This brought a fresh surge of astonished responses from the crowd. “How do you know?” one among them asked. Solonn leveled a demanding gaze at Hagen with the same question and the worry that came along with it tightening his brow—how had
correctly guessed that Oth was a psychic?
“Two among you have each offered a very significant detail where that’s concerned,” Hagen said. “The strange ones were described as simply ‘appearing’… and you
,” he said, nodding toward Solonn, “claimed that one of them could quickly and easily transport people outside of our territory, did you not?”
Solonn could only stare wide-eyed at Hagen, horrorstruck by what he was hearing. That he might well have inadvertently given the lahain
something to help convince him of the prisoners’ guilt made it feel as though his blood had just frozen in his veins… he had been so desperate to save his friend and his father, but now it seemed that he may well have helped to seal their doom.
“The ability to disappear and reappear elsewhere is one long known to be associated with the psychic element,” the lahain
went on. “I feel that the employment of such abilities could explain how the children could be made to vanish so easily and completely. Furthermore… it bears mentioning that this would not be the first time that one among our people’s youth has experienced apparent abduction by a psychic-type… now would it, Mr. Zgil-Al?”
Solonn might otherwise have been surprised or startled to learn that Hagen knew his name, but all that truly got through to him of the lahain
’s last words was what Hagen was implying about Oth. “Do not even suggest
that it had anything to do with that
!” he hissed, thoroughly appalled.
“As I recall, no one ever did determine who took you that day. I also recall that you told the Security Guild leader of that time that you had no memory of your abduction or of anything that took place up until the time that you returned,” Hagen reminded him. “For all you know, that creature may very well have been your abductor.”
“‘Creature’…” Solonn spat distastefully, finding more to dislike in Hagen’s words with every moment. “That person
is my friend
. It’s one of the kindest, most gentle-natured people anyone could ever hope to meet—it would never
do anything at all like what you’re accusing it of!”
The look Hagen gave him in response to that was sad—pitying, even. “Mr. Zgil-Al, I fear that you may be a victim of psychic deception. Just as the rest of you who have been brought here may have been tricked into believing that you were under attack by glalie rather than by the strange ones, you
may have been made by the psychic to see it in a much more flattering light.”
,” Solonn said firmly, now positively shaking with astonishment at what he was hearing. “You’re wrong
. And everyone here knows it. Tell him!” he shouted as he turned to face the crowd.
But to his dismay, the faces he saw around him spoke of no desire to do any such thing. In fact, it looked as though they might have been seriously considering Hagen’s words.
He turned back toward the council. “Well, what about the rights of the prisoners?” he said. “Aren’t you at least going to give them a chance to defend themselves before you just decide that they’re guilty?”
“And just how do you suppose we go about that?” Hagen asked. “If they’re allowed to wake, what’s to stop the psychic from simply disappearing and bringing the steel creature along with it, freeing them to threaten us again in future? It’s a risk I cannot and will not accept.”
“They wouldn’t do that,” Solonn growled. “Gods, you’re speaking of them as if they’re some kind of uncivilized beasts… They were there at the temple today out of concern and love, Lahain
. They’re good, decent people, and yet you’re talking about them as if they’re some kind of soulless, heartless monsters!”
“You can say whatever you want about them, but the nature of the day’s events seems all too clear to me now,” the lahain
said resolutely. “It just makes far more sense to me that the terrible deeds that were done today could and would be done by such creatures rather than by Virc glalie. Why
, anyway, would Virc ever
kill their own kind?”
“Maybe they weren’t Virc,” suggested another of the council members, the very same one who had spoken up before.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Zdir,” Hagen said. “You know just as well as I do that there are no other nations of our kind anywhere near here.”
“I was referring to exiles, Lahain
,” Zdir elaborated, sounding notably more assertive than she had before. “Exiles who perhaps desired to get back at their fellow countrymen for their punishment.”
There was a strange sort of flickering in Hagen’s eyes as if Zdir had struck a particular chord with him. It was gone nearly as soon as it had come, however; his expression now solely and strongly suggested that she had crossed some line. The looks on the faces of the other three council members emphasized her apparent mistake further; they looked as though they were deeply worried for her.
“I think it’s time we brought this matter to a conclusion,” Hagen said coldly. “The council and I will go and discuss the day’s events and what we have learned regarding them among ourselves, and we will return with our final decision.”
There was not a second’s delay between his words and the response of his fellow council members; the one closest to the side exit opened it at once, and the five filed through it without a further word. At the back of the line, Zdir stopped for the slightest moment, turning a supportive but not particularly optimistic gaze upon the crowd. Then she, too, was gone, and the portal was sealed shut behind her.
