Ember’s Heart #57

One life, or hundreds of thousands of lives?

The question nagged at Ean as his hand flew across the page in front of him, sketching out plans for a turreting mechanism that would mount the Lightning Strike Ballista safely on the back of a heavy steam truck. Scattered around were plans for other improvements to the defenses of Salshira, such as a shoulder-carried launcher that could shoot a modified Thunderbolt at closer targets and a wall for the Capitol made from limbed and felled hahrax trees. He had been adding to the collection with every waking moment not demanded elsewhere ever since the initial planning meetings, and four days saw no lessening of his fervor.

Weapons. So many weapons. I’m better at hospitals and farms.

We won’t have half enough hospitals if the Empire comes here.

One life for all the rest.

He pushed the thought away again, but it was back a moment later, like there was some insane dog fetching the unwanted filth back to him each time he thought he had gotten rid of it.

I am not sending Ember out to die.

Not before, even more so now.

Oh Kai. Eighty legions. Three hundred Garagrans. Where are you? We need you.

Ean focused his mind on the schematic in front of him. Rubber vibration dampeners there, there, and… there.

“It looks good,” Tala said next to him.

Ean jumped and yelled.

When had she gotten there?

He turned and looked up at Tala.

“What are you doing here?!”

Tala smirked at him.

“Your workshop door’s always open, right?”

Ean took a few deep breaths and calmed down. He was tense. Everyone was tense. No excuse to kill Tala.


“I’ve thought about the same problem,” Tala said. “If you switch out the rubber dampeners for spring shocks, the flywheel will stabilize the ballista automatically.”

Ean closed his mouth and looked at the schematic again. Yes, of course. It was obvious. How had he missed that?

“I haven’t slept in two days,” he said.

Tala whistled.

“Pretty good work for no sleep. I see several things that I didn’t think of in my own attempt. I like the integrated magazine on top. Good design on the drop mechanism.”

“Thanks.” Ean threw away the last of his irritation and looked back to Tala again. “What do you need?”

She smiled.

“I just wanted to make sure you were still alive. I haven’t seen you since the meeting. I guess you’ve been doing this.”

Ean nodded. “Every time I stop I think about the Empire and look for something else we can add to our defenses on short notice.”

“My mind’s been running the same way. Wasn’t it nice when the worst thing we had to worry about was whether or not one of our designs would get funded by your dad?”

Ean chuckled.


Exhaustion hit him suddenly and he started stretching to stay awake. A moment later he looked at Tala still standing there and thought clearly enough to wave her to a nearby chair.

Tala pulled the chair up to his workbench and glanced over some of the other designs.

“Most of these are very good, Ean. We could put those modifications into some of the Thunderbolts without much difficulty. The shoulder launchers would take longer to build and need testing, but…” She mused over it for half a kella, then looked at him. “Do you think the Empire will really invade over Ember?”

Ean stifled a yawn and nodded.

“All our agents say they’re already shifting the Legions into position. It will be a few months before they’ll be ready, but the threat’s not idle.”

“For one woman? One princess?”


Tala flicked her ears and stared into space.

“I just want all this madness to be over. Quiet days again. Nothing more dangerous in the halls than rambunctious children.”

Ean tilted his ears toward her, then leaned back in his chair.

“I understand completely.”

Tala closed her eyes and sighed.

“Do you ever wish she hadn’t come here? Or maybe that the Empire hadn’t invaded Tenkreille?”

Ean thought about it. A world in which Ember hadn’t had a need to flee to his country in the first place. Such a world would also be one in which she was still… living as any other Garagran. A monster. But, that aside, all the people who had died when the Empire invaded her country would still be alive.

Why not just wish the Empire had never come to be?

Or that there wasn’t evil in the first place?

But, what if that? What if no evil?

Oh Ahttah, why? Why can’t we just have lazy days filled with children and construction projects?

He opened his eyes and saw Tala watching him. Did she actually want an answer?

“I don’t know,” he said. “She did. And… I think I see some good from it.”

“And what if the Empire invades? We could lose everything. What then?”

Once again the image flashed in his mind. The Capitol burning. The bodies of children scattered in the streets. The Palace in ruins.

His chest hurt and he had to take a deep breath.

“I don’t know.”

He crossed his arms and looked down at the floor.

“I… what do you think the Council will do?” Tala said.

Ean shook his head.

“Kai knows. Not me. They’ll need a special resolution if they want to sever the betrothal protections without my Father’s help. I have no idea if the Isolationists can get the two-thirds they’ll need for that.”

“What if they get it? What will you do then?”

Ean had turned that thought over a few times already, but still wasn’t any closer to an answer.

“My goal is to keep them from getting it. If they do… that’ll be a big mess. A really big mess.”

“And what if she decides to leave on her own?” Tala asked. “What would you do then?”

What? Ean looked at Tala and studied her. Eyes focused, pain around the edges, sitting at an angle with her hand wrapped together up in her lap. She was very uncomfortable with her own question.

“Why are you asking that?”

“Because she could, Ean,” Tala said. “If she left…”

“Then she would die. The Empire has scouts all around our borders, right now. As soon as she got beyond the defense zones on the lower slopes, they would find her and kill her. And she’s in no condition to fight past them right now. If she ever was.”

Ean stared into Tala’s light blue eyes until she looked away.

“I see,” she said, and started to get up.

“Wait,” Ean said. He grabbed the launcher and turret schematics and rolled them up together. “Look these over and make them work. Redo them completely if you need to. I want prototypes as soon as possible. Don’t worry about funding or permission. I’ll get it for you.”

Tala nodded and took the papers without meeting his gaze.

“Thank you, Tala.”

She looked up at that and gave him a half-smile.

“Of course.”

He watched her exit through the open door of his workshop, then turned back to the drawings that were still there. What now?

One life, or hundreds of thousands of lives?

Tala did have a point, didn’t she?

It would be so much easier if Ember left…


But she had a point, didn’t she?

No. Go away.

But she had a point, didn’t she?


(Continue to Chapter #58)

(Go back to Chapter #56)

(Start reading from Chapter #01)

(Consult the Eddenloe Racial Guide)



3 thoughts on “Ember’s Heart #57

  1. Pingback: Ember’s Heart #56 – WHJD

  2. Pingback: Ember’s Heart #58 – WHJD

  3. Pingback: Ember’s Heart Index – WHJD

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