of Aabalan elsewhere until and unless the Press Committee issues a release for general dispersal.

The following should continue without adjustment excepting that regarding Member of Parliament availability: work of priority 1-3 excepting that relating to the Empire of Linnip; purely internal Parliamentary matters; municipal work in category Aan. Other work should be stalled until such time as another release is issued.

Verbatim copies of the Empire of Linnip's statements (in Ertydon and in their endorsed Leraal translations) are available to Members of Parliament but not to their staffs at this time.

Leekath re-read the release. She shuffled through her inbox for anything of priority 1, 2, or 3, internal Parliamentary matters, and municipal work stamped "Aan". She found some of the latter and poked along through it, feeling very small in her chair.

No new assignments appeared on her desk for the rest of the day. No new releases appeared. She managed to stretch out her municipal work until quitting time.

Aaihhhi was still off at a Press Committee meeting, figuring out what to tell the population. Leekath thought she could probably get away with leaving before him. Likely he wasn't going to be out until the next day.

She didn't want to go to her family's home. She didn't want to go to Talyn, who'd expect her to be able to tell him all about it and wouldn't really understand if she couldn't, for all that she trusted him not to break through her mental shields.

Leekath teleported to her empty dorm room at school, which usually stood unused during breaks, and hung from her bar to sleep.

At work the next day, there was another release - a copy of the one that had been sent to newspapers and read aloud to the crowd around Parliament.

From the desk of a'vi'Naav:

By now, most of you have heard of the tragic attack on Aabalan. Our final count of the victims indicates that 441 people lost their lives; the complete list has been furnished to the press. The survivors are alive and healthy, but traumatized along with the rest of the nation. The weapon that Linnip has devised, whatever it may be, kills instantly within a precise sphere. One family home was on the border of the radius of the assault and only those on the near side of the house were killed.

Aabalan's wards were up. All of our wards were up; some of you may have noticed this if you tried to visit another city. No one has declared war against Esmaar since well before our system of defense was put into place, but we did not carelessly assume that were being lied to when we received the threat, and Linnip did not operate under the expectation that our protections were a bluff. They have created something we cannot identify and against which the spells our nation has depended upon are useless.

Esmaar, we have no army. We have no better wards for you than the ones that you already have. We have no great economic power that we can use to attack Linnip's livelihood. We have not cultivated warlike allies who owe us debts that we can call in at the currency of their populations' lives.

Linnip has given us three weeks to negotiate the terms of our surrender.

During those three weeks, our emigration policy remains as open as ever.

We will continue to update you as negotiations progress.

I, a'vi'Naav Letsaanlen Val, take full responsibility for the treatment of this disaster by the Parliament over which I preside, and invite the population of Esmaar to remove me from office if you judge that warranted.

And then there was a page of her sincerest apologies. And an invitation for feedback to pour in regarding how the negotiations ought to proceed, which someone like Leekath would skim and quantify and submit to the members of parliament.

Leekath's inbox filled up with letters. She handled them mechanically, making a template of common requests to tally up each one. Wants protection of men's rights. Objects to prospect of state religion. Wants Leraal to stay official language. Objects to prospect of martial law. Wants to maintain clear border with Ryganaav. Wants corporal punishment to remain illegal. Objects to possible installation of noble rule over regions/municipalities...

She emptied her inbox at the end of the day - the clerical workers who directed incoming mail knew when she was scheduled to go home - and added one solitary tick mark in each category for herself, then turned it in.

She went to Talyn's room.

He was there, pacing.

"Do I know all the relevant stuff?" he asked.

"If you've been reading the news," Leekath said. "Yeah."

"The feedback office spat back my letter stamped 'inadmissible' in blue letters."

"You're not a citizen," she said. "We can't count you."

"I live here."

"We still can't count you. I could expedite a citizenship application if you want to get a letter in tomorrow afternoon, but this probably isn't a great time to get in on being Esmaarlan," she murmured, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"No. Let's move," Talyn said. "You're practically done with being a wizard; transfer to someplace in Saraan or maybe a vampire-language Ranndean university and pass your tier tests and then we can set up someplace safe. I mean, I'll still run around getting into trouble, but you -"

Leekath shook her head.


"Not now," she said. "Maybe later, I don't think my aaihhhi's likely to keep his job under a Linnipese rule, but not now."

"Does Parliament have some plan that a'vi'Naav didn't mention to fight back and get the Linnipese out?" Talyn asked hopefully.

"If they did, I couldn't tell you," she said.

"Right," said Talyn, smiling slowly.

