The atmosphere of this staff meeting was palpably different from the one the week before. Kratia had no need to censure her words now that Minister Cullo was gone. She could be her normal, no nonsense, bitchy self. The staff sat stiffly, fully prepared to answer on the latest status of their tasks, and to take on new action items for the next phase of the Lord’s plan.
“Messick, what is the status of troop strength?” Kratia began.
“Over three thousand, Lord. Most from the concert, of course, but even over the last two days we’ve gotten a hundred more transcripts. They’re coming so fast that we’re a bit strapped for weapons.” The general glanced nervously at Onwei.
“Don’t blame me!” shouted the little man. “I’ve cranked out over three hundred of the automatic weapons in the past week. Those guns are no easy matter to manufacture, why, if it weren’t for the staff magicians helping with parts of the replication, we’d be screwed.”
“You have my wizards working on your guns?” Kratia said. He eyes fixed on Onwei like a bird watching a worm. “I told you that I wanted them manufactured without reliance on magic. Are you too stupid to realize that spells can be traced much more easily than manual labors? Or do you have more expertise in this matter than I?”
Vejij Onwei paled. “No, my Lord. I only used them to duplicate certain individual components of the guns, and to ensure that the shell casings were within the required dimensional tolerances. I didn’t have them duplicate complete assemblies, so I thought I was working within your guidelines. Complete manual fabrication would have resulted in heavy schedule delays; these weapons require a precision not usually found in Salminerian industry. There are no manual tools available; tight tolerance jobs have always been accomplished by wizards.”
“How many wizards helped you?”
“Two, my Lord. Ariel and Franklin.”
Kratia turned back to Messick. “The commando teams; what is their state of readiness?”
“We have fifteen men fully trained and functional, divided into three teams. Drake trained them himself, and we are using them to train additional teams.”
“Have they tasted blood?”
“Drake insisted on it, Lord Kratia. He led small raids on border towns, assassinating about twenty people of little to no importance. Drake personally dealt with any member of his squads that failed to make a kill.”
Kratia smiled. She knew how Drake had handled the situations, and the loss of a few men in order to set an example had her full support. “Good. I have immediate assignments for each of them. First, I want John Anaso out of the way, and I want it to look like a suicide. Second, I want the best team to eliminate Icon.”
There were a few sharply drawn breaths around the table, but Kratia did not pause in her speaking. “Third, I want both staff wizards who participated in the manufacturing process executed. And I want it done within the hour. I will provide concealment of the castle from outside eyes. And I will ensure they cannot escape.”
Messick nodded, but Kratia had already turned back to her science advisor. “Vejij, you may use the one of the remaining staff wizards to construct a device capable of machining parts to the required tolerances. Then have that machine and any other critical devices placed in buildings or tents that are shielded with white crystal. Do you understand?”
The small man nodded nervously. “Yes, my Lord.”
Kratia turned to Sarral. “Double duty for you, Sarral. I am appointing you acting Minister of Finance, and your first official act will be to call in all outstanding loans that I or my various subsidiaries have. Brook no delays or excuses; I made sure all loans had a provision for emergency call‑in, and I want that option exercised!”
“As you wish, my Lord,” Sarral replied softly.
“Furthermore, your uncle had rather extensive investments himself. I want you to contact each of the banks and businesses involved and arrange to withdraw the energy physically. Let it slip that there may be times of great uncertainty and strife ahead. Be subtle, Sarral; but let them know who you are and that you have insider knowledge.”
Sarral nodded. “Will I have to go undercover again?”
“I know how it bothers you! There will be one more mission that requires it, but that won’t be until later.” Kratia looked thoughtful. “Also, I want you to draft a letter to Esaf Mileu hinting that he should keep a close watch on his eastern border. Let him know that Esaf Condeu has placed a garrison of troops in Hornblower and that they appear to be training for large scale, massive assaults. Not at all the type of tactics that would be effective against either Reps or Rauders. He’ll get the message.”
“Draft another letter to the Esaf Condeu, to be signed by Jed Nalton. Thank the Esaf for the assistance of his troops. But include in the letter a question of why the Esaf is letting Mileu troops train here.”
“I wasn’t aware that Mileu troops were in Hornblower,” interrupted Messick.
“Don’t be dense, Messick,” said Kratia. “I ordered a few of their uniforms made up. Have a dozen or so troops wear them on the parade grounds each day. Now, what military targets do you suggest for the first strike?”
Messick went over the list of power plants, banks, key cities and government officials that he, Drake and Sarral had put together. Kratia was satisfied, offering only some advice on the sequencing of the hits. But Messick looked nervous.
“What is it, Messick?” asked Kratia.
“I think we can take the targets, but we won’t be able to hold them against the Esafs’ counter-attacks. Each of them is a brilliant commander, each with over two thousand years of experience, each with large armies that dwarf ours.” Messick cringed, waiting for Kratia response.
“Good points,” she said.
She turned to the newest member of her staff. “General Shabner,” she said. “I have a special assignment for you.”
The commander of the Esaf Condeu forces in Hornblower nodded.
“You will return to the court of the Esaf Condeu with a personal report for his ears only. You will assassinate him at the opportune moment, using one of our new guns.”
Another collective gasp came from the table. General Shabner only nodded.
“What about the Esaf Mileu?” asked Messick. “Can we kill him, too?”
“No. Sarral, explain why.”
“There is a prophesy that protects the life of the Esaf Mileu,” said Sarral. “It states ‘The Esaf Mileu shall live until the Jastic Mountains are worn to dust, and the oceans of Salmineria are dry.’ I believe our plans will need to assume that Esaf Mileu remains alive. His effectiveness must be neutralized in some manner other than his death.”
“Sarral, I could not have phrased it better,” said Kratia. “Leave his neutralization to me. Next report?”
One of the master wizards on Kratia’s staff (who was not Ariel or Franklin) made a report that the deaths resulting from Drake’s raids had an unexpected side benefit. The general mood of fear and anxiety was causing long range magic-based reconnaissance to become murky and unreliable. A lot of people might be wondering what was going on, but wouldn’t have any sure answers without coming here themselves.
Kratia grew more and more pleased as the meeting continued.