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Camilla moved her head to the beat of the music that the humans were somehow managing to coax out of carved flutes, rock drums, and other improvised instruments. No reason she couldn't enjoy herself at the victory feast while waiting for the dark empress to answer her request for an audience. She picked up a fork to convey a slice of the roast pig onto her plate, then dropped the utensil while suppressing a yelp.

The soft ringing noise of the fork striking the wood caused the elderly, round-cheeked woman sitting to Camilla's left to stare at the red mark on the blonde's skin. “So it's true what they say about fairies and iron, then, Ambassador?”

“If they are saying that it burns our skin, yes.” The winged girl's sour expression evaporated within seconds, since the good mood around her was contagious. The disruption of a dark god's plan was always a reason to celebrate, but for these victims of Crowned Death, his recent setback had to be incredibly satisfying. She said a quick incantation that removed the blisters on her skin, wrapped a piece of cloth around her hand and stabbed at the meat again.

“Is that the kind of thing you are teaching my little Percy at school?” a smiling man wondered, attracted by the white glow. He was sweating, having just arrived from the crowd of dancers filling the town square.

Camilla blinked and looked him up and down. Despite the toga-like brown cloth wrapped around him, he was easily recognisable as a farmer by his tan. It took her a moment to see the family resemblance between him and one of the little boys that attended her classes. “You mean the magic? No, he's too young for that. I'm teaching reading and writing, mostly.”

“Ah, I see. He's doing well, then?” He took a seat on the empty chair next to her, which wobbled under his weight.

The fairy nodded. “He's a bit ahead of his peers, I think. Very well-behaved.”

The man's smile widened. “He's such a good boy. If I could only say the same thing about his brother.” The peasant shook his head. “Teenagers. He's actually stupid enough to fall for the dark empress' tricks. Just yesterday, he said that working for her might not be so bad. After all that happened, the little moron somehow forgot that Keepers are evil.” He snorted. “He can be happy that we aren't back home, where such talk would be treason.”

“Eh, King Albrecht never built us a nice house with running water,” the woman to Camilla's left said.

“Shut up, Grisella. I bet you are the one who filled his head with this nonsense in the first place!”

“Nonsense? Just look around you! See?”

The peasant turned and twisted, trying to spot something out of the ordinary. “What are you talking about? I don't see anything special!”

“But you do see! With eyes she gave you!”

The man's face reddened in anger. “Foolish woman! That's just another invisible chain for us!”

Grisella raised her voice too as she glared at him “Are you calling me a fool, you uneducated buffoon?”

Camilla became uncomfortably aware that both of her neighbours had breath that smelled of alcohol. She had little choice in noticing this, because both of them were leaning in closer to glower at each other right above her plate. Trapped between the two, she stood up and said loudly “Would you two mind not shouting into my ears?”

Reprimanded, both of them backed down with embarrassed expressions.

“Sorry, Ambassador.”

“Yes, I shouldn't let him get me riled up like that. Say,” the woman bought her mouth closer to the fairy's ear, “you get more news from the outside world than we do, maybe you can confirm something I heard from my sister, who heard it from a guard, who overheard some warlocks talking. There's supposed to be an army of a hundred thousand giant undead monsters getting ready to attack this place!”

“Don't go spreading silly rumours, Grisella,” the man intruded. “Your sister is the biggest rumour-monger in town! Remember the time she convinced you someone had grown a tail after eating the empress' bread?”

“Nobody asked you!” the woman hissed.

In the hopes of finally getting to taste her food, Camilla shook her head rapidly. “That rumour is wrong. There can't be more than a few hundred of the big ones left after what Empress Mercury did to the temple.”

“But there is such an army coming here to kill everyone?”

