For a moment, Ceres' mind went blank. Her fingers loosened and the quill she had been using tumbled out of her fingers clattering onto the parchment beneath. She looked down. The spreading blot of ink seemed like the mouth of a beast, gaping open to swallow her whole.
The Duchess again?
Why couldn't the woman just leave her alone? Wasn't it enough to trap her within the prison of her own body for years? Now, her actions would put her behind bars?
No! She couldn't afford to have her freedom curtailed again. This feeling was too precious to let some random twist of fate rob it from her again. She had gambled her life for it. Now that she had it, it would take her life to part her from it.
Her pupils focused again. There was steel within her eyes. Her mind buzzed as she rapidly considered and rejected plans of action. What did they know? They knew that she was the wife and daughter-in-law of Mars and Veer Felidae, respectively. They knew that she was a Vulpine clansman.
By dint of Mother-in-law's efforts, the fact that she was a full-blown Kitsune hadn't been revealed, otherwise, with her outward status as the Duchess' daughter, they wouldn't even give her a warning before locking her up, given how heinous they made whatever the Duchess had done sound. If they knew that she was an illegal immigrant from the Shogunate…
Thankfully, they knew nothing. She still had a chance.
She shot a sharp look at her three would-be captors before focusing on Marshal Corvus. "Sir, could you tell me on what charges I am to be detained? What has the Duchess done to deserve the title of Traitor and implicate the entirety of her clan?"
The man snorted coldly. "The information is on a need to know basis, and as a suspect under investigation, you definitely do not need to know. Now stop dallying and come along with us peaceably. Or, we could make you. Your choice."
Ceres, with great effort, kept her expression unruffled by the naked threat contained within those words.
"Well, Sir, you'll find that I am, in fact, someone who does need to know. According to the Anti-Hostage Protocol, when arresting the family member of an officer ranked Marshal or higher, the officer needs to be notified of the arrest and given a chance to plead on their behalf. I'm assuming you do not have the approval of my Husband or my Father-in-Law, given how they are currently holding up the defences. If you had notified them, one of them would be here. As they aren't, I must revolt against this arrest, nay, abduction attempt. And I will do my utmost to avoid being taken alive."
A blue vein stuck up on Marshal Corvus' forehead. "You… you dare imply that I, Aeryn Corvus, might be a Traitor to the Empire. Me? Take you hostage!? Preposterous!" he sputtered out.
Ceres' shrugged. "I imply no such thing. I just wanted to remind you that your arrest does not follow Protocol. If you carry on with it, you will be guilty of attacking the family of a soldier when they are at war. A crime for which the penalty is drawing and quartering, if I'm not mistaken."
Aeryn Corvus took deep breaths to calm himself while the two other Marshals who had come along with him grew restless at her words. Finally composing himself, he regarded her with narrowed eyes. "Good. What you said is quite correct." He bowed to her slightly, "I apologize for revealing such an ugly performance, but you must understand my desire to apprehend members of the clan involved with such deep treachery."
"Oh, yes. I'd love to understand. So, why don't you gentlemen take a seat and inform me about what these transgressions actually are so I can get an inkling of the depth of the treachery I'm being charged with?" Ceres said, waving in the direction of the chair in front of her desk.
Marshal Corvus nodded and sat down, extending his wings and draping them behind the chair. With how large they were, the raven black feathers at the wingtips touched the ground. Turning to one of his two subordinates, he whispered something to him through the wind. Their conversation was brief and at the end, the man departed, leaving only three people in the office. Ceres, his other aide, and him.
The aide took another chair but positioned it so he was a half-pace back from Marshal Corvus' chair.
"Samuel has gone to inform your Husband. He'll be back with him after the artillery squad is done with the current salvo." He said. "I feel that's enough time to get you up to date with what your Matriarch has been up to."
Clearing his throat, Marshal Corvus began, "The central and southern portions of the South-Eastern Province have fallen under her command."
"What!?" Ceres exclaimed, her eyes widened in shock and disbelief. "How is that even possible!?"
He sneered. "Why, through a web of political marriages, of course." The way he looked at her sent a chill up her spine as if he was deciding whether or not to just kill her and be done with it. She found it very hard to maintain composure under the effect of the light killing intent.
"H-how?" she managed to voice out through gritted teeth.
Marshal Corvus remained silent for a moment that seemed to last an eternity for Ceres before leaning back in his chair and sighing. Ceres let out a breath she had been holding, sweat had soaked her back. "After the resource distribution was over, it just so happened that all the communication towers in these parts fell into the hands of the families with which the Vulpines had marital ties. Coincidence? I think not. Apparently, the Duchess had fed these families some idea about monopolizing the instant communication business, thereby earning a large profit. So, during the distribution, they had chosen their jurisdictions accordingly. Finally, about three days ago, she blockaded communications, declared her secession from the Regiis Empire, and together with her allied families, set about eliminating any clan likely to impede her ambitions. Quite simple and effective. Caught off guard, these unfortunate clans weren't able to accomplish much before they were swept away by the tides of revolt or captured."
Ceres mind reeled from this shocking revelation. Secession? What exactly did the Duchess want and how was it related to the Throne, what part had she played in all this? In getting rid of her fetters, had she forced the Duchess' hand?
They were questions without answers… but there was something that seemed incongruous about the story.
"Wait! If she blocked communications, how do you know about the fall of the South and Central Districts so soon?"
"Even a total lack of news is news. A sudden information blackout for two whole districts just screams 'trouble'. And despite her planning, she isn't omnipotent. Some people ran away and informed the border patrol via communication tower. Make no mistake, we are at war. Within and without."
End of Volume 7
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