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The Dark Pilgrim Series
Book 6: Fallen Pilgrim
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RELEASE DATE:  Spring 2009
      The three Drek came gliding in, their motion as they walked in the thin, rarified air humans breathed making them appear to almost float in fluid, graceful tempo.  Their aquamarine-tinted skin and luminous cinnabar eyes glowing out from under their elaborate head-crests giving them an elegance over-laying their fanatic religious zeal as if it were a coat to wear, to display.  Ailanthus was not all that impressed with them, though he did find that here in an official capacity, away from the dark interior of the lower levels of K'ar Krack'a, they certainly appeared far more majestic, their lack of external ears and nose along with their double opposable thumbs not nearly as menacing as when they were approaching you out of a semi-illuminated cavern while hissing.  These three appeared quite a bit taller than the Drek he remembered from the penal colony.  Maybe it was because they were not stooped over from the burden of their imprisonment.
     He did notice, however, the one thing he’d never seen before and which elicited a few gasps from those around him:  their head-crests were blue-tipped.  
     Not many humans ever had the opportunity to see this class of Drek, for they were of the royalty and it was a rare occasion indeed when one of the royal Triads deemed it worthy to make such an appearance.  And they never made an appearance without first having a regular, diplomatic Triad begin the negotiations and continue them for several days, if not weeks.
     This appearance of the Royal Triad from the start, without their usual bevy of protection hovering around them like flies, changed the whole scheme of things and Ailanthus was well aware of it.  His remembrances spoke to him of the few rare occasions when his ancestors had spoken to such Drek, the one most important and of course most out of focus heralding from the time of St. Orion Morgase himself when the much controversial deal was struck for Drek help with ending human enslavement to the Ynos.  There was one theme striking him in a recurring, bothersome fashion.  All the negotiations with the Drek seemed to end up to the Drek advantage.  
     He was going to have to change that pattern.
     The Drek stopped a few meters away from Ailanthus, two of them standing slightly before the third member of the Triad, which Ailanthus knew from his remembrances to be the one actually in charge.  The Triad systems held little sway with those Drek confined to the bowels of K'ar Krack'a, the majority of those assigned there not exactly conformists to the Drek way of life or J'tan itself.  He could feel someone about to speak behind him, most likely Rohini and Ailanthus put his hand up to fore-stall any attempt at speech.  If nothing else they needed to display a united front to the Drek, and getting five different opinions and five different ways to approach this meeting was not the way to display unity.
     The Drek scanned those gathered for a moment as if sizing up the competition.  A patina of recognition seemed to cloud their eyes when they alighted upon the Nobles standing off to the back and they were dismissed quickly.  Rohini elicited a tad bit more attention, as did the Kroor.  Thala's presence, standing so close to a human, gave them the most pause and they stared at her quietly for a much longer time.
     When they finally settled on Ailanthus, Xylella and Tethys, they stopped looking around and looked at them with unguarded curiosity, as if they hadn’t expected to find these three standing here.
     "Which one ..."
     "Of you humans ..."
     "Would be ..."
     "The emperor?"
     Their words flowed smoothly as if Human-speak had been their first tongue, the unusual accent of slow, drawn-out speech like a salve to a soul.  As was custom, only the two forward standing Drek spoke, the third one unabashedly studying the humans before it as if at a zoo.
     Ailanthus wasn’t sure whether he should bow or what type of protocol was required at such meetings.  His remembrances gave him contradictory messages where that was concerned.  Orion Morgase had been respectful yet forceful, ready to conceit any number of options in order to receive Drek assistance while the great General Dyiphne Aurva had been brusque and impatient, giving no quarter and demanding with each word spoken.  
     So he decided that he was going to deal with these Drek as he’d dealt with the other Drek he had known:  harshly, with little to no room for compromise.  "I am.  What do you want here?"
     The Drek seemed taken aback by the words and the tone implied, by the lack of respect thrown their way.
     "You are the ..."
     "New emperor of the humans?"
     "It is obvious ..."
     "To us that you have ..."
     "Learned little humility ..."
     "From your defeat ..."
     "By the Ynos."
     Ailanthus could feel Xylella tense up beside him.  "Who told you that we're defeated?"  The Lord Marshal Bhagavan was beginning to make itself felt in her and he wasn’t sure if he thought that a good thing or not.  He could also sense the frustration coming off of Rohini in waves at the way Ailanthus was dealing with the Drek, at the command for Rohini to stay quiet and keep his comments to himself.
