Re: Communication (PG-13) [Chapter Thirteen Now Posted]
The council chamber was fairly large and wider than it was long. The floor was raised slightly in a strip against the far wall, forming a platform just large enough to accommodate the members of the council. The council, however, was not there. The witnesses brought from the temple, a very small, shaken crowd of fearful, mournful faces, had been waiting there for them for uncounted minutes, some having waited longer than others had. There were more people in the chamber than had initially been brought there; a couple more, who had apparently still been unconscious when the rest of the squad had departed the temple, had arrived not terribly long after with the two guild members who had stayed behind.
Waiting for the council to show up was made no easier to endure for Solonn by the fact that the better part of his mind and of his heart still remained back in that temple with the rising vapors and the ruined lives, with them. Some of the rest was casting itself outward every which way in desperate wondering of where Grosh and Oth had been taken. Solonn had not been able to help asking where the two were being taken when the guild members carrying them, along with the guild leader herself, had diverged from the group upon arrival at the council chamber; he had only been given a short, unhelpful answer of “somewhere secure”, leaving him to fret helplessly for them and hope that there was at least someone there guarding them and unwittingly protecting them from freezing.
The rest of his thoughts and worries went toward his half-brother, still back at the snowgrounds and possibly wondering by now when his parents would show up—not knowing yet that they never would. Oh gods… Solonn was sure that it would be he who would have to tell Jen what had happened. He could already picture how the snorunt would react, and the image fueled the cold, sick feeling inside him further.
So did his awareness that the snowgrounds might have suffered an attack, as well—that he might not have to break the news to Jen after all, and for the most terrible of reasons.
He had to get out of there. He wished desperately for the council to make their appearance, to start this meeting so that it could end. The need to know if Jen was all right burned desperately within him, just as did the need to do whatever he could for Oth and Grosh.
Finally, the wall to one side of the raised platform opened, and the Security Guild leader emerged through it. She descended from the platform and took her position in front of it, off to the side, facing the small crowd.
“The honorable Council of Authority now arrives,” she announced. “Please bow as they make their entrance.” In less-than-perfect unison, the gathered witnesses lowered their faces. A moment later, “Now please give your attention to the lahain Hagen Ar-Vhannen,” she instructed them.
At the apparent cue, Solonn lifted his gaze and found the platform before him now occupied, seating the most powerful figures in Virc society. The Council of Authority numbered five: two men and three women. Their pale eyes told of considerable age, and of other things, as well: confusion, sorrow, unease, and fear. Whether or not the minds behind those eyes had yet been immovably convinced of Grosh’s and Oth’s guilt remained unclear to Solonn.
The one front and center rose and moved very slightly forward before seating himself again. His eyes swept the crowd slowly, and he inhaled deeply before speaking.
“These are most regrettable circumstances that bring us together today,” the lahain began heavily. “This day has destroyed the sanctity of our holy temple, and has robbed good, honest Virc of their lives. The temple is forever desecrated by the immensely wicked acts committed there, and nothing can bring back those who were lost there. All we can do is to see to it that those responsible are given their due punishment to protect our people from any such threat in future.
“Our Security Guild has brought to us two… individuals… whom they found at the scene and whom they suspect to be responsible for the murders in the temple. However… they also tell us that one among you has proclaimed these two to be innocent.” Here Hagen allowed a pointed gaze to fall upon a face in the crowd that was considerably larger than those around it, and he held it there. “What can you offer us to support your claim?”
Solonn swallowed hard, sending out yet another quick, silent prayer for the council to see the truth in his words. Some tiny voice within him warned of the danger in what he was about to say, that it might implicate him alongside his friend and his father, but he didn’t care. He felt that they were more than worth that risk.
“I know them, Lahain,” he said. His voice was hoarse and carried a distinct, pained plea. “Neither of them would ever do such horrible things. And besides which, they weren’t even there when it all started. They were with me. We picked up on the tremor and went to the temple right away… and when we entered, the fighting stopped.
“We were there to help,” he emphasized, sincerity imparting a sharp edge to his words. “Those two you’ve imprisoned wanted to save people—and their help may still be needed. Please, Lahain… you have to let them go. Some of the people back in the temple may be badly hurt; they’ll need to be taken somewhere far from here for the help they need, and you’re imprisoning the only one who can get them there fast enough.”
Hagen sighed. “I’m afraid that all those left in the temple are beyond salvation,” he said quietly. “The Security Guild reported that all those whom they were unable to wake had perished.” At these words, the somber air that hung over the space grew even heavier, drawing mournful sounds from many of those gathered in the chamber. A sickened dismay dampened the already dim light of Solonn’s eyes further; he was certain that had Oth been allowed to attend to those last victims, at least some of them might have had a chance.
“As for your claims regarding the two prisoners,” Hagen continued, “can anyone else here back up your testimony?” He lifted his gaze from Solonn and let it encompass the entire crowd. “Is there anyone else among you who claims that those two did no harm to the temple and those therein?” he asked of them.
There was a moment of silence that felt terribly long. Solonn expected that this would just be a repeat of the situation in the temple—that now, just as then, no one would speak up and support him.
But then, to Solonn’s grateful surprise, “Yes, Lahain,” said one of the other witnesses. “He’s right. We’d already been fighting for a while before they came. They appeared in the temple—just appeared—and when the other side saw them, they bolted.”
