"What do you mean we are going out as the decoy squadron?" Rick Vargot bellowed furiously.
Poor man, Jax thought with a wry smile, slightly bemused by the whole discussion. He didn't particularly care for the young Commander, and the thought of seeing him lead his squadron off to try and buy Deluvia some time tickled Jax to no end. Rick's entire troop was standing just behind him, looking no more thrilled with what Ella had just said than he did. Beside the fairy was King Samra, who had called the Messenger in to join them just moments before.
When Jax entered the room, Ella gave him an annoyed glance, but she let the matter go for the time being and turned back to Rick. "We need someone to buy Deluvia's troop time-"
"No," Rick snarled, cutting the fairy off. "Why my troop? We have done nothing to deserve you casting us off this way!"
"What do you mean 'casting us off'?" King Samra demanded loudly, voice booming in the large meeting room. "The only statement you give me should be a resolute 'yes, sir' and the only question I should hear is 'where are we going first'? You should be nothing but grateful that I trust you enough to give you such a perilous mission as this one."
That silenced the commander, but the emotion on his face was still much too visible. Jax couldn't say that he blamed Rick for that, though. The news that Ella and the king had just given him was surely a death sentence. Though he only caught the tail end of what the fairy said to Commander Vargot, it was a large enough portion of a sentence for Jax to guess at what he had missed.
"Yes, sir," Rick forced himself to say after a minute of silence. Seeing that the king expected him to repeat the words verbatim, he continued, "Where are we going first?"
King Samra gave a curt nod to Ella, as if to say, I've got him under control again, carry on, and the fairy continued as though she had not been interrupted by the human's outburst.
"Squadron 940 has been assigned to act as a delay tactic for Squadron 1042. Given the fact that you are in command of two of Deluvia's distant relatives and they bear a remarkable resemblance to Patrick and Nolan, I would think that it would be obvious to you why we chose your troop. For what it's worth, we are not sending you out there completely unaided. Squadron 1365 has also been deployed as a diversionary squadron. We will be sending you to follow Lieutenant Deluvia's troop for a while, to make it look like they are trying to protect your troop."
"Lieutenant Deluvia?" Rick asked, his face softening into a look of confusion.
So, Lieutenant Deluvia is not completely out in the open, yet, Jax thought, staring at the older man. That is interesting.
"Commander Deluvia's daughter," King Samra snapped angrily.
Commander Vargot seemed to understand that the king thought he was asking too many questions and wisely chose to fall silent once again.
"Anyway," Ella said sharply, cutting the king off before he started to rage anymore, "Squadron 1365 will lead you to Mor. That should provide ample time for Squadron 1042. Once you reach Mor, we will let you know if we have further need of your services or not."
"And how are you planning on doing that?" Commander Vargot asked drily. "You are aware that my troop doesn't have a Messenger, I presume. Do I get to look forward to having Ella show up? Or are you planning on sending Cy or Sebille instead?"
"Oh no," Ella choked back a laugh. "There is no need for any of us to stop in; we're giving your troop a Messenger."
That statement got Jax's attention. He hadn't known there was a Messenger that was ready to be assigned sitting around Xamalie. The only Messenger that he had heard anything about was Audney Jones, but she was being assigned to Lieutenant Deluvia. So where was this new Messenger coming from, exactly?
"You're giving us a new Messenger? One that hasn't even completed a year of training?" Commander Vargot scoffed. Then, seeing the contempt in King Samra's glare, he cleared his throat and added, "Well thanks for your overwhelming concern about the well-being of my troop. I'm sure that you will do everything in your power to ensure the Messenger gets trained straight away."
At those words, Ella narrowed her eyes and turned to glare at King Samra. "How can you continue to allow such insolence from your Warriors, Avery?"
"I didn't get a chance to inform him of the addition of the Messenger before this meeting, so I understand where the hostility is coming from. I just hope that it leaves as quickly as it flared up."
The king's words did little for Commander Vargot.
"Well, at least Jax seems more comfortable with the arrangement than I had been expecting," Ella said.
Confused, Jax turned to look at the fairy. What is she talking about? Jax wondered.
"I told you, Ella, Jax knows his place," King Samra said steadily.
"Yes, that is what you told me," agreed the fairy with a nod. "But still, I had my doubts."
