Epilogue - 010
Turns since TBfGK: 1
There wasn't sunlight right at dawn. The snow-tipped mountain peaks lit up one by one, like beacons of peach and gold flame. But it took a while for the brightness to creep down the granite cliffs and into the pass. When it broke upon the ledge, dazzling and warm, Commander Jillian Zamussels was already mounted.
From his perch on top of the coffin, Vinny Doombats watched her tack up. The start of the turn had cleansed them both, and her whole face was now clear of soot and grime. No trace of tracks down her cheeks, as she squinted in the sun. From the set of her jaw, the steel in her gaze...there wouldn't be any more tears there for a long time. She looked Royal. Tough like a Royal. He had never really doubted it, he realized.
He floated down to the rocky ground and collapsed his coffin to fist size. This he put away into his cape, petting his last three bats as they squirmed around in there, still fighting over each other's rations. He didn't say anything more to Zamussels. What could he? All he could do was keep an eye on her.
Caesar and the rest floated over. They'd been keeping their distance, but now were almost casually surrounding her to either side of the pass. They even had some bats out, stretching their wings in the sun.
Caesar was smiling. Dangerous, in Vinny's experience. Caesar tended to smile only when cornered. How could that be, though?
Jillian ignored the Chief Warlord until his fanged mug was inches from her ear.
"You will like this," he told her.
His voice was so smooth and certain that she dropped the pretense of ignoring him, turned her head, and stared at him like a kestrel.
"This mission's been changed." His voice suddenly became louder, and his tone mock-formal. "Princess Zamussels. His Royal Highness Don King requests the pleasure of an audience with you at his court, in the capital city of Transylvito. We are here to serve as your Royal escort. We fly at your pleasure."
Caesar did his best to bow, but it came off as completely sarcastic. Vinny's hand went to his mouth in a gesture he hoped would look thoughtful, but which he was using to cover a grin that was trying to break out.
Jillian straightened, and folded her hands on the saddle horn. The gwiffon shifted its weight as a light breeze stirred. The other warlords watched her in silence, from a distance that bordered on respectful.
She cleared her throat. "What happens if I decline?" Her voice was low and deadly.
Caesar put up his hands in a "Titan's forbid" gesture. "Surely her Royal Highness is speaking hypothetically. As a mere Noble, I can only speculate on the etiquette n' protocol of refusing a Royal invitation. But," and here he drew a black spring-loaded dagger from his belt and snicked out the blade, "it would seem unwise." His formal, insincere smile finally dimmed and went out.
He held up the dagger at a casual angle and looked her in the eye. "We are here...to serve as your Royal escort."
This...was not actually anything to grin about, Vinny realized. It was weird. "Mere Noble?" And Caesar'd just used the word "Royal" more times than it usually came up in a half-dozen turns around Transylvitians. Yeah, they had a King on the throne, but this wasn't Jetstone. They never had that crap about station. In this kingdom, the perqs always went to whoever got the job done.
Jillian barely gave the dagger a glance. "One turn. Can we spare one turn to try to catch him?"
Caesar slowly, condescendingly, shook his head. His lips were pursed in an "aw, poor baby" pout, but he said nothing.
Jillian blew out a breath. "Right." The warlord reached down to her thigh and removed the blond hair-helmet from her only open saddlebag. She buckled the bag, resized the helmet, and snapped it to her head. "So we go west."