"You can move if you want," Leekath said. "I can teleport. I can still visit you lots. But I don't want to leave here unless it really does get really bad. They didn't even ban emigration in Ryganaav when they took over - we were still getting people who preferred what they knew about Esmaar to what they were getting from Linnip. I don't think I'll wind up trapped and I don't think they'll get to the point of attacking another place. I want to stick it out."

Talyn chewed his lip. "Promise me you'll duck out again if there's no surrender, no surprise counterattack, and no third option I haven't thought of by the three week mark."

"I promise. I'm not going to stand in the way of one of those... things," Leekath said.

"Okay." He sighed. "I thought you were just in politics for your aaihhhi, but..."

"Only mostly," Leekath said.

Esmaar negotiated the terms of surrender.

Linnip wasn't giving them any options other than martial law or the installation of Linnipese nobility. No one had any clever third options to compromise with, so the plan was the Linnipese army would spread itself around Esmaar like cheese on bread and handle initial unrest, and nobles would move in a few years later.

The Linnipese would tolerate Esmaar's religious plurality and large nonreligious population. It technically had freedom of religion within its own borders, but heavily endorsed the state religion, Aleism. It was agreed that this wouldn't be pushed on a state level, although of course there would be the usual missionaries, in greater numbers.

Men's rights took longer to hash out than any of the other issues. Ultimately it was determined that Parliament's female members (minus a'vi'Naav, ousted as being too symbolic) could remain to advise the occupiers on governance of Esmaar. A handful of male members who held particularly important mixed skillsets, while required to resign, were allowed to prematurely promote female aides to take their places instead of dissolving their offices entirely. Thiies Hhirheek did not qualify for this group. Linnip also demanded that only women be allowed to head the nation's few institutional schools. The Empire agreed, however, that men could go on occupying other positions of authority - for the time being.

The remaining skeletal and unisex Parliament would have to unanimously oppose any amendment to the original terms in order to stop it. That was the only non-advisory power they could retain.

Leekath thought about the one half-Linnipese practicing Aleist who'd made it to high Esmaarlan office and winced.

Leraal remained the official language of the Esmaarlan colony. The border between it and the Ryganaavlan colony would remain in its current form, geographically speaking, although of course politically both were part of the same Empire. Corporal punishment was to remain unlawful within the region, although other amendments that Linnip demanded in the area of family law meant that the penalties for breaking that regulation were sharply scaled back.

The relatives of all of the deceased at Aabalan were given large monetary compensation packages out of the Empire's coffers.

Leekath was presented with apologetic dismissal papers, as was her aaihhhi.

He went home in tears. She went to her dorm room, numb and quiet.

An Address to the Population of the Esmaarlan Colony.

Hello, new Empire subjects. I am Ensiah Lasita-rimei, interim governor of Esmaar. I want to assure you that despite the unfortunate way in which we were obliged to begin the takeover, we absolutely intend that this be a decently conducted occupation. Our own history contains a period of time spent as a colony, too, and it was not well handled. If we can possibly, through the expenditure of any amount of our effort and dedication, proceed without a single additional casualty - the way we have in Ryganaav - we will do so. Complaints about the conduct of any Linnipese officer or Empire employee will be taken with the utmost seriousness and can be submitted at the military installation nearest you.

I wish to make a public apology to the families of the residents of Aabalan. Unfortunately, there was no way to demonstrate our seriousness without loss of life; only inhabited parts of Esmaar are warded. We chose the least densely populated target that we could, and have compensated the survivors as best we can. The Five Candle Convent nuns have also donated their personal time to ensure places for each of the dead in Sennah's embrace; I'm told not many Esmaarlanik will understand the ritual, but suffice it to say that we as a people acknowledge, honor, and regret the sacrifice of Aabalan.

We hope to leave your day-to-day lives as unaffected as possible while still integrating you into our Empire. You will begin as commoner subjects, but offices granting full Empire citizenship are opening already, and the requirements are modest; even nobility, typically a status obtained by birth or marriage, isn't out of reach forever.

Please do note that while we mean you no harm and do not want to impose unduly on you, any attack on, noncompliance with, or sabotage of our occupying forces is a crime and will be treated as such. Additionally, while for the most part the Linnipese Empire has laws regarding the freedom of speech similar to what you are accustomed to, defamation in press or public statement of our royal family and royal line is prohibited. Other adjustments to the local laws can be viewed at your local police office; Esmaarlan-native police remain on duty under our supervision.

Emigration remains unrestricted. Residents of Esmaar who choose to depart the colony may still do so.

Our offices and installations are interested in hiring, particularly native speakers of Leraal with some competence in the Ertydon language. Additionally, there are many opportunities for anyone who would like to help our Empire with the continuing development of the Ryganaavlan colony.

Questions, comments, and complaints can be addressed to your local military installation or to my office.

Thank you all for your time and cooperation.