Solonn’s eyes lingered for a long moment upon the wall of ice behind which the council had disappeared. He could only imagine what sort of a discussion was taking place wherever they had gone, but he was all too certain that it was far from balanced. From what he had seen, Hagen had virtually the entire council under his figurative thumb; most of them had come across to Solonn as meek, obedient people who probably never spoke unless it was specifically asked of them by their leader.
He saw Zdir as an exception, as someone clearly having a mind of her own and daring to voice her disagreement with the lahain
. But it seemed to him that she was only one questioning voice out of five. Chances were that that would not be enough to sway or overpower Hagen, not if the rest of the council truly did support their leader unquestioningly. She would probably be made sorry in some way for her dissent, Solonn suspected darkly, and the other four of her peers would likely give her theories and opinions no further thought.
It was a bit longer than he had quite expected before the council returned. Ms. Skei-Vi commanded the crowd to bow once more as the council members took their places once more; Solonn refused, earning a disapproving frown from the guild leader.
Ignoring her, he looked toward Zdir, the only member of the council for whom he still bore any respect. Her face told all too plainly that she had lost before even one word was spoken; she looked over the crowd with eyes filled with guilt and an unspoken apology.
“We of the council have arrived at our final judgment,” Hagen announced (a distinct bitterness flickered across Zdir’s features at the lahain
’s use of the word “we”). “We have determined that our two prisoners, the steel creature and the psychic, were most certainly responsible for the destruction of our holy temple, the murders of eleven within it, and the abduction of an as yet unknown number of innocent children.”
It was exactly as Solonn had anticipated, no surprise whatsoever. Nonetheless, the judgment stabbed harshly into his heart, flooding him with outrage and despair. It was done—he had failed to save Grosh and Oth.
“The guilty parties will remain subdued in our custody until we have decided upon a more permanent punishment,” Hagen went on. “The public will be informed of today’s tragedy, but also assured that those responsible will pose no further threat. The Security Guild will do all in their power to find and bring back the children who have been taken from us… however, we must all prepare ourselves for whatever the gods may have chosen with regards to their fate,” he added in a somber tone.
“As for you who have found yourselves caught in the center of all this wickedness… you have truly endured a uniquely tragic ordeal,” the lahain
said to the crowd, sounding earnestly sympathetic. “It may take some time for you to fully realize and accept the truth of what you experienced at the temple and of those who dealt it unto you. What I now ask of you all is that until that time, you do not tell anyone of the lies the wicked ones showed you.”
“You can’t possibly
be serious!” Solonn responded at once, his eyes blazing. “This is absolutely unbelievable… First you convict innocent people based on nothing more than convenient coincidence and your own blatant
bias, and now you honestly expect these people to not only deny what they know
they saw but to also lie about it from here on out?”
“What we tell you is no lie, Mr. Zgil-Al,” Hagen said firmly. “Your mind, as well as that of everyone present during the attack on the temple, has been wrapped up in the trickery and absolutely abhorrent lies of the psychic, and I’ll not have any of you spreading those horrid ideas among my people. Do you have any idea of what such notions would do
to them?” he hissed. “No Virc—or former Virc
,” he added with a pointed glare toward Zdir, “has taken the life of his or her own kind for countless generations. The people could not deal with such an unnatural notion!”
“Will they be able to deal with the real
threat when it returns? Because it will
; I guarantee it,” Solonn said. “You’ve laid this on the wrong people, Lahain
, and more innocents will suffer because of it.”
“Is that a threat
, Mr. Zgil-Al?” Hagen asked, his pale eyes narrowing.
“It’s a warning, Lahain
,” Solonn said, unflinching. “And for our people’s sake, you’d best heed it. Reconsider your judgment, let those prisoners go, and do not
forbid us to tell the people the truth that could save their lives!”
inhaled deeply, letting it out on something between a hiss and a growl. He then rose from his seat and descended from the raised platform, gliding determinedly forward and coming to a stop right in front of Solonn in a clear move to show that he was not swayed by his words or intimidated by his stature.
“You concern me, Mr. Zgil-Al,” he said, with a cold, hard stare up into the eyes of the larger man. “I fear that perhaps you cannot be trusted to listen to reason and maintain the peace. But I also pity you, and as such, I’m going to give you the chance to prove me wrong where that’s concerned. To err on the side of caution, however, you and the rest of those from the temple will be watched for a short while by a few of Ms. Skei-Vi’s people. If any of you cause any further disruption, they will not hesitate to bring you down and put you into cells alongside the strange ones right away,” he warned the crowd.
