Continuing the conversation that began aboard the airship Zaphnora, Rubina Karamazova segues into discussing secret societies.

“What can you tell me about the Order of the Iron Rose?” Rubina asked smugly, perhaps hoping to find something that Kveta didn’t know. “Permit me to answer your question with another question,” Kveta seemed entirely nonplussed, “what do you already know about the order?” “There was a short entry in a book titled The Incomplete History of Secret Societies, along with one about your own organisiation. It’s supposedly named after the famous airship, but it’s also been around for centuries. I think the airship is a red herring.”

“The Iron Rose is no red herring,” Kveta replied, “it is, in fact, their headquarters. As you know, the airship was built 66 cycles, or ten full years ago, but the order is far older than that. Prior to calling themselves the Stalwart Order of the Iron Rose, its members called themselves Sentinels of the Sacred Relics.” Rubina’s eyes widened. “Judging by the expression on your face,” Kveta continued, “I imagine you can guess what their purpose was.” “They carry knowledge of the lost relics of the Rhûnnish Empire…” Rubina turned and stared off in the distance. “They do not,” Kveta snapped, “they carry the relics themselves. When the Rhûnnish Empire fell, Fëdor Karamazov and Nikolai Votavko both chose to dissolve the Imperial Inquisition, rather than preserve the remnants of the organisation that still existed within their territories. Shortly thereafter, the remaining inquisitors and the relics disappeared simultaneously.” “You think that the Sentinels were the former inquisitors?” Rubina inquired, rather enthusiastically. “I do, given the suspicious timing. However, that’s not really pertinent to the current whereabouts of the relics. That is where the Iron Rose comes in. The order used to be one of the best-kept secrets on Rossbera, until imperial expansion began. There are reliquaries all over the continent, outside of the Rhûnnish lands. I know the precise location of one of them, and I know the vague location of a few others. I know that there were a few located in what is now Taressim, but since the Taressimians are not exactly keen on sharing their activities with the outside world, I have no way of knowing if they’ve raided any reliquaries, much less if they’ve recovered anything. Sondor, on the other hand, is considerably more open about such notable events. Around the time that I hatched, the Sondorian government raided one of the order’s reliquaries, but found nothing of value.” “Perhaps the Sondorians simply didn’t want to return the relic, and kept it for themselves,” Rubina interrupted. “That would have been a diplomatic disaster, though I can see why you might think that,” Kveta continued, “no, I think the order maintains the old reliquaries as divisive distractions, hoping that unfounded accusations of relic-hoarding will fly from Skharnograd and, until your mother conquered it, Krivs as well, thus keeping the Rhûnnish lands isolated. It is part of a three-century-old international conspiracy that is finally starting to unravel.” “The Iron Rose isn’t just the headquarters then,” Rubina at last realised, “it’s their flying reliquary! They would have better off calling themselves the Bloody Magpies, the thieving bastards!”

Rubina knew of what conspiracy Kveta spoke of. Efforts were made by powerful families all over Rossbera to prevent the Rhûnnish Empire from ever rising again after it split in two. Up until the Tsarina made a bold move by attacking Krivs and sending the Votavko family into exile, that conspiracy succeeded. Still, the Rhûnnish people remained divided. It would take a great symbolic gesture, such as the return of the lost relics, to give them hope of a bright future and finally fight together against the outside powers that sought to interfere. What Rubina never knew was how deep this conspiracy ran, to include former Rhûnnish inquisitors, or why they would betray their own country.

“All grand plans eventually fail,” Kveta posited, “by which I mean that Rhûnnish re-unification was, more or less, inevitable. The question was simply a matter of who presided over that process to ensure a smooth transition, which is precisely why I chose you, Rubina.” “Thank you, Kveta. I just have one question: why is the rest of Rossbera so hell-bent on making sure that Rhûn never rises again?” “It’s actually quite simple,” Kveta explained, “fear makes people do terrible things, and powerful families all over Rossbera lived in fear of the Rhûnnish Empire. Every empire has a life cycle, and that cycle is usually complete after three centuries, with the final stage being one of decadence, degeneracy, and decay. The Rhûnnish Empire lasted for five centuries, with no noticeable decline, much less an end, in sight. It simply kept rising, conquering more and more territory, never losing ground. Those royal families who relinquished their crowns and submitted to the rule of the Skharnovs found themselves embroiled in notoriously vicious Rhûnnish politics, unable to simply sit back, as the Skharnovs would regularly purge members of the nobility that they thought had grown too complacent. As such, they kept that stage of decadence at bay for five centuries, and the empire only grew more powerful, terrifying every other sovereign on the continent. When the Skharnovs finally died off and Jenůfa Nószimål disappeared, all the other rival powers saw a moment of weakness and descended upon the Rhûnnish Empire like a flock of vultures. Now, we find ourselves in the exact same situation, only in reverse. Should the Rhûnnish Empire re-unite under your rule, then you could re-shape the empire as a bastion of peace, rather than a military juggernaut. There is another faction that seeks to re-unite all the Rhûnnish lands as well, but if they manage to seize power, then all of Rossbera would burn.” “The communists,” Rubina replied with a sense of dread.

