Pavel tapped his staff against the ground. He had already been waiting for fifteen minutes and old age hadn’t build up his patience much. He scanned the sky again, but it was still clear. He was on the outskirts of the city, standing outside a makeshift hut in the ruins that existed at the edge of the desert. It was a good place to think and to discuss matters of importance, away from the prying eyes and ears of the faction leaders.
It also gave him a good view of the city skyline and the low surrounding buildings made it easy to spot anyone, or anything, coming by air. So far, he hadn’t seen anything other than a few scout drones. Then a dot appeared on the horizon. Pavel drove his staff into the ground and stood up on shaky knees. Pallas had arrived.
She swooped low over the half-demolished buildings, circling one before landing a few feet away from the old man. She was tall, towering over his hunched form easily. Her golden armor had a dull sheen to it, and the gilded wings on her back were wide enough to shade him completely. As she strode toward him, the wings retracted into a small pack on her back. The visor of her flight helmet pulled back to reveal an angular face with skin the color of burnished bronze, a few strands of silvery hair peeking out from under the helmet’s rim.
“Pallas,” he said, standing as tall as he could but still having to look up at her. “What tidings do you bring? Has a decision been reached?”
“They’ve agreed to a truce.”
Pallas had been sent to negotiate peace between the Monduti and the Revain, two of the most powerful clans in the city. They each controlled several territories and had alliances with many of the other factions, but it was never enough. They were ready to rip the entire place apart if neither of them could control it. Pavel and his Peacekeepers had to step in to prevent that from happening. They were the official arbitrators of the city, tasked with keeping it in harmony by masters who had long been forgotten.
It hadn’t been easy getting the Monduti and the Revain into the same room without causing a bloodbath, but Pallas had a knack for persuasion. She wasn’t the Captain of the Peace for nothing. She had managed to broker an agreement between them.
“But there are conditions,” she said, “And if even one is not met, the whole thing collapses into chaos again.”
“I see.” Pavel turned away from her, his shoulders drooping. “It can never be easy, can it?” He ran a hand through his matted gray beard. “But it’s a start, at least.”
“Yes. It is.”
Maintaining the peace between warring factions was an uphill task, and as more factions splintered, forming their own groups and coming into conflict with each other, it was only going to become more of a challenge. Pavel couldn’t afford to lose control of any of them.
“What are the conditions of the truce?”
Pallas pressed a plate on one of her gauntlets, causing it to project a small holographic screen. “The Monduti had a spy in the ranks of the Revain. The Revain want the spy executed in public to discourage any such betrayals in the future.”
“And what do the Monduti want?”
“Control of one of the Revain’s smaller territories.”
“Sounds simple enough.”
“The Revain are willing to hand over control, but the territory chief isn’t being cooperative. He’s prepared to fight. That could upend everything we’ve done so far.”
Pavel considered that for a moment. “And if he surrenders, will that satisfy them? Will it put an end to this war?”
Pallas inclined her head. “For now.”
“It will have to do. Very well. Convince the chief to surrender. If he’s still feeling stubborn, kill him swiftly.” He locked eyes with Pallas. “Do not give him any opportunity to fight.”
“Understood. And the execution?”
“Yes, that’s fine. Just ask them not to turn it into a celebration. We’re satisfying basic conditions, nothing more.”
Pallas nodded. Her wings extended themselves again and flapped once, sending up a cloud of dust. She took off, headed back to the city.
Pavel shuffled over to his hut and sat down on a wooden crate, feeling it creak under his weight. The factions enjoyed testing the limits of his tolerance. But if it helped him maintain the peace, he could live with it. The occasional bloodshed was a small price to pay for the larger goal.