October 2nd, 2012

Critique - Soulsong Ch4 Pt 4 & Ch5 Pt1

Hey there!

Alright, the second section seems sound to me, then again I'll need to wait and read ahead to be able to really comment on it. The first section, however, while beautifully written, didn't seem to advance the plot at all. We get some nice insights into the characters for sure, but I feel that could be done in anothe rway (I've added some suggestions below) while keeping us immersed into the world/story. Also, while I don't specify it, I think the first paragraph could use some help from Jane's POV. The place seems wonderful, and I think you could enhance the beginning by delving deeper inside Jane's thoughts. :)


Gale led the way through the passageways and, as they rounded a corner, Jane froze in wonder as she took in the sight before her.  The passage opened up into an immense cavern.  There were outdoor lamps filled with ember stones set every few yards along crisscrossing paths to illuminate the vast space.  To help further the sense of the outdoors, there were hundreds of individual ember stones set into the ceiling giving the effect of stars shining in the distance.  It rendered a truly romantic effect to what otherwise would have been a very gloomy place.  A large area had been devoted to an amphitheater that could seat several hundred people.  However, the most astonishing of all were the shop fronts lining one side of the cavern.  The space was vast.  If Jane had to guess, the grand cavern, with the dining area and shops on one end, the central plaza in the middle, and the amphitheater on the far end, took up two football fields in length and could hold a three story building easily.  There was a massive support pillar in the center of the cavern that housed a clock and bells, which at the moment was sounding the hour.

 The largest establishment, located near the shops, was also the most crowded with people.   It was the main dining area of the guild, and standing in the middle of it, waving his hand wildly, was Tuner.  Jane recognized his untamed hair and tall, thin form immediately.  She chuckled to herself as the image of a scarecrow came to mind.  He stood transfixed as they approached.  His only image of her, she realized, had been of a dirty, disheveled person wearing strange clothing.  She barely resembled the Jane of yesterday. (How could he barely recognise her yet wave at her first?)  

“You are undoubtedly the most beautiful young lady in attendance,” Tuner said.  Jane smiled and looked at the floor.  She didn’t believe it but it was nice of him to say. 

 “Have you eaten?” Gale asked.  “Jane and I are starving.”

“No, I’ve been waiting for you.  Let’s go see what Fiona has for us today,” and he took both young ladies in either arm.

They found a table to set down their trays of porridge and fresh fruit, and Tuner dug into his right away.  Jane noticed he also had a hunk of bread and a wedge of cheese.  She shook her head.  Where does he put it all? She spooned a dollop of honey into her porridge and took a bite.  There was more in the porridge than just oats and Jane inspected her breakfast closely to see if she could identify the various kinds of grains it contained.

“Did you find a fly in yours?” Tuner asked, watching her scrutinize the contents of her bowl. 

She grinned.  “No.  How’s your breakfast?”  He could only nod his approval as he had just taken a big bite.  “So, tell me about yourselves.  How did you come to be here?  Are you orphans? Tuner, you said most of the students here were orphans.  Tuner glanced at Gale before he nodded. (There’s something troubling me about this bit of dialogue. I would think being an orphan should be addressed with a bit more sensitivity. Right now it sounds a bit rash; it reads something like “oh hey, you’re all orphans huh?” Especially for a proper introduction to the guild members.)

“Yes, I am.  My mother died when I was very small.  My father raised me and my older brother until he died of the cholera.  My brother, who is eight years my senior, looked after me until Master Troubere discovered me fiddling at a country dance.  My brother was sad to see me go but knew I would be better off.”

“Why was he not brought here with you?”

“He is not musical.  Besides, he had found a girl and was courting her.  They were married not long after.  They come to see me from time to time.”

“Has your life been difficult for you?” Jane asked, unable to fathom losing parents at such a young age.

“No.  I at least had a loving family to warm my memories.  Many of the students here never even knew their parents.”

