Flanked by an honor guard, Mentat-Baron Baron Harald Karana, Lord Devanagari the Swordmaster-Assassin, and Sister Rundis Sadhana the Bene Gesserit led House Jörmungandr‘s delegation onto the tarmac at YerShari’s primary spaceport. There they met the representatives of House Zodagon: the young Viscount Erkin; his co-regents, the Lady Iskah and Baron Amaki; and a surprise guest from the Imperium, Prefect Cade of the Imperial Inspectorate. House Jörmungandr impressed everyone with their regal bearing and their mastery of court etiquette during their approach and introductions.
Harald Karana recognized from a blue pip on his uniform that Prefect Cade is of the Inspectorate’s most feared division, one whose jurisdiction is treason and the development of forbidden technology.
Half of the House Zodagon troops appeared to be children, but Devanagari’s sharp eyes noticed they were actually just very short soldiers.
Amaki and Harald Karana, old acquaintances from their Mentat training days, took one groundcar. Rundis Sadhana and Iskah, whose studies at the Mother House on Wallach IX overlapped, took another. After an intriguing but terse exchange with House Zodagon’s heavily-scarred Swordmaster-Warmaster (“Have you ever killed a man?” “Yes.”), Devanagari takes yet a third car with him.
The cars arrive at Fortress YerShari, the seat of House Zodagon’s government. The walls blend seamlessly into the edge of the ridge overlooking the planet’s capital, Qimmat. It was an industrial city, loud, polluted, and hurried, but Fortress YerShari looks north as well towards the rice paddies and the distant line on the horizon that signified the jungle. Barges crowded the river that split the city.
Baron Amaki led Harald Karana through the Great Hall and down set after set of stairs. The switchbacks would confuse anyone but a human computer – but they both are. They passed cell after cell, haggard faces peering out between bars. Finally they arrived at an oval door guarded by two soldiers, one with a lasgun. Inside was a roughly egg-shaped, antiseptically-white room. There were various sharp, glistening instruments resting on a table next to a prisoner, who was strapped to gurney. There was a red button on the wall.
Amaki identified the man as the ringleader of an attack on a Qimmat armory and invited Harald Karana to use his well-known skill at interrogation to find out anything useful he knew. With his powerful presence, sly words, and unveiled threats, but without any assistance from Amaki and his tools, Harald Karana forced the man to confess. He was hired by a spice-eyed, white-haired agent of the Spacing Guild, he said, who promised immense rewards if he fomented revolt in Qimmat and harsh retribution upon those he loved if he failed. The prisoner begged Harald to see to the protection of his family. Harald Karana refused, telling him his family would be punished for his treason, and gestured towards the red switch. Amaki pressed it, and the prisoner died in moments after a lethal injection from a mechanical arm beneath the table.
Amaki dismissed the man’s story as an obvious fabrication. Harald Karana wasn’t so sure.
Devanagari followed the mysterious warmaster into the barracks wing of Fortress YerShari. They hadn’t spoken a word since that first conversation at the tarmac.
Finally they pass an officer’s club. They don’t go in. Instead, a few turns later, they enter an NCO lounge, with a full U-shaped bar and long tables. As he enters, the warmaster removed all his rank insignia and drops them into his pocket. Devanagari quickly imitated him. The warmaster explains that officers are permitted if they “hide” their rank.
After a few shots of poor-quality whisky, the warmaster gets around to introducing himself. His name is Askar, and he and Devanagari hit it off famously as they continue drinking. Devanagari, though not generally socially apt, learned quickly that Askar had served in many wars after being shunted off into the army to die as an unwanted noble child. He instead survived, served with distinction, and rose through the ranks before finally being granted access to spice. Though noble, he’s not polished, and Devanagari deduced that his inexperience at formality may have actually helped him for once.
While drunk, Askar agreed to show Devanagari the House Zodagon war room the next day. Devanagari left without ever admitting he was more than a mere Captain of the Guard, despite drinking heavily.
