A Price too High to Pay
Part 3 - The Council of Magi
The Council Room was full and voices echoed in tones of anguish, fear and even despair. Arkadi, reclining on his carmine-lined chair, remained silent, his gaze fixed on the female figure who held the place of honor by Amambar’s still empty chair. His thoughts drifted away to the last talk they’d shared, three days ago. Sothe time had finally come ...! And although the general reaction of the most venerated Magi of Arnae was something very close to panic, Arkadi found himself surprisingly calm.
A mere glance around was enough to tell him that none of his Brethren had dared miss the summons delivered the night before. Contrary to what was customary, the seven platforms that rose all around the central table were filled with people, which meant that there was nothing more important at that moment than dealing with that matter at hand. Even his classes had been suspended.
The window, that took over the entire back wall, bathed the room in the white, cold light of yet another morning. The white silent landscape outside contrasted heavily with the buzzing of cross-talk that echoed all around in the form of conjectures, theories, or even pseudo-prophecies.
Finally Amambar entered the room. His gaze was heavy, his expression serious, and the voices of those present slowly died out. Amambar, wearing a golden robe that seemed to gleam beneath the white light of the early morning, simply took his seat, patiently waiting until the room fell into complete silence before raising his voice.
“My dear Brothers. I suppose you all know why this Council was convened, and although the situation goes beyond our understanding, it is up to us, the Children of Power, to take action ... as accurately as possible. A Force greater than anything we’ve ever experienced has awaken beyond these mountains and made its presence known to us. As most of you may know through your own experience, this Power is so immeasurably great that I fear that, in the wrong hands, it can easily bring forth our destruction, as well as the destruction of all Living Beings, even of our beloved Arnae. Although none of us have been able to determine its nature for certain, our Sister Ilea has something to add, about the problem we are now facing. Please ...“Amambar made a slight signal towards Ilea who was sitting right next to him, and attention of all the presents was focused on her.
Ilea rose to her feet, her white silk gown shining lightly, her silver hair tumbling down her back in a cascade of sparkles, and Arkadi couldn’t help think about of how beautiful she looked that morning.
“There is not much I can tell you about this strange Force that torments the sight of our souls. I can, however, affirm that its source is in the possession of a Human Being, equal to any of you. The way I see it, I would say it has always existed, even though it was, for some reason, kept hidden from our ‘sight’. There isn’t a consciousness mind behind this Power, which implies that the being that possesses it has no notion, at least so far, of how powerful it is!” Murmurs of relief filled the room, many of the Mages dismissing the terrible possibility that they’d soon be be overcome by this mysterious Force. “Although this may look like an advantage for us, I assure you, that’s hardly the case!” she declared, silencing the still echoing voices, and she was once more the center of attentions. “If, as I suspect, this being doesn’t know the power that he possesses then it also doesn’t know how to protect it from the enemy, and this is something very worrisome and dangerous. We are all aware of the dire situation that the Kingdoms of the East presently face, and that the army that threatens them was came from the Continent of Endnor. Just imagine if this new Power falls on hands of their Lord! Not to mention the fact that an unconscious Power is an imminent danger to everyone around it!”
The silence that fell over the room was heavy and long. Ilea sat back on her chair and waited for the inevitable question that would follow.
“Then what shall we do?”
Her violet eyes turned to the old Mage who had spoken and a deep sigh escape her lips.
“As I see it, there is not much we can do but seek the source of this Power and guide its owner, teaching him how to control it, helping him protect it, and thus preventing the worst from happening.”
A new wave of silence filled the room. That answer had put an end to everyone’s questions. Now the Mages would have to discuss the solution that had been offered and decide who and when to start the search.
Arkadi didn’t hear much more of what was said in the Council. There were still those who didn’t regard the latest events as something they should concern themselves with, and Arkadi wondered how Amambar had the patience to hear all those misguided arguments. One thing was certain, he did not have it. And to be forced to listen to all those idiotic arguments shook the young Mage’s nervous system so much that he doubted he’d be able to remain in his seat for much longer, without jumping one of his eloquent doubtful Brothers. So he simply opted to stop listening to their useless conversation. In any case little to nothing would be solved that day. Councils always took at least a week, and this matter was far too serious to be solved in less than that.
Watching her from afar, the serious and silent posture she held, his thoughts traveled back to the last conversation he had had with Ilea, and he knew she hadn’t told the Council everything, that she had hidden something, something very important from all of them. And yet, why would Ilea hide critical information about this new Power which, it seemed, had recently awakened?
Arkadi could still remembered the strange, and at the same time fascinating, sensation that had awakened him two nights ago. He had felt as if his entire being screamed in ecstasy and celebrated the ‘birth’ of that new Force, even though his mind feared it more than anything he’d ever known, in the agonizing and absolute certainty that that Power was too strong and that he’d be unable to overpower it no matter how hard he tried to. When he had finally left his quarters, his suspicions had been confirmed. The time had finally come, the time that had been remembered and forgotten over and over afain in Ilea’s dreams. One way or the other, everyone in the Tower of High Magic had shared that same event.
The sound of chairs being dragged tore him away from his thoughts and Arkadi followed the others as they rose from their seats to go out to lunch. The Council would resume in the afternoon. At least all classes had been suspended, which meant that in the next few days he wouldn’t have to put up with the insubordination of his students. And, at the mere thought of it, the Mage was sure that if he had to continue ministering those study sessions much longer he’d end up going mad and cast a transmutation spell on one of his students. Maybe a mouse, who knows? Mice don’t make much noise and are always needed for laboratory experiments ...!!