“And you Gale?  Are you orphaned?”  Gale looked down at her bowl of porridge.  “Oh, I am sorry,” Jane said quickly.  “I didn’t mean to pry–”     (Up until here I had thought it was Gale talking about her past. Adding a tag or two would help clarify that. Also, Jane approaches the same issue with much more emotion and delicacy here than before; which is nice but sounds contradictory –until the previous part is fixed that is :P)

“Yes, I am an orphan,” Gale interrupted.  “My parents died in a fire.  Mistress Quaverly heard me playing the recorder in the streets.  She thought I had musical ability so now I am here.”  Gale’s tone was brusque, and Jane felt embarrassed at her insensitivity.

“Oh, I nearly forgot” Tuner said, pushing away his empty bowl.  “Master Troubere has asked to see you Jane.  He said to come when you finished eating.” 

“Finally.  I really want to talk to him too,” she said.  “I have a few questions for him.”  Mainly, how was she going to get home? 

(Ok… As always, I loved your description of the place. It was vivid, magical… in a word: excellent. However, I’m not sure what this fragment’s purpose is, other than letting the reader know more about Troubere and Gale’s past. I’d suggest cutting that dialogue a bit and, maybe, you could focus on what makes someone ‘musical’? Or have Jane ask about the school itself; her fellow students and teachers, what is expected from her. Anything to advance the plot a bit, through which you could also develop the characters.)

Chapter 5

Tambour’s Vision

Not knowing her way around yet Jane relied on Tuner to lead her to the main house where all the teachers’ offices were located. He led her back through the kitchen where they passed Fiona, who gave Jane her hearty approval of the new clothing.  Jane flashed an embarrassed grin as she and Tuner continued through the house.  After many twists and turns they came to a long hallway with four doors on each side, and from one of the doors, a thin, petite woman stepped out.

“Good morning Mistress,” Tuner said with a small bow.  Jane saw this and quickly bowed as well.  She really needed to ask Gale later about all the bowing.

“Oh, good morning to you, Mr. Tuner,” the woman replied brightly.  “And who might this be?” she asked, smiling at Jane.

“This is my new friend Miss Jane Picardy,” he answered.  “Jane, Mistress Quaverly, the strings instructor at our guild.” 

“Hello.”

“At last,” she said, peering intently at Jane.  “I am very pleased to finally meet you.” 

Jane frowned.  Why is she so glad I’m here?  “Why?  What is it you all seem to know that I don’t?” 

Mistress Quaverly looked at Jane a moment, warmth in her eyes.  “Only that you are needed my dear.”

“For what?”   

“It is Master Troubere’s wish that you hear it from him.” 

Jane was frustrated, but she kept it hidden.  Well, I’m about to meet with him anyway.  Guess I’ll know soon enough.  

“Welcome Jane.  I hope you are able to make yourself comfortable here with us.”  She bowed then Jane and Tuner watched her tiny footsteps take her briskly away.  Jane heaved a sigh and motioned for Tuner to lead on.  They knocked at the first door on the left. 

“Enter.”

Critique - The Bok'Tarong Part 18

Hi!
Well, I'm aware I say this a lot, but reading it one more time can't harm: I LOVE your dialogues. Really, great job. Then again, this is the moment we've all been waiting for: the two paths finally meet. You have paved the way for, at least, a good piece of action, and it's stopped all too soon. Besides the issue with time managment that I mention below, I think maybe you could expand on this section by adding a bit of a fight here, both physical and mental (The earlier regarding Raeb/Dragana and the latter, Aeo/Dragana) to fully exploit the tension you've wonderfully built up to this point.

Dragana’s excitement was so strong Aeo could barely sense anything besides it. He still wasn’t sure exactly why they were after this man, or what he’d done to earn such animosity from Dragana, but this was obviously momentous for her. He caught hints of her thoughts punching through the emotions, and they all revolved around “the catch of a lifetime” and “finally” and imaginings of the sweet vengeance the Taronese would receive upon this man’s death.

They’d found the camp with a very small amount of effort. It had been abandoned only minutes before, and the footprints leading away from it were deep and clear. (Thus far, I’m having some trouble following the story with regards to time/space. Since we’ve been switching back and forth between the two groups, I’d strongly suggest adding a sense of time would immensely help in giving us a strong anchor point. Especially now that Dragana is ‘chasing’ after Raeb, so we can try to match both stories time-wise)

It didn’t make sense to Aeo. For someone who’d been hunted by the Taronese for so long – he didn’t know how long, but Dragana’s thoughts hinted at lifetimes – this was an incredibly sloppy retreat. Someone with no experience in tracking whatsoever could follow this trail. The man would have almost had to leave these evidences on purpose for the signs to be this clear. (Nice!)

