“We don’t actually have that much water,” Akshainie said. It was the evening, and she had joined Michael and I at the apartment for dinner. She was, at this point, responding to Michael asking about the sanitation conditions in the prison.
“This is a water-aligned city of water spirits!” Michael cried. “How could it possibly be lacking water?”
Akshainie set her fork down and glared at him. “You know, for someone who prides himself on magical knowledge, you sure are stupid sometimes.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“This is a river city. It gets its water from the River Network. Do you know what the River Network is?”
“I’m aware of it.”
“Then you should be aware that its nature is defined, to a large degree, by the actual rivers of the mortal world.” She took up her fork again and stabbed it into her rice. “The physical rivers that your ancestors cut us off from.”
“Wait,” I said, “are you telling us Iravati has been severed from the River Network this whole time?”
“All the water we have in Iravati is the water that was within our borders when we were separated from the world, and any water we’ve been able to carry in or magically summon. It’s why we have to leave the city and then go into the physical river to access the River Network, and that’s a recent development. It took us 70 years to figure out how to travel to the mortal realm after the schism.”
“Akshainie, I’m so sorry,” Michael said. “I didn’t realize, I don’t think they knew—”
“Do you think it would have mattered to them if they did know? Do you think that would have stopped them? Look at the history of your empire and then look me in the eye and tell me they wouldn’t have seen that as all the more reason to do it!” She glared at Michael for a moment, apparently expecting a reply. When she didn’t get one, she stormed off toward the bedrooms. I looked over to Michael, who was staring into his rice with a blank stare, and then rose and rested my hand on his shoulder.
“It’s good to know how important this work is,” I said, “so you can better understand how to address it.” He nodded, and I patted his shoulder before heading back into my bedroom. Akshainie was tightly coiled on the floor, her arms crossed under her chin and resting on her tail as she stared off into the distance. I sat on the bed next to her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how bad things were here.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I suppose not. But you do know it’s not his, either, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” she grumbled.
“I’m not going to tell you not to be mad at his family, or his country, or even him for all the ways this has played out for each of you. I know that it doesn’t undo any of the problems your people have faced while being cut off. It doesn’t erase the past.”
“Then why did you come in here?”
“To make sure you’re okay. And remind you that the reason you’re able to have this conversation at all is that he’s here, now, trying to make it better. Please don’t forget that you’re talking to a Hudson, maybe the only Hudson, that is listening and willing to act on what you’re telling him.”
She uncoiled enough to lean over and lay her head on my lap, and I began to stroke her hair. “Do you know what she has us soldiers doing?”
“No. I’ve noticed soldiers coming and going at the edges of the site, but I don’t know why.”
“Because of what happens if it doesn’t work. If this doesn’t do what Michael promises, there’s the chance it will make us vulnerable. Iravati has enemies, just like everywhere else does, and if we align the city incorrectly we don’t know who will suddenly have access to us.”
“You’re preparing to repel a surprise invasion force?”
“Essentially.” We sat in silence for a while before she spoke again. “I’m scared, Bene. The world has changed while we’ve been cut off. What if we’re not ready? What if this creates new problems we can’t handle? What if I have to stay here to fight a losing battle?”
“I don’t know. But I trust you’ll be up to the challenge, whatever it is. You’re very capable and your city is resourceful. You’ll get through. And if it’ll help, I’ll stay as long as I can.”
“I think it would, but I can’t ask you to do that. The Brood has to fall.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to do that without you, anyway.”
She rolled over to look up at me. “No, you probably can’t.” We both laughed as she got up and I stood.
“You ready to finish dinner?” She agreed, and he went back to the table.
Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.