Rundis Sadhana followed Lady Iskah to her private chambers. They reclined upon divans and drank tea, but when she briefly took Rundis Sadhana’s hand, Iskah tapped out a message in the secret Bene Gesserit code, warning of danger. (Robyn, add exactly what I said here. I don’t want to give away too much or too little, and I know you wrote it down.) Then, under the protection of a cone of silence, they got down to brass tacks.
Rundis Sadhana evaded questions about House Jörmungandr’s intentions on YerShari and about whether she knew of any threats to House Zodagon, but there was one request out of thin air that there was no evading: “By the honor of your House and your oath to the Sisterhood, and by your very life, keep my son Erkin safe, no matter what may come.”
Rundis Sadhana claimed ignorance of the situation, said she needed time to learn more, and begged off because of her responsibilities to her own House, all to no avail. Iskah would not be put off. They struck a compromise: Rundis Sadhana would protect Erkin against all threats she could, but Iskah would share all her knowledge and local intelligence with Rundis. She would also provide future assistance when Rundis Sadhana required it. Though she has now sworn to protect Erkin’s life as her own, Rundis Sadhana has given nothing of her own plans away.
A trip to the hot springs beneath the fortress with other ladies of the court followed. She spent the time listening to gossip and trying to glean useful facts from idle chatter. She and Iskah spent so long unwinding that they had to hurry to make it to the dinner, and they would miss most of the reception beforehand.
Harald Karana meanwhile presented Baron Amaki with a bottle of whisky from his native Grumman. They left the prisons by a heavily-fortified elevator that lead straight from near the interrogation chamber to Amaki’s rooms. Rather than opening out into the room, the walls of the elevator rose and the elevator became a part of the room. The layout was entirely open. There was nowhere for any assassin to hide except the cabinets.
They toast the Imperium and drink. Conversations meanders: Amaki curses the Guild’s monopoly on space travel and likens them to that other prominent secret society, the Bene Gesserit. Amaki believes Viscount Erkin is an incompetent and his mother a nuisance. Though his words were not treason, they were certainly disloyal, and his willingness to speak so freely revealed his knowledge of his own power here. Harald Karana excused himself to prepare for the banquet.
Devanagari and Harald Karana met back in the wing of Fortress YerShari set aside for House Jörmungandr with an interesting problem: both had news to impart, and both knew that House Zodagon would be fools not have bugged every square inch of their guest wing.
Devanagari used his experience with traps, aided by Harald Karana’s sense for intrigue, to clear Harald’s antechamber of bugs, leaving the rest of the wing and Harald Karana’s bedroom still under surveillance. They quickly related what they had learned to each other, wondered at Rundis Sadhana’s absence, and gave quick orders to Harald Karana’s spymaster, Erik: seek out a man matching the description of the Guild agent provided by the unfortunate prisoner.
Devanagari and Harald Karana arrived at the reception before their hosts. Harald Karana made a splashy entrance, while Devanagari tried and failed to blend into the crowd. He was spotted by the Imperial Planetologist, Katya. Devanagari had little time to get information from her before she went on mingling, so he found the steward, Haykal, and asked to be seated with Katya at the banquet. The steward, incensed at the request for last-minute changes from this no-name lord with a sinecure, politely tells him to go to hell. No one knows Devanagari is more than the captain of the guard.
Harald made the acquaintance of the House Zodagon Suk Doctor, Lord Ovqat of House She’r.
When Baron Amaki arrived with Viscount Erkin, Harald made a great show of presenting a caged thrullbeast. The crowd was nonplussed, Amaki was bemused, and Erkin was very taken with the thrullbeast, a sort of boar with bony spikes on its back and tail. Harald continued his missteps by embarrassing Great Chief Hakam of the Tatbiq.
Harald arranged to meet with Prefect Caid for a morning walk the next day.
Finally Sister Rundis Sadhana arrived, wearing a dress that blended the military, tribal, and Imperial fashions most prominent on YerShari. She entered silently, but her presence, appearance, and manner of entrance commanded respect. The crowd has just enough time to be impressed by her before Lady Iskah joined Baron Amaki in welcoming the guests to the banquet. Guardsmen pulled the doors open, and a servant appeared to lead each guest to his or her seat.