Camilla blinked as she suddenly found herself face to wrinkled face with the worried woman, who had grabbed her by both shoulders. What had- oh! Oops. Perhaps she shouldn't have enjoyed so much cider herself? “Um, yes? But-” she continued, talking very quickly “there's no reason to get worried! Do keep in mind that Empress Mercury just defeated a much larger group of them, outside of her territory, without an army! Besides, they are big aquatic zombies. If they go on land...” she mimed a flopping motion with one hand. “Also, they don't even fit into the tunnels!”

“Are you sure about that?” the peasant from before asked, not yet reassured completely.

“Of course. They are coming here because the death god is so angry he isn't thinking straight. They'll be easy pickings for the dungeon's defences!” Camilla hoped she could calm the gathering eavesdroppers down. She didn't want to make them think about diseases carried by the rotting husks, or about many slimy tentacles wielding enchanted picks. “Look, empress Mercury has consistently beaten Crowned Death's forces every time they have clashed. Why would it be different on her own lands?”

“I suppose you are right. When you put it like that, it does sound a bit silly to be afraid, right?” Grisella's laugh sounded somewhat forced.

The rest of the crowd made relieved and affirmative noises as it dispersed.

Good. The blonde fae felt a wave of relief about not having caused a panic. The dark empress wouldn't have liked that. Another drink to relieve the tension sounded like a great idea. She reached for the mug and promptly choked on the apple-tasting liquid when she heard Mercury's voice in her head, startling her.

”Ambassador Camilla, please come to my study for your requested audience.“



Ami was in a good mood after her rest. Despite all the mistakes, the temple assault had turned out for the best, and she felt refreshed enough to deal with the intricacies of diplomacy. She also enjoyed the wild, drumbeat-heavy music that came from the party deep below. Her smile widened, which caused her two visitors to exchange uneasy glances and sink deeper into their upholstered chairs.

Durval cleared his throat. “As I was saying, the Light and associated nations are highly unsettled by your aggressive deployment of troops into overseas territories while everyone was distracted by Crowned Death's high temple.”

“It wasn't my intention to scare anyone,” Ami explained. “I took the opportunity caused by Keeper Clairemonte's death to seize his territories before anyone else could.”

“You are, of course, going to withdraw your troops after neutralising those dungeons, then?” The white-bearded abbot asked.

“Unfortunately, strategic considerations make such a move inadvisable at this time. I need to have sufficient mobility to react to the enemies you warned me about,” the blue-haired girl said.

Camilla sucked in a surprised breath and stared at Durval, who narrowed his eyes.

“Your presence will be interpreted as a threat by the neighbouring rulers, no matter your intentions, your Majesty,” the old man replied.

“Well, I have no plans to re-establish the dungeon hearts in those territories. Sorry, but that is the best I can offer right now.”

Durval frowned. “I see. Perhaps you would be willing to divulge where you disappeared to during the battle to show good faith?”

“Disappeared?” Ami sat up in surprise. “Could you clarify, please?”

Durval tilted his head to the side in surprise. “The period during and after the battle in which you were hidden from scrying detection,” he elaborated.

Up until this point, Ami hadn't even considered the possibility that getting possessed would interfere with scrying methods. She still existed, after all. She blinked twice while her mind raced, considered the implications. “This is news to me,” she admitted. Were there possible applications? Could she lose those applications if she divulged what had happened?

“Are you serious?” Camilla blurted out. Then, seeing Durval's disapproving look, she bowed her head, her cheeks burning. “Please excuse the interruption.”

“It is all right, Ambassador. I was just about done, anyway. I shall need some time to sort out my thoughts.”

“Oh. Good.” Camilla sat up straighter to indicate that she was speaking in her official role now. “Your Imperial Majesty. My Emperor made it clear that he insists on being informed about what exactly you did to sink Crowned Death's temple. He has very solid evidence that your plan involving the giant ward failed completely.”

“Oh, he insists?” Ami said before she could stop herself. In her defence, that had sounded awfully entitled.

