Book II Chapter 8: The Chapters' Audience
A great, winged shadow cut across the pristine shore running alongside the Grand Library, far from the first to swoop across the sky in recent times. Yet, this particular shadow was cast by a feathered beast, not one of the many wyverns of the Court.
Diving gracefully from the air, the mammoth golden eagle came to a stop upon the beach, pausing for a moment to stretch her wings before tucking them away at her sides, dipping her head to allow her elven passengers to climb down from her shoulder and into the soft, white sand.
The younger of the pair-- clad from head to toe in shining emerald-green armor etched with tiny runes and golden leaves-- reached a gloved hand to help the older elf climb from the raptor's back.
Ensuring he was steady on the ground, he turned his gaze to the bird to run his fingertips gently against her beak.
"I don't know how long this will take... it's been hundreds of years since our last such meeting, and I was in better spirits then," Kelan whispered to the great eagle. "You needn't stay and wait for us."
Needing no further insistence, she spread her wings once more and was off, her powerful wings whipping up a great sandy wind that prompted Kelan to shield his face with his cloak as he led Selarion up to the Library.
The building was even more impressive in the fading light of day, sunset's brilliant oranges and pinks painting the gray stone in dreamlike hues.
Bowing respectfully to the Courtesans tending the front desk, the pair made their way upstairs to a door hidden well behind the bookshelves and tables.
Nefirian wrapped his arms around his knees, quietly taking in the most minute details of Marquise's office as he sat upon a cushion, his hands busy with another.
His long, white robes pooled at his feet, sparkling faintly in the fading light of day, making him seem more a strange, ethereal fairy child than a doctor of any sort.
His large green eyes finally fell upon Marquise; seated at her desk, she quietly sorted through a recent influx of requests for Court assistance and new Courtesans, paying him little mind.
"Your library is as stunning as ever, my dear." His tone was even and warm, his gaze gentle; he was as fond of her as his own son-- and admittedly, spoke with her more regularly.
Lyric was elusive, even for him, and utterly disinterested in faction politics-- not that Nef minded or could ever blame him.
"Hmm? ...oh, yes, thank you. Excuse the noise downstairs - we recently aquired some texts from a town market in Liasse, everyone's very excited about them... quite the unexpected find," the Lady responded, not looking up.
"Oh? I was wondering if such commotion was the norm as of late."
Nefirian didn't waste time trying to coax details from her; there were some things the two of them had very much in common, but at least he shared with family--
A sudden, sharp knock interrupted his train of thought. Marquise rose to her feet, though she didn't move from her desk. "Come."
The door swung open as Kelan strode in without a moment's hesitation, followed by Selarion.
While the old elf was perfectly composed, the Flamekeeper's expression was an emotionless mask, his true mood plain in his tense stride. He nodded once before taking a seat, lips pursed, head bowed low in thought.
"Kelan... and Selarion Mimiron. A pleasant surprise, I'm sure." Her voice was slightly clipped, though her smile was gracious enough.
Gesturing the pair over to their choice of seats or cushions, she returned to her seat as two trainee Court members arrived with drinks for her waiting guests.
"Before we begin... I think it goes without saying that anything said within these walls will remain within these walls." The Lady's gaze flickered to Selarion, who nodded gracefully. "We are, all of us, exceptional secret keepers. I think there's little need to change that now," she added.
"Of course," Nefirian agreed smoothly, finally pushing his pillow aside to rest his hands in his lap, raking his sharp nails over the back of his hand. "Our knowledge is ours alone."
"As it has always been," Kelan murmured quietly, not bothering to glance up.
"Now, I understand you've chosen to meet here to discuss the recent developments. I applaud you both for agreeing to this meeting, and I certainly hope it's the start of a resolution between you. You'd do well to remember, however," Marquise warned, "that this is my home, and I won't stand for fighting, in any form. Heated words are one thing - heating each other is quite another."
At the last, she shot Kelan a brief glance which he met with lowered ears and pursed lips; he had enough to worry about without this meeting being skewed against him. "Allow us a chance to discuss our problems before you decide we're here to pull blows, Marquise."
"I would not be so quick to judge if history didn't have such a habit of repeating itself."
