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Nov 28, 2020 4:59 AM
Tedekhi comes home with some news
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Jizhu fumbles with her phone, attaching it to the satellite clip in such a rush that sparks spray reproachfully at her from somewhere. She curses and readjusts the clip, checking all the wires — they never considered it a priority to have the most streamlined communication tech installed in their little farmhouse, and that had never been an issue before now — and then she is on the line to the office of the shanyu, her king, the most important person on the planet. Even the dial tone sounds surreal.

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Hello, you have reached the office of the Shanyu Findei, the second king of the Xiongnu. Please hold.”

There is a soft click, and then staticky silence. And then “Hello, this is the calling office of the Shanyu Findei so that his people may notify him of their troubles and delights. May I ask the reason for this call, and your name?”

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“My name is Qri Jizhu. I’m calling because of an emergency, I have a message that needs to get straight to Findei right away, can you do that?”

She has started running back out to the pasture as she waited on hold, her phone and its satellite accessories in hand. Saki waves at her when she sees her approach.

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“May I ask the emergency? Our Shanyu Findei is a very busy man, with limited time.”

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Jizhu very narrowly avoids swearing at the office of the Shanyu Findei, second king of the Xiongnu. “He has time for this. His grandson is alive, Prince Mehtien is alive, that’s the emergency.

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“I-I’m sorry, what did you just say?”

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“Someone, I think a member of Prince Mehtien’s crew, just crashed a ship into our sheep pasture. He said his name was — Tidakhi, I think? He was slurring a little, he’s concussed, he’s in real rough shape. He said that Mehtien’s alive. Somehow the two of them survived the explosion, they were captured. Is that enough of an emergency for you?

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“Oh Gods,” The operator whispers. “One moment. Hold on.” There's vague silence again, barely-audible commotion in the background.

A few minutes later, a new voice comes on the line, deep, resonant, and musical. “This is Findei. You said my grandson is alive?

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Jizhu sits down very suddenly, still a few paces away from Saki and their guest.

“Y- your Majesty,” she says hoarsely. “Yes, that’s what we’ve just been told. A shipmate of his is out in our pasture, badly injured — he says that he and Mehtien both survived and were captured.”

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Findei is quiet for a moment. Then there is a tingling warmth and light onto the three of them, a face and shoulders coalescing out of the sunlight. A man, with long wavy dark hair and a thick beard, the corners of his eyes creased with smile-lines, though his face is deadly serious.

“Hello,” he says, in that same rich voice. “I know this must be quite shocking, but I assure you it is as just as shocking for me. Please tell me everything you know.”

His projection looks past Jizhu at the rest of the pasture, the smoking wreck of the ship, and then at Tedekhi, lying prone in Saki’s lap. “Tedekhi!

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“My lord,” Tedekhi croaks. He starts crying again. “My king. ‘M so sorry. S’sorry. I tried — I tried. Couldn’t get to him. They took him. Please.”

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Hush, child. Don’t strain yourself. Rest, now. I know that you did your best. Now will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?

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“Your Majesty,” says Saki, her eyes lowered respectfully. “Tedekhi crashed a ship on our property. It was a tiny ship, in very bad shape, and Tedekhi is — ah, he appears to be injured from a combination of that and wounds he must have sustained while he was escaping? There are blaster wounds. He told me that —  that.”

Her throat feels very dry; she clears it. “That Prince Mehtien is alive and a captive in Chang’an. Is that right, Tedekhi?”

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Yes. They’re hurting him. The Emperor is — hurting him.

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Saki’s eyes flick between him and the projection of the king, unsure if it's her place to keep asking Tedekhi questions when the king is right there. The king's own questions would surely be more valuable. “That’s —  that’s all the two of us know, Your Majesty,” she whispers.

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Thank you for all your help,” Findei says, his face stricken. “This is both extremely relieving and extremely concerning. Is there a medic coming to treat Tedekhi? His life is the one who seems to be the most immediately threatened.

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“Yes! Yes, we called a medic right away, they should be here soon. When, uh, once the medic’s patched him up, should we help send Tedekhi to the capital?”

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Yes. Please do that. I am very eager to speak with him when he is well. I’m sure everyone will be. Tedekhi, our tribe is forever in your debt for bringing this news to us.

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Tears pour down Tedekhi’s face. “I couldn’t protect him,” he sobs. “I’m so sorry, I tried, I tried, I couldn’t — they hurt him, they hurt him so badly — the Emperor is — the guards, they — I couldn’t stop it, they made me watch —”

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Saki looks so stricken that Jizhu puts a steadying hand on her shoulder. Both of them look at Tedekhi with great concern; Saki is trembling. “They — what did they make you watch? What is the Emperor doing?”

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Tedekhi, please tell us. I do not blame you, not at all. But I need to know what has happened to my grandson.

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Tedekhi sobs again. “They raped him,” he cries. “They raped him. The guards — they made me watch. The Emperor was going to — to — I couldn’t stop it.”

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Findei’s projection flickers in and out, his face stricken with horror. His eyes are wide and wet. “Oh Gods,” he whispers. “Oh Gods.”

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Jizhu has the abrupt and overwhelming sense that she shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be hearing this, shouldn’t have heard that —  she feels like she's going to be sick. She can't stop picturing the prince as they’d seen him visiting out in the country, bright and passionate and sincere, and she can't stop imagining —  

Jizhu hides her face in Saki’s hair. Saki is stifling a sob into her palm. “I’m sorry,” Saki weeps, “That’s so terrible, I’m so sorry.”

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Findei’s projection reaches out and touches both of them on the shoulder, and the warmth and weight of his hand feels real. “You have nothing to be sorry for, but your sorrow is appreciated. I assure you that I will do everything in my power to bring Mehtien home, even if that means storming Chang’an and killing Lu Qing myself. You have honored yourselves and our people by helping this pilot.

His projection turns to Tedekhi. “Tedekhi, I remember you as a trainee, coming home with Mehtien and getting into trouble. I am grieved for what you have gone through. Sleep now, and recover your strength until you are healed enough to come to council.

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