Zeff could feel his brethren crowding in around him, as if preparing to shield him with their very bodies. Rayen and Octavia stood in front, Evangelina and Santos in back, while Socorro circled around to the right.
And they weren’t alone, either. Farther away, servants from the five presiding families had gathered to observe. They squatted inside blown-out buildings or stood upon nearby rooftops or hunkered behind manmade barricades, and there was no doubt in Zeff’s mind that they would all jump in to lend a hand if the need arose. Not necessarily to protect Zeff, of course, but certainly to protect the respective head of their household.
“Ha...” The sight of their collective body language seemed to make an impression on Sanko. “You Rainlords... you certainly are a curious lot. You asked me to save you from this mess, and yet now you believe you can defeat me?”
“We didn’t ask you to save us,” said Rayen. “We asked you to do your job. Out of respect for the Vanguard’s jurisdiction, though that respect is diminishing rather quickly at the moment. And, perhaps, we also hoped that corruption had not spread to your core.”
“Do you not consider yourself responsible for the actions of your men?” asked Octavia.
Sanko fell briefly silent as she looked over her audience another time. “Honorable Rainlords,” she said, almost laughing. Whether it was amusement or awe, Zeff could not rightly tell. “Nearly to the point of madness, but honorable nonetheless. Very well. Let us speak terms. What would it take to placate your anger here?”
The six ruling Rainlords exchanged looks with one another.
Octavia was the first to speak up. “This is why we wanted to have a meeting earlier. We have three conditions. First, you must return Francisco Elroy and the reaper Dennex to us. Second, you must also give us Xavier Lawrence and the reaper Dergoz, so that we may ensure they are given a proper trial for their crimes.” And perhaps Octavia expected to be interrupted there, because she paused.
But all Sanko said was, “And the third condition?”
“The Vanguard must leave our territory. That means all of Sair west of the Waress Mountains, including Rhein’s Keep here.”
“Quite demanding, that last one.”
Octavia returned a thin smile. “In another age, we would have simply executed all of your men without consulting you.”