Nefirian watched the exchange with guilty eyes as he sipped at his wine. He didn't envy Kelan his losses, no-- but calling a truce here would make things so much easier, something he hoped the other Chapter had come to understand. "I've a wish in my heart that we'll overlook our past differences in favor of the bigger picture, at last..."
His sentiment was returned with a far harder stare from Kelan, however. "...as do I."
"Now..." Nefirian began, pausing to stretch his legs, wrapping his robes neatly around them, "as you are all at least partially aware, Bastion and I have recently witnessed the appearance of a force far greater than the three of us. It was only by Sasha's timely intervention that I lived to tell you of it now-- and it's my understanding that he and this creature we encountered are of very similar beginnings."
" ...Sasha? He lives?" Sitting bolt upright, Kelan raised an eyebrow. "I thought Voghn had--"
"Apparently so, though our people are long gone," the doctor sighed."Bastion is off visiting him as we speak, but that's irrelevant to the matter at hand. Sasha, Dilndrou, Aqk, Voghn, the others... I'm starting to suspect that they're far from the deities our peoples painted them as. The lowest rung of the ladder, at that. I'm unaware of what Marquise's people have turned up..." He paused for a moment to smile softly at her, his eyes sparkling-- "but mine are seeing troubling evidence that not only is that thing going to reappear in the future, but it may bring friends."
"Mm, we're still making sense of it all. Unless, of course, any of you can actually read the runes littering the site, and would care to enlighten us." She smiled, already knowing the answer - the runes themselves were fascinating, not least because it'd been a long time since they last encountered a language they had no experience with.
Nefirian grinned widely, as if sharing some unspoken joke with her."Of course not. My Sagarthay are in absolute fits trying to fit the pieces together. To think the statues scattered throughout Aensdoun-- and in Dreamsong as well, did you know?-- that we avoided for years due to our superstitions could be holding so much within them... to say nothing of Opus seeming to be the master key to unlocking all of it."
With a soft grunt, Kelan shook his head. Put Nefirian and Marquise in a room without supervision, and they'd likely go on about ancient artifacts until they died of exhaustion.
"While I'm certain your discoveries will prove useful to us in time, should we not focus on what is before us right now? Namely, the force you have brought down upon our heads?"
The remark wiped the grin from Nefirian's face at once; Selarion wordlessly placed a hand upon Kelan's shoulder, and the Chapter bowed his head to regain his composure in silence.
"Well, we're off to a good start, I see," Nefirian drawled, clearly unamused. Draining his wineglass in one last gulp, he folded his hands upon his belly. "Forgive me for my digression. The point is... there are powers greater than us that have existed all along. We don't know precisely what they are, or why it's taken this long to make themselves known."
Pausing briefly, he met eyes with Kelan again, daring him to quip again. Met with no resistance, he continued. "It's almost guaranteed that our... "gods" know more of this, but that raises another question. Kelan, you've been working with Aqk since this began. Has she never mentioned any of this, never... tried to correct us in our beliefs? Dilndrou saying nothing doesn't surprise me, and I know little of Sasha beyond what Bast has told me... but Aqk? Does she not paint herself as the righteous and honest and noble one?"
The implication took Kelan as a shock; he pursed his lips disapprovingly. "She's never mentioned it to me... and you raise a valid point. But how can you be certain of the relation?"
"Sasha spoke to the thing-- Vagary, he called it-- as if they knew one another, and also knew how to get rid of it, albeit temporarily. He said..." Nef paused, frowning as realization came over him at once. "...he said that the world was theirs now. We've been played for fools, all our people--"
"There is far more to this than we can see. But surely, it can't have been malicious!" Kelan protested."They'd done so much for us. They were our protectors and friends and allies..."
The Dreamwaker grinned again, his eyes narrowing cruelly now. "Of course. And what we didn't know couldn't hurt us..." It was all he could do not to laugh; to think, such allegedly superior beings, capable of the same flaws and ambitions as mortals!
The implications of it were delicious; he paid Marquise no mind as her eyes flitted over them both, even as she wrote discreetly on the back of a stray piece of paperwork.
"No," Kelan whispered. "...no. I refuse to believe they'd subscribe to that same wretched line of thought..."