When Kaia Blackwing informed Adya Redmane about the previous conversation, several chapters later in the same book, Adya’s reply was a rather cynical “and she bought that?!”

“She knows you’re trying to start a war, why would she swallow than line?” “Oh, that’s easy,” Kaia explained, “she knows that I’m no friend to the communists, in fact, they hate my kind a lot more than they hate hers.” “Explaaaaaaiiin!” “Social collectivists, communists very much included, think entirely in terms of power dynamics. There are two types of power players: conquerors and dynastic heirs. I am the former, Rubina is the latter. Furthermore, you may have noticed that communists in particular love to whinge about ‘capitalist pigs’ all the time, which is a label one could definitely apply to me, but not to Rubina, seeing as she inherited all her wealth and doesn’t own any ‘means of production,’ another term they like to throw around a lot.” “Soooooo,” Adya posited, “you managed to win over the new Tsarina with a verbose example of a ‘common enemy unites even the oldest of foes’ adage. So then, do you plan to hand over the Iron Rose on a silver platter as well?” “I may not have to.” Adya raised an eyebrow as Kaia continued. “Alya Goldfeather approached me when I was last at the Tower of the Eyes, asking if he could borrow the Zaphnora for that very task. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he couldn’t. Not only was my ship in no fit state at the time, but a black trireme would be overkill for going after a dirigible, even one that large. If either he or the Tsarina pushes the issue, however, I’ll send the White Spider after the Iron Rose.” “How poetic, the spider and the rose. It would be even better if we had the spider defend the rose and eating a bird.” “Well, Rubina thinks that the members of the order would have been better off calling themselves the Bloody Magpies, so you may be on to something there.”

Alya Goldfeather is a character that I came up with very recently, and neither he nor the Iron Rose are mentioned anywhere in my outline. As it is, there are many changes that I need to make to my outline to include new plot threads. Speaking of which, I don’t normally make outlines before writing a story (or anything else for that matter), but this story is such a massive undertaking that the outline alone is 40 pages long and contains almost 24 000 words. What follows is a conversation between Kaia and Alya, and I have no idea where it will show up, but I suspect that it will be later in the same book as the previous conversations.

“Of what interest to you is the Iron Rose, anyway?” Kaia knew that Alya had no desire to involve himself with Alexandrian politics, so what possible reason would he have to seize such an airship, knowing what was on it? “There are certain items,” Alya began, “that may prove of great use to my work.” Kaia raised an eyebrow. “The inquisitors had eyes everywhere,” Alya continued, “and some of the relics currently in the order’s possession were stolen from from Rin Baigal itself. As you can probably imagine, these were items containing neticine, and mentioned in Veyra’s notes from researching the great green crystal. Some of these items, such as the gamma star, I can replicate myself, but others are not documented sufficiently for me to be able to manufacture my own. Recovering them is of paramount importance to me. By the way, would you like to know what those strange protrusions on the Iron Rose are?” “Docking arms,” Kaia replied. “How did you know?” “A report from the White Spider,” Kaia explained, “indicated a smaller airship docking with the Iron Rose as the spider retreated.” “Retreated,” Alya jeered, “I thought you said that a gunboat would be enough to handle any dirigible…” “No need to gloat, Alya, I never once claimed to be infallible.” “So then,” Alya continued a bit more sheepishly, “will you let me…” Kaia cut him off. “You are still not borrowing the Zaphnora! Still, you may not have to.” Kaia pulled a piece of paper from a basket on her desk – a telegram she had received earlier that day. “It seems that you have caught the attention of a kindred spirit – another Goldfeather, Urya, inventor of the glossarion levitator – who has decided to re-fit the Pherazmil for the express purpose of towing a less-than-cooperative vessel and to send it here.” Kaia handed the telegram to Alya. “If I may ask,” Kaia continued while Alya was reading, “what else do you know about the Iron Rose?” “The docking arms,” Alya explained, “are for mid-air docking of smaller airships belonging to the order, as you know, of which there are five: the White Rose, Yellow Rose, Red Rose, Blue Rose, and Black Rose. They act as supply ships, bringing food, replacement crew members, fuel, and even airship parts. The order has perfected this mid-air supply system to the point where the Iron Rose may never have to land again. In exchange, each chapter uses its airship to transport individual relics back to its temple to pursue its own rituals. Also, the Iron Rose is actually a carrack, not a dirigible.” “And how, pray tell, did you discover all this?” “I may have infiltrated one of their chapters…” “So that’s why you borrowed my anthology of hermetic philosophy. Just be careful that you aren’t exposed before this little operation of yours,” Kaia warned. “Whatever do you mean?” “If the order practises either blood magic or sex magic, well…” Alya raised an eyebrow. “I think you know where I’m going with this.” “Neither blood magic nor sex magic are real, Kaia.” “The mammals don’t know that. You should see what sort of nonsense they call ‘occult.'”

The Iron Rose will eventually make an appearance, but while I have a vague idea of what the airship is meant to look like, I haven’t made any sketches yet, much less have I started on the model. Perhaps, depending on when I get to it and how complicated it is, the rendering and/or assembly process will show up in a BitChute video.

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