He tried to tell these things to Dragana, but she wasn’t listening. Her emotions and bloodlust were so high that he couldn’t get through to her. She ran after the footprints recklessly, foolishly, in her haste to reach the man. (How long have they been on the chase?)

He’d hear her and run, Aeo thought. A rampaging elephant would be more subtle than she was right now. The man would have no trouble avoiding her and slipping away.

But Aeo wasn’t convinced that whoever left this trail wanted to get away.

Dragana crashed through the trees and entered a small clearing. A man stood on the other side as if he’d been expecting them.

Because he had been expecting them. He’d set up this entire scenario like a trap for Dragana and the Bok’Tarong. Aeo had no doubt of that.

He looked at the man, a faint tickle of recognition nagging at him. It took him a few seconds to place him, and when he did he chuckled slightly. That’s the man who hired me to kill the last bearer. He’s the one who led me to the Bok’Tarong.

He imparted these thoughts to Dragana, but she still didn’t hear him. Her heart was pounding and the hand that held Aeo was shaking. (Out of fear or excitement?)Her fingers gripped his hilt tightly. Her eyes were glued to the man.

Aeo knew he’d seen them, but he made no move to run. He just stared at Dragana as if he’d always known this day would come. There was peace in his strange, Hntaña eyes. (Again, solving the time issue would help here a lot. We know from the previous section that Raeb has made his mind regarding the Bok’Tarong, however, he seems awfully calm for someone who’s been ‘avoiding his fate’ for so long, unless he’s had the time to assimilate things proper.)

Dragana raised the blades, leveling the points at the man’s chest. Her emotions were clouded with incredulity – Aeo knew that she truly didn’t believe she was actually here, facing his man, with him apparently unwilling to defend himself. “Traitor,” she hissed.

“If that’s what you choose to believe,” the man replied. “It wasn’t my fault that the Hntaña attacked me. Do you think I would have chosen this existence? I would have gladly given my life for the Bok’Tarong.”

“You were never worthy to wield it,” Dragana said.

What are they saying? Aeo thought. Had he really been a Taronese warrior-in-training? (Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d like this brief dialogue to extend for another pair of lines or two, just to get to know more about Raeb’s past and, perhaps, his motives.)

He turned his spirit-eyes back to the man. He looked beyond the physical and saw the tendrils of the Hntaña snaking through his head, more than he’d ever seen in a single person before. He thought it was more than he’d even seen in ten peoples’ heads.

But through all of that, the light of his soul still burned clean and clear.

Something wasn’t right. Aeo could feel it. (I’d suggest rewriting this in the form of Aeo’s speech. Something like ‘Something’s not right’, which I believe would increase the impact.)

The Hntaña were unmistakably evil. They corrupted everything they touched, and their victims were lost as soon as they were infected. Aeo pitied the -taken but he could see that their souls were beyond redemption. He longed to kill the Hntaña and put the people out of their misery.

But Aeo didn’t feel that about this man. He was clearly -taken. Only an idiot could miss that. But he certainly wasn’t evil. (Hmm… very interesting)

Dragana pulled back to strike, but a female voice cried out, “Wait!”

Aeo saw a young woman – no more than a girl, really – run to them and place herself between the man and Aeo’s blades. She too had the tendrils of the Hntaña, though they were fewer and far smaller.

Dragana stopped her thrust, but barely. Anger simmered in her red-streaked eyes. Her voice was deadly calm. “Step aside, girl. This is not your business.”

Aeo took another look at her. She was -taken also, but Dragana hadn’t recognized that about her. How did she miss it? (Instead of the question, how about rephrasing it to sound like her bloodlust/anger was blinding her to even the most evident of facts?)

“No,” the girl replied. “He isn’t what he appears to be.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, girl. You’re in over your head.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re willing to kill him without question when he’s the only one who can help you!”

Listen to her, Aeo whispered to Dragana. I think she’s telling the truth. (I’m wondering both why does he suspect that and why.)