Camilla shrugged. “It's my duty to let you know that my Emperor is considering diplomatic sanctions in case you do not comply with his reasonable request,” she said, carefully watching Ami for her reaction.

Ami noticed that the tips of the fairy's folded wings were vibrating, betraying her nervousness. Given that any such sanctions would involve the embassy, for lack of other options, the young fae would be affected by the consequences no matter what.

“Actually, I have thought about this for a while,” Ami said, smiling again, “and I see no reason why I should keep the key factor in my victory a secret. Please wait a moment.”

Using her Keeper senses, she searched for her chief warlock. She wasn't surprised to find him and the other warlocks near the food-laden tables. Where else would he be? Sit with the drunken goblins around their bonfire? Dance with the trolls and orcs? Wait, was that a dance or a brawl? Ami watched for several seconds, but couldn't tell either way. At least they seemed to be having fun. Perhaps she might have found Torian in one of the dark, secluded corners that she was very carefully not looking into. That could have been embarrassing. Fortunately, he was out in the open, though he did have a female companion.

“Oh, come on! With all the chanting you do, you got to have a good singing voice! Let's hear it!” Tiger shouted, one hand on the chief warlock's shoulder while holding a large mug in the other.

Torian shot a venomous look at his colleagues, who were laughing at his predicament.

Ami allowed herself a small chuckle too as the black-bearded man's eyes darted around in their sockets, searching for a way out. ”Torian, may I have a moment of your time?”

The beleaguered warlock was quick to agree. “Sorry, Princess. Duty calls!” With that, he disappeared into thin air, leaving a pouting youma behind.

Her predatory gaze fell onto the remaining warlocks, who suddenly found the situation much less amusing.

Torian bowed to Mercury as soon as she dropped him off before her desk, and also greeted her guests with a quiet nod when he spotted them. “Your Majesty. How may I serve you?”

“Can I please have your notebook for a moment, Torian?”

“Of course.” He fished it out of one of his robe's pockets and held it out. “Here.”

“Thank you.” At a wave of Ami's hand, the booklet slowly drifted over to Camilla. “Page nineteen.”

The fairy reached for the notebook with three fingers, moving slowly as if it might bite her. When she opened it to the indicated page, Durval didn't even try to hide his interest and almost fell off his chair trying to get a look at the text. “It's...” Camilla said in a quiet voice as she read. “I- I can't make head nor tail of this,” she admitted after a while.

Ami, who had been smiling in anticipation, covered her mouth with her hand. “Well, I suppose Torian's handwriting can be somewhatchallenging at times.”

“That's not it,” the fairy said. “I can see it's a spell, but what does it do?”

“May I?” Durval asked, holding out his hand.

Camilla handed the booklet over without complaint.

He quickly scanned the passages, his eyes narrowing. “Hmm, I cannot tell what this spell does at a glance, either. Some of its sections look familiar, but others are completely foreign to me,” he muttered.

“That would be Jadeite's contributions,” Ami said. “I have noticed that his methods are fairly different from the local ones.”

“Indeed?” Durval raised one eyebrow. “I confess to a certain curiosity about where you found a sorcerer with his extraordinary abilities.”

Ami ignored the implied question. “In any case, this is a spell for controlling the undead.”

“Controlling the undead? That's how you did it?” Camilla asked, looking up at Ami.

The blue-haired girl nodded, still smiling. “After the initial infiltration, it was simply a matter of sabotage, misdirection, and luck that brought the vessel down,” Ami explained. Mostly luck though, she admitted to herself.

“Oh, so that's why you aren't more worried about the horde of undead beasts coming here, either!” Camilla realised.

“Well, they are aquatic. They may capsize my iceberg, but I'm more worried about other troops that may accompany them. Without support, they are not going to achieve much.”

“I see. That does partly answer my Emperor's question, but what about the fire that consumed the ship?” the fairy continued.