      "I'll ask again.  What do you want?  You didn't come all this way, alone, to ask us whether we feel defeated or not.  And you certainly didn't send along Royal Drek to ask that question.  As for our humility, let's just say that it hasn't changed much since you tried to force it on us."
     The Drek looked at him a moment as if lost for words.  Then they spoke again, their arms and hands moving along with the words as if in explanation, the sound of their voices bouncing off the walls and the floor in splashes of melodious harmony.  "Your directness is as ..."
     "Bold as ever."
     "But if you wish to ..."
     "Bypass the typical protocols ..."
     "Then we can proceed ..."
     "As you wish."
     Ailanthus stepped forward a pace.  "Look, I'll make this real simple for you, okay.  I don't have a lot of time to waste here with you so either tell me what it is you want or go back to where you came from.  And I want to hear it from him."  He pointed toward the Drek in the back, though he really had no idea if it was a him or a her.  The Drek had no real outward differences between their sexes.  In fact, the third Drek, the one actually in charge was most likely also the cogenitor, the third sex the Drek had and that was the foundation for their Triads.  Unlike humans and their two-sex anatomy, the Drek had three classes of sexual distinction with each holding an equal role in the procreation process.  Ailanthus had always been curious as to how that actually worked but never wanted to know badly enough to actually ask a Drek such a personal question.
     The Drek he’d known wouldn’t have responded very positively.
     His memories weren’t much help either, the sexual lives of Drek not well known by anyone outside the Drek Dominion.  "I want to hear from the prime, not from your two lackeys and their damn annoying mode of speaking."
The Drek appeared completely taken aback now by the abruptness of Ailanthus' demand.  They weren’t used to being addressed so.  There had always been an unstated rule that leaders like the Human Emperor or the K'lash Pai or the Royal Drek would respect each other during such meetings regardless of their real feelings.  
     "We are a Triad ..."
     "Of the Royal Line."
     "We will be given ..."
     "The courtesies afforded us ..."
     "By the time-honored diplomatic ..."
     "Civilities such occasions require."
     Ailanthus arched an eye-brow.  If these Drek were going to be stubborn and stick to their wasteful and inane diplomatic ways, then he didn’t need to waste time on them. Having dealt with Drek before in a less than civil setting, usually in a badly-lit connecting corridor with the threat of violence hanging in the stale air like a noxious gas, he knew a thing or two about Drek psychology.  It was all part of his plan, part of the way he’d dealt with the Drek back in the penal colony.  If you showed little to no interest in what they had to offer then the negotiations usually went more your way than the Drek would have liked.  It also brought to the surface how badly the Drek needed whatever they were asking for and avoided the long, drawn out pre-negotiations in which the species seemed to specialize.
     Besides, he had Worms to collect and Druzsni to find.
     These Drek wanted something, most likely needed something badly and thus would be willing to bend the rules if they thought that diplomacy was not going well for them. In many aspects, Drek weren’t all that different from humans.  Need bred desperation and then carelessness and finally compromise.  All Ailanthus needed to do was move the negotiations from desperation to carelessness and the last stage would take care of itself.
     "Okay.  Let's go folks.  This meeting is over with.  There's nothing these Drek can offer us."
He turned to leave and Xylella, Tethys, and Thala followed smoothly as if they’d orchestrated the entire event beforehand.  He could see the looks of stunned silence on the faces of the Nobles, the hidden grin in Christl's eyes and the horror of Rohini, who was getting ready to speak despite the threat Nishada presented.  Ailanthus could almost hear what the man wanted to say, wanted to lecture him about in his annoying, self-righteous style.  This was certainly not the way that such meetings were supposed to function.  Ailanthus was ruining everything, his hot-headedness causing more problems than it solved.  He could hear it all running rampant in his mind and thus certainly didn’t need to hear it out of Rohini's mouth.  His own remembrances were giving him enough of a headache.
He made it half way to the door before the Drek spoke again, far sooner than he’d thought they would break and that told him that they were most definitely at the desperation stage.
     "It is an interesting group which you have gathered around you, emperor.”  The voice was slightly different from the others, a little higher pitched, filled with a touch more authority and patience and dancing like a spring sprinkle in the sunshine.
Ailanthus stopped and turned to look, knowing before he even laid eyes on them that it had been the prime of the Triad who’d spoken and that was for what he had been striving with his harsh ways.  He was a well aware that nothing significant would occur until the prime entered the conversation.  Now they might get somewhere.

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