“I don’t need any help, especially from a traitorous -taken.” She pushed past the girl and prepared to strike at the man, who hadn’t moved during this exchange.

Aeo couldn’t let Dragana do this. There was more going on here than she saw – than either of them likely saw. She drew her elbow back, tensing her muscles, settling her weight. She took a breath, preparing to strike on the exhale, when Aeo set the force of his spirit against her strike. He held the blade steady as she pushed, and no matter how badly she wanted to stab this man, Aeo wouldn’t allow it. The Bok’Tarong was not moving. (Wow… very nice giving Aeo a degree of control over the sword! However, I’d say this fragment would flow better with the rest of the scene if this turned into a battle of wills. Right now, it sounded too easy for Aeo to restrain the blade, while I would prefer to see him strained, having to fight against Dragana’s immense desire to kill Raeb.)

Dragana tried again, with no better result. She strained against the blades, her anger turning to rage as she was restrained. “Let the blades go and let me kill him!”

This is a mistake, Dragana, Aeo said. He tried to be gentle but forceful in his tone, hoping it might break through her anger.

“I’m going to kill him, whether you say it’s a good idea or not! You don’t understand what he’s done or how long we’ve been searching for him. He will die, no matter what you do. Now let go!”

She was screaming at him and wishing very bad things to happen to him for denying her. Aeo knew he wouldn’t get through without matching her ire, so he did his best to scream right back at her. Damn it, Dragana, listen to me! I didn’t argue when you left the -taken breeders to chase after this guy. I trusted you when you said this was more important. Trust me now when I say don’t kill him.

“You don’t understand,” she said. She wasn’t screaming anymore, but there was more than enough venom for the words to sting.

You’re right, I don’t understand the past that made this man so hated. But I do understand the present, and what’s right in front of us now. Whatever this man did, it hasn’t tarnished his spirit. His soul is free from the Hntaña. He must have a reason to bring you here (I’d say ‘lured’ would fit better.) and to stand before you, with my blades pointed at his heart, and not run or plead for his life. A hunted man who does that either wishes to die or has a plan, and I don’t think this guy is ready to give up on life just yet.

When Dragana didn’t reply, Aeo continued. Just give him a chance, Dragana. See what he has to say. If you still don’t believe him after he’s said his peace, then we can talk about killing him.

Dragana gripped the Bok’Tarong so tightly that Aeo gasped. Her teeth clenched and he felt her simmering rage, but she lowered the blades. “Explain yourselves, but make it quick.”

The man placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder, gently pushing her aside from where she still stood guard. “My name is Raeb,” he said.

“I know who you are,” Dragana replied. “You are a traitor to the Taronese and a servant of the Hntaña.”

“I was enslaved by them, but my mind remains my own. The Hntaña do not control my thoughts or my actions.”

“How can I believe that? An Hntaña would say the same thing so that I would drop my guard.”

You can believe it because I say it’s true also, Aeo said.

The man – Raeb – seemed to understand that Dragana was speaking to the blades, because he didn’t interrupt.

Dragana thought for a moment, then nodded. “Okay. I don’t know how you’ve managed that, but I’ll suspend my disbelief for a little bit.”

Raeb smiled and nodded his thanks. Aeo thought he sensed a great flood of relief from him.

“So what does a free-minded Hntaña-taken want with the Bok’Tarong?”

The girl spoke before Raeb could explain. “He means to destroy the Hntaña. We both do.”

That made Aeo pause. He felt Dragana’s thoughts whirl and ask for advice, but he didn’t have any to give. He was as confused as she was.

Raeb nodded. “If you would agree to a truce, I will explain our plan over dinner.” (I feel this sentence breaks the tension you’ve managed to build.)

Aeo felt Dragana’s hesitation, but he nudged her to agree. “All right. But if I suspect this is a trap, I will kill you both.”

“Agreed.”

Critique - Sacrificial Kingdom - 19337 - 20376

Hey!