"Excuse me, King Samra, but what is she talking about?" Commander Vargot asked before Jax got the chance to. "What does your Messenger have to do with any of this?"
"Isn't that obvious?" Ella inquired, tipping her head to the side. "We are sending Werrington out with your troop as your Messenger."
Jax's heart froze at those words. Had he heard her correctly? Did she just say that he was going out as their squadron's Messenger? And King Samra was really ok with that? Did he understand that Ella meant for him to actually leave Xamalie?
Commander Vargot seemed to be having just as much trouble grasping what had just been said as Jax was.
"What?" they stammered at the exact same time.
"Rick, I will be sending Jax to meet up with your troop once you are safely in Mor," King Samra said, softening his voice a little. "Jax will be serving your troop until this mission is complete. You can use Jones if you need to send any messages before you reach Mor, but once Lieutenant Deluvia's troop leaves you, Jax will be reassigned to serve you."
He can't be serious, Jax thought to himself. King Samra really wouldn't send me out into the field, would he? I'm bound to him. Doesn't he know how dangerous it is for me to be outside this city? Sure, I travel to Baz to see Edan, but no one goes to Baz. Hell, most people don't even know where it is.
"Just to be clear," Commander Vargot began, "when you say 'Jax,' you are referring to the royal Messenger of Xamalie, right? The one that is bound to you?"
"Yes, that is the Jax I mean," King Samra said. Then, after a brief silence, he got a thoughtful look and continued, "Werrington, if you rather. I suppose that would be how he is supposed to be addressed in the field, right?"
The question had been posed to Ella, who nodded in response.
This cannot be happening, Jax thought to himself. There was a high-pitched ringing going off in his ears and his head felt very warm, all of a sudden. The room seemed to spin around him, though no one else seemed to be having difficulties with vertigo, so Jax assumed that it, like the heat and ringing, was just part of the horrible realization that King Samra had assigned him to the field. His king had forsaken him. Even if it hadn't been his initial idea, the fact that he was going along with it was nearly too much for Jax to bear.
"Do you understand the plan, Commander Vargot?" Ella asked, attempting to wrap-up their meeting. Rick Vargot gave the fairy a curt nod and she turned her attention back to King Samra. "Avery, I will see you in a few days. Until then."
Once the fairy was no longer in their presence, King Samra's mildly agitated appearance took on a look that was much more gruesome and he rounded on Commander Vargot. "Rick, I want you to know that if anything happens to Jax Werrington while he is in your troop, I will have you executed. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, King Samra," Commander Vargot said stiffly. "Is there anything else you need from me or my squadron?"
"No, Commander. You may go."
Offering a brief nod in King Samra's direction, Commander Vargot motioned to his troop to fall out. It only took thirty seconds for them to depart, but that half-minute seemed to span for an eternity to Jax. When he was alone with the king, Jax tried to think of a good way to break the silence, but King Samra started into the conversation first.
"I am sorry that you did not hear of your assignment from me," he said, his voice much gentler than Jax had ever heard it. "But I didn't know that you were involved in it until Ella had already summoned Rick and his troop."
Jax gave the king a dumbfounded look and said nothing. Apparently the king was not waiting for a reply, though, for he continued on a second later.
"I know that you have kept secrets from me, Jax. Whether that is because you wanted to keep those secrets hidden or because you were bound to keep them hidden from me is irrelevant, to me at least. Ella has other opinions, however. She is convinced that you know something that could get me killed."
"If she thinks that, then why is she sending me out of the castle?" Jax began to blurt out, but halted when the king silenced him.
"She is hoping that you will die. How you die is of little concern to her. For all I know, she has ordered Rick to murder you already."
Jax's face paled at that thought. Gulping loudly, he asked, "She does know that whomever kills me will die, as well, right?"
"Yeah," King Samra nodded, "she knows. There is little I can do for you, though. Ella has made it abundantly clear that you need to be removed from my presence, for the moment, at least."
With that, the king patted Jax's shoulder, and left without another word. Standing there, in the large meeting room alone, Jax tried to think of a way to make the situation seem more positive, but after racking his brain for five, ten, and even fifteen minutes, he was unable to come up with a single reason. Heaving a sigh, he walked slowly out of the meeting room, hearing nothing but the echoes of his footsteps behind him.