"Denial does little to negate what is real, Kelan." The irony of such a statement from Nefirian was not lost on any in the little room.
But Kelan had fallen utterly silent, hanging his head. He didn't need more of his world falling apart, not now, after Valdren and... "I don't-- I can't believe you."
Nefirian sighed. "Kelan... I know you're troubled right now. But life and the universe go on despite that. Valdren came of age a long while ago-- shouldn't you trust that he can tend to himself and handle your own responsibilities?"
"I unfortunately can't be in several places at once, Nefirian," Kelan spat. "My greatest responsibility at this point in time is gathering the remains of my Firestarters and leading them on, and yet, here I sit with you, discussing something that is not happening yet, something you believe is going to come about soon. My people are lost now!"
"... the remains?" Nefirian's voice softened.
"What happened between my son and I is between the two of us. But when he left, so too did my second in command, the most visible leader we had, the forefront of our military campaigns. His absence has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the faction."
Marquise looked up to arch an eyebrow at Selarion, asking wordlessly if he was going to speak. He responded in kind with a slight nod, urging her to go ahead. "The situation with the Firestarters is, of course, concerning. However, this meeting's focus is on the matter Nefirian's bringing up."
"I can do little to clean up Nefirian's messes yet again with a broken faction," Kelan growled, his eyes narrowed.
"Stop making this about me and what I've done. This concerns all of us, and if Vagary is the norm, these things will want to scrub the planet of all of us by virtue of not being their precious Elysians!"
"Perhaps it's for the best," Kelan murmured. "Perhaps this is Valenth's final way of defending itself."
Selarion cut into the conversation at last. "Have we not, all of us, charged ourselves with defending this world in some capacity? I struggle to imagine that our duty all along is to stand by and allow this threat to continue."
The Flamekeeper shook his head wearily. "I am so tired of this struggle. I can't... I can't remember a time when my life did not revolve around the preservation of everyone else's lives, including Valenth itself. You..." he gestured to Marquise. "Nothing concerns you unless it threatens the stasis you've worked so hard to establish. And you!" His odd eyes fell upon Nefirian, harsh and accusatory. "So long as you're free to perform your damn experiments for your own amusement, the fate of the world has never concerned you. Now that something with the power to wipe you out of the game for good is on the horizon, now you want to talk shop, now you want to call an alliance. So you can get the help you need to neutralize the situation and carry on as you always have! I've failed in my duty. I know I have, because I've stood by and looked the other way for centuries as I tried to find a solution that didn't end in your demise. But life isn't so merciful as that, is it?" Kelan laughed bitterly. "It's not, and you're well aware... that's the driving inspiration behind what you do, after all."
Nefirian stared incredulously at him, his mouth agape in shock. "You peg me as the villain here so readily."
"Aha," said Kelan. " But do you claim to be something else?"
"Are you blaming Nefirian alone for all of this?" Marquise asked. "...No, no, you're blaming the Mirajin. Harming Nefirian won't remove the Mirajin from existence, nor the questionable 'harm' it has done. I'm speaking theoretically, since I think we've long established that the exact function of it is unclear, but the Mirajin seems, to me, like a crack in the surface between two states - ours, and this 'dream' state, the one where my mother currently resides. If that is the case, I doubt a direct attack on either the Mirajin or Nefirian wouldn't be a waste of your time, Kelan." She spoke carefully, her voice controlled, her tone non-accusing.
It took so very little for Kelan to fly off the handle.
Once more, the Flamekeeper took another slow breath, his voice suddenly gentle. "The Mirajin has caused this state. While yes... I am beginning to believe that dream energy has always existed here, with the appearance of Vagary... it's different, and I don't doubt the crystal is to blame." Kelan wet his lips. "Destroying it would allow us to seal the holes and heal the damage... but you could never allow such a thing, could you, Nefirian?"
The little Chapter just gazed silently, sadly up at him. "Is it truly so impossible for you to focus on anything beyond that?"
"As impossible as it is for you to see the damage your toy has done to our world, even when it stared you in the face like Death itself," Kelan whispered.
Next Chapter: Book II Chapter IX
Category: Book II | Story