“Certain conditions present in the vessel made it possible,” Ami replied, keeping her answer deliberately vague. She was less worried about the damage the truth would do to her reputation than about giving Crowned Death enough hints to figure out what Tiger had done. It was sad and a bit unfair that her sister's heroic rescue would go largely unappreciated, though. “I refuse to go into further detail.”

Camilla looked disappointed, while Abbot Durval nodded slowly, as if thinking.

“Oh, and feel free to keep and distribute the spell – that goes for you too, Abbot,” Ami added.

The fairy's eyes widened. “Really?”

Torian gasped. “My Empress, that – divulging it to the surfacers- Crowned Death will be furious!”

“I think after taking this realm from the undead, stopping his avatar from entering the world, turning the power source for the Calarine staves into collateral damage, revealing the existence of undead dungeon hearts, and destroying centuries of work on his master plan, he can't really get any angrier at us,” Ami pointed out.

Torian winced with each point his empress listed. “Y-yes, your Majesty. You are, of course, right. However, I am starting to wish the spell wasn't named after me.”

“The price of fame,” Durval chuckled. “In any case, if this spell works as advertised,” his wrinkly face lit up, ”then it has the potential to change the face of the world. Why raise the undead or worship the death god if they can simply be turned against you? This could be a harder blow to Crowned Death's agenda than even your destruction of his high temple!”

Torian let out a whimper.



“Ahhh, hot water. You know, when I was traipsing around through the snow with that smelly band of orcs, it was one of the things I missed most,” Jered exclaimed as he brushed with his fingers through his wet hair.

“And here I thought you'd miss me more than the shower,” Cathy said as she wrapped her soft arms around him from behind.

“That goes without saying,” Jered answered quickly.

“But I like hearing you say it!” the blonde protested.

He was somewhat disappointed when she let go after a brief kiss on the nape of his neck. In the steamed-up mirror, he watched her lean body as she left the shower stall and started towelling herself off.

Only slightly more serious than before, Cathy asked “Now, are you telling me the dwarfs didn't have any baths? You haven't been talking much about their hospitality.” She tossed him a dry towel, which he caught with practised ease.

“They don't have hot water, or at least they don't waste it on guests,” he grumbled. “I'm still not sure if they were serious about cuddling with their big, slobbering dogs to get warm,” he continued, scowling. “And please don't ask me about their transportation. Just don't. I've had about as much of the passive-aggressive little bastards as I can stand.” Done drying himself, he followed Cathy into the adjacent bedroom. “If I never see a neck-high ceiling again, it will be too soon!”

A suppressed laugh escaped from Cathy's lips.

“Yes, great, laugh at my pain,” Jered complained as he gathered his clothes “If you ever visit them, I'll have the last laugh. You are taller than me!” he concluded triumphantly.

“Oh, but I'll just order the goblins to carry me around on a palanquin,” the towel-clad blonde replied, smirking. “No hitting my head or stooping for me!”

“Heh, I bet they'd do it, too,” the wavy-haired man said with a wry grin. He paused briefly, during which he contemplated the fluffy carpet underneath his feet, the luxurious double bed big enough for four, and the sheer size of the well-heated and decorated room. “It's sure nice being in charge.”

“Pays much better than adventuring, too,” Cathy agreed. She stepped closer to him and put her hands on his shoulders. “So, it's been a busy few days. How's your back now? Still sore from stooping all the time?

Jered felt warm thumbs circle the skin between his shoulder blades. “Why yes, yes it is.”

“Maybe you'd like a massage to make it better?”

“That does sound like a terrific idea,” Jered agreed happily.

The hands withdrew. “Great! I'll get you an appointment with Tserk, then,” Cathy declared in a cheery voice.

“Gah?” Jered sat down on the bed with a pout. “You are a cruel, cruel tease!” he whined.

“And you are about to be late for your meeting with Mercury. Remember not to call the dwarfs 'hairy little bastards' where she can hear you, yes?”