Hagen turned then and resumed his place with the rest of the council. “Go,” he said to the crowd. “Remember your duties, all of you. Do not pollute the public’s thoughts with the lies that have corrupted your perceptions. If I come to find out that you’ve failed in this responsibility, you will
join the prisoners in their fate.”
“Come on, then,” Ms. Skei-Vi said, then began shepherding the witnesses toward the exit.
Solonn lingered at the scene, maintaining his burning, condemning gaze upon Hagen for as long as he could. “You’re making a dire mistake, Lahain
,” he said reproachfully. “The real threat is still out there, and anything that happens to our people from this day forward is on your
With an insistent push and a softly reiterated warning, the guild leader managed at last to get Solonn out of the chamber and lead him away, leaving the council with his final, ominous words.
* * *
“We gather here, in the sight of all gods, for the honor of those who have gone to join them on this day. Eleven souls, good Virc all, have been torn from our midst before their time in a most dreadful act of violence.”
The voice belonged to the leader of the Soul Guild, her words echoing throughout the surrounding space. Assembled there with her within a vast, low-ceilinged cavern were dozens of glalie: survivors of the attack, friends and family of the victims, the other members of the Soul Guild, and several from the Security Guild.
They all formed a ring around a collection of eleven short spires of ice that were arranged in a spiraling pattern in the center of the chamber. Within each of these spires, the lifeless form of one of those who had perished within the temple was encased.
“To you who lie before us, rest well. Though you have departed this life through fear and agony, you will now know only peace forevermore. Though you have fallen by the power of wickedness, take comfort in the knowledge that no wickedness can follow where you have gone.”
With a very heavy heart, Solonn held the spires within his gaze. Though they and their arrangement were lovely in his eyes, a nice tribute of sorts to the fallen ones who were held within them, he could soon bear to look upon them no longer. He was overcome by thoughts of what they represented, of the reason why they had been raised on this day, and of the full impact of the day’s wicked deeds. Eleven lives, forever lost… two innocent souls, unjustly paying for the sins of others… children, gods only knew how many, taken from their homes into unknown peril. Part of his family was now gone, while the rest of it, as well as all of Virc-Dho, now faced an uncertain future.
“We of the living world now relinquish custody of your spirits to your new keepers, but we will never let go of our memories of you. One day, we may meet again. Until then… farewell.”
With those final words spoken, the Soul Guild leader then began singing a wordless melody. The voices of her fellow Soul Guild members rose to join her, filling the chamber with music that struck deep into all those who heard it. As the Soul Guild sang, the eleven spires began to sink slowly, descending on a circular platform into a very deep hole in the floor. Their peaks disappeared into it, and ice formed to cover the grave, sealing the fallen within their resting place.
Neither Solonn nor anyone else gathered within that cavern could shed a single tear for the day’s tragedies. But inside, he and all the rest of them were crying their hearts out, their grief manifesting here and there in frail, tormented sobs.
Their sorrow was earnest, but the fact remained that most of them didn’t know the true circumstances surrounding the events that had cost the lives that they now mourned. Most of them knew only what the authorities had told them, believing that the threat to them had been permanently removed from the picture when in reality it had not.
Solonn couldn’t vouch for anyone else among that crowd who knew what had really happened, but he knew one thing for certain: he
couldn’t stand to remain silent. In that moment, he couldn’t care about the lahain
’s threats and warnings, couldn’t care what speaking out might cost him. It was of far greater importance to him that the people be armed with the truth. He was all too certain that if they were denied it, then chances were that these caverns would likely be hearing the Soul Guild’s song many times in the days to come.
Virc language usage:
(LAIR vo-SEEL-yar): Roughly, “The Steel Menace”. I thought that sounded kind of silly in English and thus decided to leave it “untranslated” there.
(la-HYNE): Roughly, “Oldest and Wisest”, the title used for the leader of the Council of Authority. Hagen is actually not the oldest member of the Council, however… yeah, Virc timekeeping isn’t exactly perfect.
And a note about Ms. Skei-Vi… you know where that name came from? Well, it’s basically a sort of “Vircanized” version of “Skippy”. Yes, Skippy
. XD The name “Skippy” stuck to her (like peanut butter *is shot*) as a result of a convo with Saffire Persian regarding the then-nameless character. So there’s my little tribute to that—I simply couldn’t resist. XD
One more thing that I feel it’s prudent to mention: as many times as I’ve sent characters to the great beyond, it was no easier to do the same to this chapter’s casualties. But I’d known what would become of those characters since long ago, even back during the days of writing The Origin of Storms
—and I assure you, having them die was a decision that was neither made nor carried out lightly.
Next time: Solonn is most displeased with the Council’s decisions of late, and he’s not the only one with such opinions. See you then!
- Sike Saner