First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT.
“Okay, this is going to take some Working, but if I’m right about your Words and I can do what I want with my own – the first would be a bomb, but it would have to be really big or really properly targeted – best would be both – to actually take out the Mountain.
“A missile…” Nikol shook her head, picturing the entrances into and out of the Mountain’s main complex (also called the Mountain, just to confuse matters). “No, we have no way of launching a missile and they have Force shields up, and obviously anything that big Long-Tail wouldn’t be able to drag through the vents. Or any other animal. Sorry, kitty,” she added ruefully. “You’re really cool, but you’re not nearly that cool.”
“So explosion has that problem. A series of shaped charges might work, but that’s still iffy. But poison into the vents —”
“We have to know that we’re going to kill innocent people. There’s no way to … wait.”
Nikol leaned against the wall until Aran shoved a chair under her. She sat down with a thump and was unsurprised but amused to find the other cat jumping on her lap.
“This is —”
“Teeth. I mean, it’s more like ‘I will bite you, I will bite you,’ but ‘Teeth’ works.”
“Hello Teeth.” She petted the cat behind the ears until her head stopped spinning. “Okay. So, targeting a poison. I think we might be able to do something, but it’s going to be a series of really complicated Workings. Damnit, I wish… well. So I can handle some of it, you can handle some, and then… we need to target intent.”
“How the hell do you sort out the right intent?”
“Now that, that is complicated. It can’t be an emotion. I mean, evil isn’t an emotion. Fear doesn’t tell us that they aren’t part of the Mountain’s thing, neither does the urge to leave.”
Nikol leaned back and frowned. “Okay, maybe this *won’t* work after all. Because the Mountain… we’d have to figure out what made them … the Mountain. Otherwise, we just go with the first plan and accept that we’re going to kill a lot of people.” She looked out — no, at, the blinds and curtains were both shut — the window. “Yeah, I can accept that. Sometimes you just have to kill the monster to save who you can. And something that’s just ‘the people they haven’t gotten to yet.’”
“Gloomy conversation,” Aran commented. “But you’re not wrong. So — the rough plan?”
“Good idea.” She nodded shortly. “We can hash out details while I get back up to fighting shape, but the rough idea is really good. I just wish we had a way to target the poison… Well, I’ll talk to the people here and see if anyone has ideas. Working for the Mountain — they do a good job of hiding some of their worst traits for a while. Because they need people to work for them, and they can’t have that if they creep all the mercenaries away.”
“But you ran.”
“Half my troupe ran. We’re, ah. We’re not exactly unobservant and it started to smell.” She tilted her head. “You, you lived in the area.”
She didn’t really want to think about how long it had taken them to notice, how long it had taken her to run.
“Yeah.” He closed his eyes. “For the most part, what we knew was that it was evil.” His voice was quiet. “We knew that people went in and didn’t come back, and we knew we had to avoid it. That’s not really a leap, you know: stay away from the place where people vanish is like stay away from the giant pit in the ground. But we didn’t start to actually fight it – I mean, back then we even thought, even said sometimes, ‘well, that deals with the people too dumb to stay away from the pit.’ – we didn’t start to fight it until people started coming back.”
He swallowed. Nikol swallowed. She knew what he meant. She could picture it, too.
“So I’d never been in the Mountain or anything like that. I’d never, well, you know. Been in there, though I’ve talked to people who have. Mercenaries, soldiers, they’ve been in there.”
He paused. “I know who they got their supplies from, and why. I know where everything came from and I know what happens if you try poisoning their grain, or anything like that. I even know what happens if you try to blow up one of the grain wagons.”
He looked sick. Nikol didn’t blame him. She, too, knew some of that.
“So.” He cleared his throat. “It can’t be something obvious, or someone would’ve done it already. It can’t be something direct, because we don’t have the force to go through their shields. It can’t just be an army, because they can always hire a better army.”
He opened his eyes.
“So it has to be something like this, unless someone’s tried this too, and it’s ended as horribly as everything else?”
That, of course, was the risk. Well, that was one of the risks. There was the risk that the Mountain would detect the attack and turn it on some innocent village. There was the risk that they’d get caught out. And there was the risk that they’d kill everyone in the Mountain, and that it would turn out to not be anyone of importance.
That last one, Nikol considered the least likely, but it was still on her mind.
She turned so she could put her head on the wall and was quiet. “All right. We design the bomb. We see if we can find someone who can do it better than we can, or has the Domains we don’t to be able to do it better. And then – then we see if we can get all our pieces together.”
She swayed a bit. “First,” she huffed quietly, “I get better.”
“Meanwhile,” he corrected quietly. “Meanwhile, you get better.”
Nikol raised an eye at him, surprised at his vehemence. “Meanwhile,” she agreed slowly. “I get better.”