When Jered arrived at the meeting room, Jadeite was already sitting at the round table. He greeted the wavy-haired man with a nearly imperceptible nod and resumed reading the sheets before him.

A bit off to the side, Snyder stood in front of his usual chair, his back facing the entrance. He was staring at a grey rat that sat before him on the polished marble surface, right next to his writing utensils. Slowly, he extended one hand toward the animal, who ducked low and pressed itself tightly against the cold stone, its nose twitching as the limb got closer.

From point-blank range, Snyder's palm emitted a bright white pulse of light that enveloped the rodent.

With a frightened squeak, the rat jumped backwards, cartwheeling in mid-air. Its tail whipped left and right as it sprinted away from the acolyte, crossed the table, and skidded off the edge on the other side.

“Harsh, Snyder,” Jered laughed. “Remind me to never steal your spot at the table!”

The redhead looked at him over his shoulder, his face serious. “That has nothing to do with it. We are performing valuable and useful research here.”

“I bet,” the wavy-haired man said with a grin, noting that Jadeite had leaned slightly to the side and caught the rat in one hand before it could hit the ground.

“Though that doesn't make it any less ridiculous,” Jadeite added in a deadpan voice as he lifted the rodent back into sight.

The rat sitting on his white-gloved palm shot him an insulted look, squeaked in protest, and raised its snout into the air like a haughty noble. Red light gleamed within its half-closed eyes.

“Indeed,” Jered said, amused. “I'm afraid any pretence of dignity is being sabotaged by your fur still standing on end, your Majesty.”

The young Keeper turned her head to stare at him. Taken unaware, she started when a large finger touched her back and began smoothing out her ruffled fur.

“So what's this about?” Jered asked the redhead while Jadeite got up from his seat and turned toward the bookshelves. The brown-haired man noticed one of Mercury's visors propped up against a heavy tome.

“We are removing what little is left of Crowned Death's energies in her system,” Snyder explained. With a small smile, he added “You may have noticed that there is a lot less screaming and kicking involved than last time.”

“She seems downright comfortable,” Jered agreed, grinning at the rat sprawled out on the dark general's palm while being moved back and forth in front of the scanner.

Mercury reopened her eyes and slowly, almost reluctantly got to her feet. In an instant, she disappeared from the dark general's palm and reappeared on the carpet near his boots. With a low crackle, a crimson-eyed pillar of darkness mushroomed upwards from the animal, solidifying into a short-skirted girl. “Ah, thank you,” she said to Jadeite, her cheeks a faint red. ”That should be enough data.” She turned toward Snyder and wrapped her arms around herself, the pale colour of her skin contrasting with the black of her leotard as she mock-shuddered. “Brrr, that wasn't really any more pleasant than last time. Only shorter.”

“Your reaction implied that,” the acolyte said, grinning. “We did manage to cleanse all of you in one go, however. If the treatment carried through to your normal form, of course?”

Ami retrieved her Mercury computer and started typing. “Well, the rat is clean,” she said after consulting the readout. She walked up and down a few times in front of her detached goggles before stopping, then nodded. “I can't detect any more traces of contamination.” With a smile, she touched her right ear, causing the visor to disappear.

“Good.” Jered's chair made a muffled scraping noise as he pulled it out and sat down. “You wanted to talk about my expedition to establish trade relations with the dwarfs?

“Yes,” the teenager said as she made her way over to her seat. “I have read your report on the various holds and fortresses already.” A brief gesture, and a huge map unrolled itself, covering the wall canvas meant for presentations.

Jered immediately recognised the northern mountains of his home continent, where he'd recently spent some time before Mercury called him back.

Ami pointed at the central region of the half-moon shaped mountain range, which was covered in red dots. “I've marked the different settlements according to your classification. The entire kingdom of Nimbadnur is unable to trade with us? Can you get them to change their mind?”

