Being deprived of anything fun all her childhood led to Khadia being easily entertained, for example, by sitting on a couch in a way she was never allowed to before, for aesthetic reasons. Upside down, with her back on the seat, she saw Jules approach. She couldn’t read her face from this angle.
“Hey, Khadia, we got a letter. Would you mind if I read it out to you, it seems too important for reading practice.”
“Sure.” Khadia said
“It’s from Nimbus.”
Khadia felt a little on edge after hearing that name and sat down proper. Jules unfolded the letter and read it out.
“Dear Miss El Rashedi.” Jules licked her lips in preparation for the following sentence. “I would like to invite you to a meeting on neutral ground in the city hall. I know we are neither allies nor enemies, so with us being divided like this, I’d like to give us all an opportunity to talk to each other and relieve possible tensions. Flipside is our home and I’m sure neither of us would like to fight a war here. You know how cautious I am, so I hope that me appearing in person will be interpreted as a sign of trust. Feel free to bring your most trusted. The meeting will occur this weekend at 12:45.”
Jules folded the letter back up. “So what do you think?”
“We decline the offer.”
“Are you sure?”
“I have to… confess something. Please know that I did so with all necessary caution. I created a tulpa to spy on Nimbus. I just don’t trust her.”
“My tulpas are entirely imperceptible to other people. Still, I left nothing up to chance. I assure you, she is not aware of this. And that’s exactly why she is inviting me.”
Jules sat down. “Could you explain why?”
“When I spied on her, she talked with Cenot about killing the leaders of Raindrop and us. Which was odd, because I never before saw her talk business with Cenot. It was always just mother-daughter talk. She has a way of communicating that I can’t spy on.”
“So, you know that she is planning to kill us all?” Jules asked with sceptic eyes.
“Well, no, she doesn’t, it’s a trick. But now, any that spy on her without her knowledge are aware that she brought this up. So even when I’m certain that she isn’t planning anything intellectually, I would still be nervous. Because I don’t know for sure, and that would give me away if I attended. So the best method is not to play.”
“Though, declining the invitation could be read as you knowing what’s up.”
“Sure, but again, not for certain. I might just not trust her enough. She can’t fact-check if I know more than I should. The problem is, she will then set up another trap for me, and I can’t keep avoiding them without diminishing this uncertainty. So I will have to pull out my tulpa in order to be authentically ignorant. And I’m not comfortable with that.”
“Do you think she’s calculating with this? In order to safely plan an actual attack?”
“...No, thinking about it, attending might be a better choice. I’d incriminate myself for having spied on her, but that might actually put her at ease.”
“As I said, she has a way of communicating that I can’t see. So if I attend and only seem nervous about the trap she openly revealed to me, I’d confirm to her that I have no access to her actual communications.”
“That’s… kind of a gamble.”
“What do you think?”
Jules took a good minute to think.
“I really can’t tell you. Attending might be our best chance at cheating our way through this, if your theory is true. But if not, it will come to a fight. A fight we could win, but only with losses that I find unacceptable.”
Khadia put her head in her palms. “Raindrop has been recruiting allies from the overworld.”
“Yeah. Though involving outsiders into our fights is against the code.”
“I know. I’m thinking if this was seen as an act of aggression by Nimbus and now she’s preparing for war. It might already be too late to avoid. All we can do now is to pick a side.”
“I’m assuming you’d rather team up with Morgue.”
“I want both gone from the Flipside, but I can’t take on both at a time. At the time, Morgue is the stronger of the two, so we might add Raindrop’s strength to our own, destroy Morgue, then wait for their allies to leave and then destroy them. We’d compromise on our ideals by association, but it would bring us closer to enforcing them in the end.”
“We can’t always take the high road.”
“Sooner or later we will have to attack Morgue. Is now the right moment?”
“Nimbus will only be better prepared with time.”
“We have some time until the meeting. She’ll have to expect us taking her threat seriously and attack, though still, she’ll be most vulnerable at that meeting.”
“Nimbus herself, yes, but maybe we should take out her forces one by one to weaken her. Taking her whole army on at once will be a situation hard to control.”
“I don’t think she’ll bring more than Cenot and Graves. Those two alone already could beat down any attack imaginable.”
“So what do you plan to do?”
“Let me think about it. I’ll have to talk with Toum Fen Zi and the Rogue too.”
“Try and find out how Raindrop plans to handle this. I’ll keep my tulpa with Nimbus for now.”
Jules left the letter on the table and went on her way. Khadia unfolded it again to try and read it herself. She’s been making slow progress, with everyone offering to read it for her. She preferred practicing with short informational notes like this, though most of the time she didn’t have the time to decipher the information on them. She tried reading a book, but reading while also comprehending the story written was simply too frustrating at this point.
Still, learning to read relaxed her. It was a simple clear goal with no stakes. Khadia didn’t have too many problems of this sort.