“Other side…” Hagen mused aloud. He cast perplexed glances at the other council members, but it seemed that they didn’t know what to make of the matter, either. “Well then, if it wasn’t the two strange creatures who attacked the temple, then who was it?” he asked, a question directed at any who would answer it.
“As far as I could tell, it was just some other glalie,” Solonn answered.
The reaction elicited by that statement was not what Solonn had expected: scandalized gasps issued from a couple of the council members, and the lahain himself looked greatly appalled.
“How could you even suggest such an abomination?” Hagen hissed, the light in his eyes blazing. “Virc must not and do not take the lives of other Virc!”
“…It’s true,” another of the survivors dared to insist despite the vehemence of Hagen’s objection. “They just came in, and they hit us with no warning… just like that, everything went to hell.” He shook his head. “There were… no idea how many. Don’t know who they were, either. But they were definitely glalie.”
“Now do you see?” Solonn asked of the council, conveying the question as more of a challenge than he’d quite intended. “The ones you’ve imprisoned are not to blame. You’ve got to let them go!”
The lahain only glared at Solonn and the other witnesses with an expression of potent outrage. There was clearly something at work behind those ancient eyes, perhaps actually considering the claims presented to him by the witnesses or perhaps just seething in offense at the notion of Virc glalie showing the same cruelty and disregard for life of which members of any other society were capable. Solonn strongly suspected it to be the latter.
Hagen drew a deep breath with a distinctly disapproving, hissing edge that he either failed or didn’t bother to suppress, and he opened his mouth, seemingly about to give voice to whatever was going on in his mind. But before the lahain could say a single word, the entrance to the council chamber opened unexpectedly, and an unfamiliar face peeked in tentatively, clearly conscious that he was interrupting something but just as plainly urgent to get something out to those who were gathered within the chamber.
“Ms. Skei-Vi!” he hissed, distress very evident in his voice. He made something of a beckoning motion, jerking his head toward the corridor outside.
The guild leader cast a questioning, troubled glance at the glalie at the entrance, then excused herself and went out to join him. The portal sealed, and speech was briefly heard outside before drifting away, the two outside apparently wishing to go and speak somewhere more private. Everyone in the chamber wondered what in the world was going on, but before they had long to ponder it, the leader returned, alone. All of the eyes that turned to her as she entered the chamber and took her position in front of the council once more noticed her grave expression at once, and the crowd watched her attentively, wondering and fearing what she might have just been told.
“What is it?” Hagen asked of her, sounding genuinely concerned, his previous vehemence seeming to have softened considerably.
“I’m afraid I’ve just received some terrible news,” the guild leader announced slowly, somberly. “A member of my guild has just come from the snowgrounds… all the children who were being kept there since this morning have gone missing.”
Immediately, gasps and cries of shock and alarm filled the air. Solonn’s heart froze as the personal significance of the situation struck him at once. “Jen…” His voice cracked as his throat went dry. “Dear gods, my brother was in there!”
“And my children!” another voice in the crowd wailed.
“Please, you’ve got to find them!” a third begged of the guild leader.
“Members of my squad have already begun searching,” Ms. Skei-Vi tried to assure her, but the guild leader’s words failed to calm her or anyone else in the room.
“This day has grown darker still…” the lahain remarked quietly. “Ms. Skei-Vi, do you have any clue at all as to where these children might be or who might have taken them?” he asked.
“Presently, no,” the guild leader said regretfully. “The children have vanished without a trace. There’s nothing left behind to even suggest what has become of them.”
“Hmm…” was the lahain’s sole response at first as he stared pensively at a spot on the floor for a moment. “I think I’ll hazard a guess as to who might be responsible for this shameful act,” he then said, at which every eye in the chamber met his gaze. “I believe that this crime may well have been the work of the same ones responsible for the atrocities in the temple—the very ones who are held in our cells at this very moment.”
Solonn had expected that he would hear that sort of suggestion made about them, but having seen it coming did nothing to dampen his hatred of it. “How can you make such a claim?” he demanded, his eyes burning bright once more. “And furthermore, how could they have committed two crimes at the same time?” he added as the thought occurred to him.
“No one said that those crimes were committed at the same time,” Hagen pointed out. “The children may well have been taken and left somewhere before the attack on the temple.”
“Maybe so,” Solonn responded, conceding the point no further than that. “But still, you can’t just accuse them without anything to base it on! There’s nothing to prove that they did this!”
“I see no proof that they didn’t do it,” Hagen countered.
“Oh, so I suppose that the word of these witnesses means absolutely nothing to you, then?” Solonn said acidly.
“Mere words can’t truly be accepted as irrefutable evidence,” the lahain said. “Anyone can say anything, after all.”
“Lahain…” one of the other council members then spoke up tentatively. It was the first time since the meeting had begun that anyone of the council other than Hagen had spoken. “Surely the fact that so many report that they were attacked by other glalie has to count for something, does it not?” she asked.
“If my suspicions are correct, then no, it very well may not,” Hagen said.
“And just what are those suspicions, exactly?” Solonn demanded.
“I believe that one of the prisoners, the many-eyed one, is a psychic,” was the lahain’s reply.
Last edited by Sike Saner; 04-11-2011 at 06:03 AM.