“Well, that's going to be tricky. I had to work through delegates there, since they'd arrest me on sight. Not only do they not want to deal with us, they legally can't. Ever since Baron Leopold had to save them from their Keeper-backed rebellion, their laws -” Jered stopped, considering his words. “Well, overly zealous describes them accurately. They'd probably have to lock away your guests too if they ever set foot on their lands.”

“That's really inconvenient,” Ami said, taking a note. “By all accounts, they are the richest of the three kingdoms, and they have the special obsidian required for the embassy.”

“Just use some substitute,” Jadeite suggested. “Who'll be able to tell the difference between two different kinds of black rock anyway? Hiring some dwarf to tell everyone who investigates that it is truly the correct stone is probably cheaper, anyway.”

“That does seem a little dishonest,” Ami objected, looking for Jered's opinion.

He didn't think any Shining Concord dignitaries ordered to come here would be concerned about the masonry. Not when complaining about it would gain them the displeasure of the local Keeper, who also happened to be an empress. “Works for me. If the dwarfs don't want to sell to us...”

The teenager jotted down another note. “It's not a pressing issue, so I'll keep the suggestion in mind for later.”

“Good. Completing the embassy shouldn't be a priority right now anyway,” Jered said. “I took a brief look at the treasury, and the gold level is way down. I didn't realise you spent that much on those spells against Crowned Death.”

“It will be back to its original level in less than three days,” Ami said, not sounding too worried. “Now, all those yellow dots,” she waved her hand, indicating the markers spread evenly over the rest of the mountain range, “are the settlements you claimed do not want to trade with us.”

“Well, that's over-simplifying things,” Jered said. “It certainly includes those who sneered at me a lot while loudly proclaiming that they would never trade with – I quote – Keeper scum. However, I also included those who I think would take our money, not deliver anything, and consider it a good deed.”

Ami blinked.

“Depriving a Keeper of resources is typically a laudable action,” Snyder elaborated, nodding along.

“They can't know you are an exception, Mercury,” Jered agreed. “Anyway, that category also includes those who are refusing your offer for political reasons, be it recalcitrant lieges, wary neighbours, or not having been asked first.” He paused for a moment. “ Well, or lack of sufficient bribes.”

“Bribes? We do have a surplus of sapphires with exceptional size and quality,” Jadeite pointed out.

Jered grinned. “Yes, they could be quite useful in gaining their cooperation.”

Mercury's crimson-glowing eyes narrowed slightly. “But we also have the option of doing everything completely legally, right?” She pointed at the single green dot at the south-eastern edge of dwarven territory.

“Sirith Anlur. It's technically part of Kransley, but they were more cooperative from the start than their countrymen. I even got to negotiate with their Baron himself – through an intermediary, of course, since you might possess me at any time, but still.”

“That sounds promising,” Ami said, her face lighting up.

Jadeite flipped through the pages of the report before him, then asked “Quite a change from the arrogance displayed by the other holds. Why the different attitude towards us?”

The wavy-haired man shrugged. “I'm not sure. They seem poorly-regarded by the other dwarfs, so they could be desperate for the fame that creating a new imperial crown would gain them.”

“You weren't able to find out what earned them their bad reputation?” Mercury asked.

“Could be a discrimination thing. They do have slightly fairer skin than the other dwarfs.” He was speculating now, because he hadn't been able to dig up anything incriminating in their history. “I certainly couldn't discern anything wrong with their craftsmanship. Definitely a match for the skill of the other dwarfs, as far as my human eyes can tell.”

“Well, quality is nice, but a secondary concern,” Mercury said. “My objective remains learning how to properly work adamantine.”

“So you aren't interested in the samples of their craft that they offered?” Jered asked, raising both eyebrows and pressing his lips together in an exaggerated pout. “I obtained those at great cost to myself, you know. Diner with a dignitary who liked fermented mushroom brew. Eww.”

“You mean the wooden box in the quarantine cave?” Mercury asked.

“Yes, did you open it?”

