Clockwork Negotiation

A perverted bronze mockery of the natural form stood, blaspheming, in the grand hall. It had been given the pomp of a herald. Verdigris feathers sprouted from the point of its cap, the jeweled offices upon a necklace were those meant for royalty, its coat stamped with a pattern of gold. It was a testament to the horrors of clockwork, of the machinations of those who thought they gleaned some hidden truth of the world.

It was an affront. And worse, it regarded her with something like intelligence.

"Hello," it intoned, with a modulated voice. A failed attempt at melody. "I come bearing a message and a gift."

Beyond the faint ticking emanating from the carapace, the hall was silent.

The messenger coughed slightly - and how ridiculous was that, for a mimic had no need to cough - and began a rehearsed speech.

"To the Matriarch and grand council of House Choluq, those who rule over the sea of stars (in all its rising and setting forms), the heiresses to Nayana's treasure and custodians of the ocean's eye. I am here to offer peace, on behalf of my creator."

The Matriarch stared. Those well-versed in her court could recognize how stunned she must be. The abomination should have been destroyed as soon as it crossed the wall. How it managed to enter her court in the first place was unimaginable. Her hand was forced.

She spoke, and all listened: "I would sooner die than grant you peace."

"Ah, but it is not your life on the line, as we both well know. To date, House Choluq has lost over three hundred ships and their crew, as well as innumerable foot soldiers and militiamen. House Asini has suffered similarly. Although the casualties of war may seem distant (particularly to those who have lived their whole lives tucked away in this fashionable idyll), bearing the cost of battle is already beginning to wear. Perhaps a peace will not come to pass. But there is no harm in listening…"

The mimic reached towards a small satchel by its side. "As a show of our sincerity, a gift. My creator spent many hours of meticulous work to craft this. She hoped that it might be appreciated, as it is well-known that House Choluq are patrons of the arts."

The mimic produced a small filigree bird. It hovered between its fingertips and then tilted, smoothly, to land in the Matriarch's outstretched palm. It was surprisingly heavy for such a little thing. It had a head of gold, a body of obsidian, and wings of colored glass. Within the belly was cleverly fitted a mechanism that played a high-pitched trill as it turned. As it turned it in the light its plumage seemed continually to shift through a rainbow of colors. It ticked, softly.

The Matriarch stared at the messenger in silence, unspeaking. A small chirp could be heard from the bird. For those perspicacious enough, they could see the faint tremble of emotion, vibrating like the ripples of a tea cup long after they had been disturbed by the spoon gleaming within. Quickly, she stilled.

"Peace?" She asked, voice turbulent. "How can there be peace if every single gear ticking inside of you unravels magic? Every action undoes our great works. How can there be peace if your nation keeps expanding, threatening ours? There can be peace if you all retreat into your little desert country and never forge another clockwork again. But you won't concede to that, would you?"

"Like all living things, we must continue to grow," the mimic said.

"Living things," she spat. "Living things." Angered, she threw the clockwork bird before the mimic's feet. Its wings broke, the gears inside of it rattled; it lay there, going through mechanical jitters and convulsions. A metal parody of a bird that broke its neck flying into a window.

"Living things," the Matriarch said again. "That is what it calls three pounds of bronze and a collection of gears."

"We could play at the same game, your Grace," the mimic said. "What does the blood in your veins call the heart that pumps it?"

"Authenticity," she hisses. "Plurality. Soul."

“I see. Is that your final answer, then? You will continue your violent quarantine? The genocide of me and mine? You must be aware that House Asini will only suffer this ersatz peace for so long. They have already made moves in the East, preparing proxies and readying agents.” The mimic narrowed its eyes at the matriarch, “You do know this, yes?”

"You assume that your pitiful attempts at intelligence gathering can compare against the savants that dwell under my care and rule. "

"You did not answer the question."

She scoffed, “Of course I knew. We are setting up our own contingencies as we speak. The knowledge of the House of Blood’s doings are well within our grasp.”

The mimic bowed its head in acquiescence, "I see. Then there is nothing more to speak of."

It collapses in a shower of gleaming metal. The forms are hard to make out; dozens of biotic shapes swarming over one another. Metallic birds take flight and shimmering insects scurry away. Whirring beetles flee and the tread of a small mechanical dog dashes beneath the feet of the startled guards and savants, outmaneuvered by the mimic's final gambit.