Alright, for this section I actually have no specific comments to make. It's very well written and paced. The descriptions are vivid and the characters remain faithful to the personalities you've given them. My concern here would be regarding the plot (which might be due to the format we've been using until now). First of all: it seems too fast for them to be crossing into another country on foot. This can be solved by adding a couple of hints here and there as to their relative location on a map or something, but it seems to me that either they're moving too fast or perhaps I don't feel a strong footing regarding time to be able to relate time and distance travelled. Also, (again, might be due to the short fragments and the lapse between them) do we know anything about Rhia's true mission? Sure, she's on the run because her country lies in ashes and -throwing a wild guess here- she is fleeing to keep the Sword safe. But where is she headed and why? Does she perhaps want revenge? And what about Sommir and Makki? Seems to be they're just being dragged around by Rhia. i believe clarfying those points would make it easier for us to get a firmer grasp on the story and the characters. Otherwise, excellent job as usual.

Salt Well was a stone mining town, built entirely of wood. The clustered buildings were neat, sturdy, but the constant abrasion of the dust scoured away any hint of paint. Makki counted: thirty two. In the background the Yellow Sand Mountains rose from behind the horizon, tall enough that the last flickers of sunset painted a tide line on their broken peaks.

“Barely a village.” Sommir said from beside him and rapped his knuckles against the large wooden sign washed stone grey by sun and dirt. ‘Township of Salt Well’ had been carved in letters a finger deep.

“I’ll speak to the mayor; get him to rename it.” Makki replied.

“Assuming this place has a mayor.” Sommir said.

“Not a Mayor – an Overseer.” The Princess rode up, nudging her crisp white mare between their horses. She did that a lot, Makki noted, forced them to talk to her or over her, whether they intended to or not. “These mining townships are built and administrated by prospectors - businessmen. Size depends on the quality of the trade. Judging by this, the Overseer isn’t particularly profitable. Closer to the mountains you’ll see towns ten times this size.”

“Visited Mekbarim often, Princess.” Sommir joked.

“Knowledge of other nations is a prerequisite of my position, soldier, as making corpses is yours. One of us learned something.” Rhiharu snapped back. Sommir shrugged his big shoulders.

“You learn a lot about a people by how they fight.”

“And you learn more through diplomacy.” She countered. “What we need here won’t be achieved at the end of a blade.” Makki rolled his eyes. The little conversation they made was littered with the Princess’s disgust at, and misunderstanding of, Sommir’s humour.

“We should head down, find an inn. Or a hayloft at least.” He said before Sommir could answer. “The horses won’t go another hour at this pace.”

Princess Rhiaru nodded and led them down the slope towards the town. Ahead, in the eastern sky, the first stars floated like cold sparks from the fire kissed mountaintops. The dusty earth was painted with dusk shadows, long and deep in the hollows in the land. There was little grass, less trees, as the rough plains of north Mekbarim gave ways to the barren, sandy foothills of the Yellow Sand Mountains.

“Can’t you at least watch your tongue a bit?” He whispered, hanging far enough behind the Princess as not to be heard. “You may not have a General or Captain looking over your shoulder, but she is still our Sovereign.” Sommir settled his shoulders as though his armour had grown suddenly heavy.

“A Princess of no Kingdom.” Sommir said, words so bitter sharp Makki felt them stab him.

“She still commands our respect.” There was a long pause, filled only with the muffled thud of hooves.

“You’re right, Sir.” Sommir said.

“Don’t ‘Sir’ me. Not now, not ever.” Melu stirred against his chest, cradled between his arms. She had been in the comfortable folds of sleep all day, waking only to take a few sips of water. The silence grew, thickened with hurt. “I’m not chiding you, Sommir. It’s just small barbs grow into thick gorse given enough time, and us three, the last of Kavernath, must hold together.” Sommir puffed out his cheeks.

“Sorry, Makki.” He said. “Kavernath’s gone and the world has been pulled from beneath my feet, but all I can think of is we can’t conduct border patrols without any borders. And now...now...” Makki laid a hand on his friend’s slumped shoulder.

“I know, me too. And the Princess will feel the same way.” The cloud over them remained, but it no longer felt so bruised. Together they rode into Salt Well out of the burgeoning night.

