Ver was surprised when the little Rethan secretary told him the meeting was to be held outside. A second Rethan with feathery wings led the Vrekan King and his soldiers back downstairs, through a side passage, which then opened up into a large courtyard, filled with silver statues.
Each statue stood on a black marble plinth, with a name engraved in gold underneath it. The statues were of Rethans, life-sized, but all different shapes and sizes. There was just enough room between each statue for beings to walk past in pairs, although the poses of some statues made doing so somewhat awkward.
The High General was standing at the very end of the courtyard, by the very last statue. His guards were present but keeping their distance, a mixture of feather-winged, medium-sized Rethans and smaller Rethans with wings made of glowing energy.
“High General Elkay, I, uh…”
“Hello, King Ver…” Elkay sighed. “I apologise for the change in location…”
Ver shrugged. “It is fine, High General. I was about to ask how your week has been but…”
Elkay sighed again, then turned his attention to the statue. It was life-sized, like all the others, but smaller. A Threan-type Rethan with a rifle in one hand and a blade in the other.
“I am so sorry for your loss, High General…” Ver muttered. “I am also thankful for his actions. Few beings take the time to care about Vrekans. Your…”
“I know what he did…” Elkay sighed once more, wiping a tear from his eye. “Stupidly brave. Bravely stupid…”
Ver could not quite understand Elkay’s words. “Are you suggesting that…”
“No… Sorry…” Elkay swiftly apologised. “The death of my little brother has hurt me deeply. I am proud that he saved that Vrekan family. I am incredibly angry at the Cassid who took his life. He had just turned twenty five. I told him he could take a six month holiday. He got a week…”
Ver looked back at the statue. It looked eerily accurate.
“You honour him well.”
“This is how we lay our heroes to rest…”
Ver glanced at Elkay, then back at the statue again. “Are you… Is that… Is that your brother’s body?”
“Cryogenically frozen then coated in a secret cocktail of chemicals which turns organic compounds into metallic ones, perfectly preserving a body in whatever heroic pose you see fit… It is an… honour reserved for only the best and most heroic Rethans…” Elkay was full of sighs today, but with a fifth sigh, Elkay decided to change the subject. “What did you wish to discuss, King Ver?”
Ver smiled a little, glad for new discussion. “Well, firstly, Kyr Elkay, I wanted to congratulate you on your victory over that self-entitled, ugly, bullying, philagapying, fuckletail Photeianos. I am very very happy that you are now the High General of the Retha, and I wanted to extend my claw to you, in the name of openness and friendship.” As he spoke, he put a single claw on Elkay’s shoulder.
Elkay blinked. Not because of the gesture, he knew that was the Vrekan equivalent of shaking claws, but at his remarks. “You… have rather strong feelings about General Photeianos.”
“He tried to have you murdered. But good triumphed over evil and here you stand, ready to lead the Retha into a new… um…” Ver stuttered. He had lost his trail of thought.
“Yes!” Ver smiled. “A new era. One where Rethans and Vrekans can work together! Which is why I am here. I want us to work together. When you disappeared, Photeianos shunned me and my warnings… But you will at least listen, yes?”
Elkay nodded, but looked unsettled. “What do you mean by warnings? They had better not be warnings about things happening now, because I have seen the problems and trouble I have ahead of me and I have a lot of issues to fix.”
“So we are of similar positions!” Ver seemed even more enthusiastic. “Nearly three years now, I have been in charge. Yet I am still fixing problems. These things take time, as I have come to learn.”
A tiny slither of a smile sneaked onto Elkay’s face, his first since the previous Friday. “I like your enthusiasm. And your politics. I am certain we can work together. Now, what about these warnings?”
“Ah yes…” Ver swiftly remembered. “I have had my IA… my intelligence agency, doing research… The Kolasian nest asked us to check a suspicious package they received from another nest. Was harmless propaganda, but unusual propaganda…”
Elkay scratched his head. “Propaganda? Like what the Thanatians have been peddling?”
“Exactly!” Ver exclaimed, before quickly calming down. “Actually, not quite. Similar idea. Some sort of religious idea, like our War Gods of old. Claims that they will bring immortality and power and… I know not of Rethan history, have you ever had religions?”
“Thousands of years ago. They nearly destroyed us, tore us apart. I can understand your concern, if the Vohra are becoming… radicalised by a religion.”
“Not just the Vohra though… The Cassids too… And the Thanatians you mentioned.”
“Everyone but us,” Elkay sighed. “I believe we must research this further.”
Ver bowed his head. “I thank you for heeding my warning. It fills me with… confidence.”
“And I appreciate you coming to me and informing me in person,” Elkay shifted his weight a little, as if to hide a small amount of nervousness. “You have come a long way. All of you. You should be proud, King Ver.”
Again, Ver placed his claw on Elkay’s shoulder, but this time incredibly gently, his claw just touching Elkay’s shoulder plate. “Please, General. You can just call me Ver.”
“Then you can just call me Elkay,” the High General replied, he placed his own claw on Ver’s shoulder.
Ver hesitated for a moment. No non-Vrekan had ever tried to… even understand Vrekan culture. And right now, this High General was embracing him as if they were equals.
“Wait, we are equals…” Ver muttered under his breath, not realizing he was speaking out loud. Elkay simply continued to smile, then let go of Ver, pretending to ignore his awkwardness.
A small Rethan in red and silver armour, obviously a Ksa, came by to interrupt them. “Ser, the Circle is here. So is the Keeper. They wish to start sooner rather than later.”
Elkay looked down at the Ksa and nodded. “Thank you, Veekay. Let me finish up here.” He turned back to Ver. “Thank you for coming and speaking to me. One of my Ksa will lead you to a lounge area, and we can discuss… lighter things when I return.”
The High General waved his hand, and both he and the Ksa walked away, back towards the Rethan Council building. Ver waved back, feeling more confident than ever.