“No, I simply scanned it along with the other suspect goods, but you have convinced me to have a look right now.” Reaching out with both hands, she caught a suitcase-sized box with rounded edges that appeared out of thin air. Gently, she put it down, careful not to scratch the table's surface. A flick of her fingers opened the metal latch, revealing a great mass of tightly-packed straw that cushioned the goods within.

Snyder's chair creaked as he leaned forward to get a better look at the first item that Ami pulled from the container.

The teenager's eyes widened slightly as she turned the mug in her hand slowly between her fingers. “This is made from plain regular rock?” she asked, sounding incredulous as she admired the shiny object from up close. Its surface was smooth but irregular, varying in thickness in order to produce tiny pictures of dwarfs from the stone's natural patterning.

“Yes, dwarfs can do some amazing things with stone. It took me over an hour to realise that the engravings in my room were covered over and over with mana-draining wards,” Jered said. He recognised the soft, thin package that Mercury pulled out of the box next. “Wait, don't open that!”

Ami froze and looked at him questioningly.

“It's a display of tailoring skill. While it indeed uses very little silk to create something beautifully elaborate, I rather suspect that this gift was inspired by the more unfortunate parts of your reputation.” Besides, he wanted to keep it for Cathy, who would undoubtedly look great in it.

“Oh.” Mercury understood what he meant, if the colouring of her cheeks was any indication. Or perhaps she had simply used her Keeper senses to peek. In any case, she produced the next item from the box instead. “Earrings? Ohhh!”

Jered thought that right now, Mercury looked as young as she really was – just a delighted girl admiring the way the light sparkled within the swan-shaped hollow inside the cut amethyst.

“I can see individual feathers! And they craft this by hand? They certainly seem like a good choice for creating my crown. Jered, do you see any reason not to commission the crown from them?”

“Yes, actually,” the wavy-haired man said, causing Merury's face to fall. “Any time I steered the topic towards incorporating adamantine into the crown's design, the negotiators became nervous and evasive. When I pressed the point, they seemed fairly distressed. They didn't outright admit it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they either didn't have any adamantine, or didn't know how to work it.”

“So they can't give us what we need either? Darn it!” Mercury lowered her head, looking disappointed as well as mildly embarrassed by her outburst.

“It seems we need to find a way to convince the reluctant mountainhomes to trade with us, then,” Snyder summarised the situation.

“Not exactly,” Jadeite contradicted, causing Ami to give the curly-haired man her full attention. “Mercury, there is no way you can gather the amount of adamantine you need through legal channels. Perhaps it could be done if each individual settlement was willing to trade with you, but as the situation stands,” he indicated the map covered in red and yellow, “it's not going to happen. You'll have to dig out your own adamantine sooner or later, which means intruding into dwarven territory.”

“But...” Ami started to protest, but didn't finish the sentence. She lowered her eyes, apparently unable to find a good counter-argument. After a while, she asked softly. “Then what do you suggest? That we just kidnap a dwarven metalsmith and get the information out of him?” Her frown made it clear that she didn't approve of such a course of action.

“There are less objectionable ways to go about it,” Jadeite said. “I'm sure that with the right incentive, one of their master smiths could be convinced to join you.”

“Tricky,” Jered commented. “They enjoy an elevated status in dwarven society, and that kind of respect is not something given up easily. It's also a problem of trust. They have little reason to believe that you will keep your promises and not toss them aside once they are no longer useful to you.” He paused, thinking. “It might be easier to go for their criminals. There's got to be someone in prison somewhere who won't complain overly much.”

Ami started massaging her temples. “How did we get from discussing potential trade partners to plotting prison breaks? Anyway, I have to think about all of this. I'm not going to jeopardise diplomatic relations by doing something rash. Thank you all for your time, meeting adjourned.”

Previous chapter: Next chapter:
Chapter 158: Unholy Dealings Chapter 160: For Science

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