Arkadi discretely slowed down his pace until he stood beside Ilea. And, without even looking at her, held her hand, their hands hidden from the inattentive eyes of the others by the wide sleeves of his robe. Ilea glanced at him in surprise and smiled at the young man’s vague, disinterested expression.
They followed the huge group of Magi who slowly left the room, discussing the subject that would be the focus of their attention for at least another week, and as soon as they were back in the hall Arkadi pulled her to a side and ran towards the opposite direction.
“Stop! Are you crazy? They will see ...”
Arkadi opened a door, swiftly entering and dragged her with him, closing it behind her. Ilea laughed in the dark, feeling a little breathless, and the young Mage was silent for a moment, just listening to the sound of her voice that reminded him of the tumbling song of clear water falling over crystal stones.
“You know? This wasn’t such a good idea. I’m sure Amambar saw us. He was right behind us.”
“As if I care.”
“Arkadi, he knows who I am. And well, normally people frown at the thought of different races mingling together.”
“Well, I don’t care about what any of them think any way. But I do like the sound of that mingling part,” Arkadi replied, unconcerned, and felt her move away.
“That’s not what I meant. And I’ve told you before. I don’t want to watch you die. I’d rather just remember you, as you are now,” she told him in a sad voice and he sighed. Yes, he had heard that before, many, many times. No matter how hard he tried to forget about the existence of that wall he always ended up crashing headfirst into it.
“I know. I’m sorry,” he simply replied, feeling like a child that had just been reprimanded for making the same mistake too many times, and her warm arms surrounded him when she hugged him from behind. His back felt immediately warm and he could feel her forehead against the back of his head, her soft breath caressing his nape. She opened a hand over his chest, right over the place where his heart beat, and the way her strong overbearing presence surrounded him made him feel as if she could just reach inside his chest and pull his heart out, and he wouldn’t be able to move a single finger to stop her.
“You know me. But the truth is that you know very little about me. This heart of yours tells you that you love me and I allow those words to comfort my soul. Because in my eyes you are and always will be the only one. And that is … such a scary, unbending truth that I’m just left here, unable to move as I know I should.”
He took a deep breath and placed his hand over hers, caressing her soft and unusually cold skin.
“Ilea ... promise me that when the Council is over, you’ll go back. That you’ll return home.”
Her arms squeezed him a bit harder and she sighed, her breath warming his neck.
“I do not want to ...”
“Still, you have to go,” he insisted even though he could feel his heart already breaking at the thought of her absence and she nodded. “You know you have to.” She nodded again. “It’s for the best …”
“I know …” she replied and slowly released him. And yet, as he felt her draw back he couldn’t stand her absence and quickly held her hand. The room was so dark he couldn’t see a single thing and the thought that she might disappear just like that was simply unbearable. He felt her grow tense at his sudden movement but then she just stood there, within his grasp, allowing him to hold her hand as if he were a little boy afraid of the dark.
Arkadi lowered his gaze, feeling embarrassed and ashamed. After all he’d just said … His resolution to let her go was as weak as he, he thought bitterly and immediately tried to hide his failure under the guise of something more important.
“Before, at the Council, there was something you didn’t tell them, right?” he asked, forcing his voice to sound as serious and professional as possible and Ilea was silent for a few moments before answering him.
“Somethings aren’t meant to be heard by everyone. It would only cause confusion and increase the fear most of them already feel. Besides, I’m not sure of anything either. It’s just an … intuition, if you want to call it that way. And I’m not particularly found of engaging stubborn Humans in endless arguments.”
“I hate it when you talk like that!” grunted the Mage and Ilea laughed, her eyes that could see in the dark as clearly as if they were standing under the sun finding his child-like pouting expression just too adorable.
“Well, every one knows that Humans are the stubbornest of all Races.”
“We just like to understand the reason why things are the way they are!” he argued.
“Even when those things can’t be explained.”
“Everything has a logical explanation! It’s the law of the Universe!”
“Yes, yes. As you wish. As I’ve told you before, I will not engage in arguments with stubborn Humans, least of all you. You are the worst of them all!”
She laughed again and the sound of her voice was all it took to sooth his angry, outraged mood.
“Anyway. If I am right, this Power we felt didn’t just awake. It has actually been awake for quite some time now. Long enough for its holder to become aware of some of its capabilities.”
“But if that’s so, why have we never felt it before?”
“That I don’t know. Maybe someone was guarding it, disguising it, and now it has left its hiding place, its protection. In any case, it is imperative that we find it before the Warlord of the North does. And of that, Arkadi, I am absolutely certain, even though I can’t really explain why I feel this urgency to act. And so I am afraid that this Council will take too long to decide what must be done. We may have to act sooner, with or without Amambar’s approval.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’ve already decided that I’ll try and have a serious talk with him. I’m openly going to tell him what I think about all this and what I fell that has to be done in order to avoid a much worse, much catastrophic outcome. I just hope he can understand the gravity of the present situation. Depending on what he’ll have to say, I’ll then act according to what I know to be the right course of action. We can not wait for the Council to reach an unanimity regarding what has to be done. It could take months, and we don’t have that much time to spend.”
Arkadi remained silent. Even though he couldn’t see her he knew she meant every word, and he couldn’t deny that the grave tone of her voice was a bit frightening. Perhaps because he knew that every single word that had left her mouth was the pure, simple truth, and that, somehow, he too would have a part to play amidst all that confusion.