Lamps burned in most of the buildings. They rode past a smith working in the grim, thick, red light of his forge, the tink tink tink of his hammer syncopated with the horse’s footsteps. Most others were residential; a few of the townsfolk sat in chairs on porches, smoking pipes, watching them pass. Almost to a man they were weather-beaten, as scoured by the sun and wind as the facades of their homes. No one spoke. Pipe embers burned darkly. A few sat with families, but most kept a company of none.

A broad thoroughfare clove through the centre of Salt Well, houses a double row on either side. At the far end Makki heard the first real sounds of life. Rich lamplight and the quiet burble of voices spilled from with three sets of windows flanking a wide door. Makki knew an inn when he saw one.

“Lieutenant.” Princess Rhiharu drew rein by the hitching post, on the edge of the light. “You and Sommir do the talking. There may be some merchant or slaver who pays too much attention to politics. Those tend to see profit in many things.”

“Melu will place us as surely as any description of Kavernath’s youngest heir.” He said. Salt Well seemed a haven from the open rolling scrubland. Now they had arrived, the town loomed over them. A thousand misplaced words or gestures hid in the alleys, in darkened windows, waiting to give them away. Makki suddenly yearned for the exposed plains where trouble only ever appeared on the horizon.

“It’s not unheard of for Dragon Riders to go mercenary. And that’s assuming anyone could tell between Etherlings. There are several breeds in Mekbarim alone.” She dismounted with the elegance of one well tutored and well practiced. “Besides, the more attention they pay you, the less they pay me.”

Makki bit his tongue and took a deep breath. He was here to protect her, and if that meant laying suspicion on himself – he was sure he wouldn’t put on a convincing show for anyone – so be it. But by the Blessed Hand he felt foolish. He took a lingering, longing look at the empty, unpopulated darkness outside town.

“As you say, your Highness.” He hitched his horse to the rail and settled Melu into his arms. Sommir shouldered both packs and Rhiharu clutched a bedroll, using it to hide the ornate sword on her hip. Makki took a long breath and lead them through the wide doors of the inn.

Rite of Awakening: Chapter 6 Part 2

Hey guys!

Late again, huh? Well, I've some great news for you: Mid-terms are *finally* over! I can now get back on schedule with you :) I waited a bit so I could give your stories the attention they deserve and deliver some useful redlines. I hope I succeeded and well, I'm now rested and ready to keep reading/commenting, so keep your stories coming. Needless to say, I'm in love with all of them. Here's my fragment, I hope you enjoy it.


If there had ever been a place Regelial could not stand, it was the Senate’s Tower. Endless quibbling and pointless arguing. However, Senator Renisel, the Duke of Albeá, had called for a meeting in spite of the hour. Secrets have the most unpleasant way of revealing themselves, Regelial thought as the interrogation went on. 

The Chamber of Parliament had a semi-circular form with windows as tall as five men along the perimeter, elegantly draped with purple curtains and a translucent crystal dome on the ceiling to allow the entrance of a faint white light. The three hundred twenty-one Imperial Senators were directly seated in a number of rows in front of the main doors; they accessed their seats from an entrance at the back of the room. The podium, where the sovereigns and the governors commonly stood was located in the middle of the grand room; an elevated platform from where the most important commands had been issued.

Once, not so long ago.

Somehow, word had reached Renisel’s ears about the situation at Gamalarn before Regelial was informed, and the Senator wasn’t pleased. A lifelike projection of Marasia stood at the centre, bravely facing the Senators’ enquiry. They were trying to break her, but she endured, always looking at them in the eye. Hers was a strong spirit. As unflinching as she was meant to be, he told himself, racing his eyes from Marasia to his wife.   

“And how, exactly, did you let this happen, High Seraf-Magister?” asked Senator Renisel with a booming voice that was hard to believe came from such a frail-looking body. A tall man who supported himself on a strong oak cane, with white hair and a short beard barely concealing a scar that ran on his left side from his jaw up to the temple. Despite wearing silk robes, he wore fewer ornaments than the rest of the Senators.

Some things never change.  

“What happened was beyond my control, Your Lordship,” Marasia countered “It was unpredictable.”

“Will you now deny your responsibility?”

“I did nothing.”

“That is exactly the problem.” Another Senator stood up. Calyeri, Duke of Aneós. He had long, brown hair and was dressed in some clear yet heavily ornamented blue robes, carrying a cane as well, though he didn’t use it for support. “Had you served your purpose, one of Gamalarn’s armies would not be marching southwards as we speak.”

“The soldiers have not yet left Sethides.”

“But they will soon enough. Gamar are not known for their patience,” Senator Calyeri spoke.

“But Cratarean’s are. Gamalarn will never strike unless it’s backed-up by the Republic of Cratarea.”

“Stalling an unavoidable war.”

“I did try to prevent this.”

“But you did not try hard enough.”

“You have caused our peace to be broken,” Renisel continued. “A peace many irreplaceable people gave their lives for.”

“I have done more to uphold our laws and maintain peace than all of you put together. If half of you listened and acted almost as well as you talk, none of this would be happening, Your Lordships.”

The Senators were outraged at her defiant attitude; bellowing almost in unison. However, Regelial could not help but smile. These men weren’t used to being challenged like that. They thought her young and inexperienced, but there is far more to her than meets the eye.

Senator Renisel raised his hand and the Chamber fell silent. “You may outrank us as Seraf and Archduchess, but it would be wise to watch your tongue. I would not count on Regelial standing-up for you after you failed him. Choose whom to rely on better, Seraf Marasia, or make the same mistake I did,” he said, running his index finger across the scar on his face.

“A hundred-year old grudge that has perverted your purpose, Renisel,” Regelial spoke, taking a pair of steps to the front. “You know Marasia’s words to be true. You have grown blind and deaf to the needs of your people. The people Apostle Adirsa, your wife, died for.”

“How dare you speak her name after what you did?”

“I name her because I have remained faithful to her memory.”

“So have I.”

“And yet you would sit here while Gamalarn burns Sylenvia to the ground,” he glanced at King Caylsig through the corner of his eyes; pale and silent. Even ghosts have their uses. “If you really want to respect Adirsa’s memory, then you should authorise me to mobilise the army to protect Sylenvia.”

“This matter was settled months ago, Regelial,” said Renisel. “Whatever the outcome, we both agreed we are not to take sides. It is not our responsibility to clean this man’s mess.”

“My kingdom needs the help of the Empire if it is to survive,” Caylsig finally pleaded. “Surely you can’t be as cruel as to let your own brothers die while you do nothing but watch can you?”

“If that will ensure the perpetuity of the Empire, then we have no other option. Our duty as Senators is to protect the people and sovereignty of the Holy Laégelian Empire, even if we have to stain our hands with Sylen blood.”

“You humans can be so pathetic, Renisel. Power gives you a false sense of courage and wisdom; but they’re easily shattered by a greater power.”

“Do not forget you are human as well, Your Majesty,” affirmed Senator Calyeri. “You, too, must bend your knee to powers higher than your own.”

“Which only the Apostle commands, Duke Aneós. I am still waiting for an answer, Renisel,” he spoke before Senator Calyeri could utter another word. “Will the Senate authorise the full mobilisation of the Imperial Armed Forces in response to the potential threat posed to the Empire by the Gamalarn Nation?”

The Chamber fell silent after a while. Then, silence gave way to whispers. Ceaseless, annoying hissing.  Three hundred twenty-one voices and yet there was only one mind; the only one who endangered his plans. First his pupil and now his opponent.

“Unless an attack befalls imperial territory first, the Empire will not play an active role in this conflict,” Renisel declared.

“Is that the will of the Senate?” Regelial asked. Three hundred twenty ayes followed in quick response. Just as I expected. “Then I shall abide by your rule.” For now.

“And you,” Senator Calyeri pointed his finger at Marasia, “do not think yourself above out judgment. We don’t care whether you are the High Seraf-Magister or the Emperor’s preferred tool, henceforth, you shall answer to us as well or we shall deprive you of your title.”

“You can’t do that,” Marasia replied, losing the temperance she had managed to keep until now.

“I’m afraid they can,” Regelial declared. They could do as they pleased for as long as he had to answer to them; for as long as Renisel could keep his leash on him.

“Do not test the limits of our patience,” Calyeri spoke with an authority resembling Renisel’s.

“Meeting adjourned.”