(View the final battle between Gaerlan and Martine: lower quality : 18.5 MB or high quality : 35.6 MB)
Elysa thought to herself that a more unusual council meeting would have been unimaginable just a few months before. Council meetings had been an irregular event in the calm years before the Hopeslayer had been freed, but in recent years they had become more regular as Elysa realized the importance of her role among her people.
After rallying the Guard and examining Yanshi, she'd been able to see that Asheron was relieved at her return. For several hours, they had discussed what she had seen and what was to come. He had agreed that she needed to gather the council, and had set in motion the necessary preparations. He'd also agreed with her decision to invite two more guests to the proceedings, and had sent emissaries to them as well. However, there was another decision she had made, one that she hadn't told him about, one that she knew he wouldn't agree with.
Responding to the summons Asheron had conveyed via his emissaries, the council members slowly filtered into the room. The council was comprised of various members of Isparian society, from the prominent founder of Ayan Baqur to scholars and wise archmages. Elysa had positioned her high-back chair so that she could watch the members as they entered. As some crossed into the room, she noticed a bewildered look on their faces, especially those who had never been to Asheron's castle before. On others, she saw an air of indifference. One in particular seemed almost overwhelmed by the summons and the castle; it was Ciandra, who represented the Arcanum and was now the youngest member of the council. She had distinguished herself in the months following Nuhmudira's disappearance and had become the de facto head of the Arcanum. The last to arrive was Celdiseth the archmage, as usual; just another of his ways of showing that position and rank meant little to him.
As Celdiseth took his seat, Elysa stood up and opened the council. "Thank you all for coming. We have much to discuss, although our time is short. In just the last hour the situation has progressed and we must respond to it. However, before we begin, we have two more who will be joining us."
A curious look crossed the faces of some as she stated this, and a moment later the doors to the chamber swung open. Gasps escaped a few lips as a towering Lugian strode into the room, followed by a Tumerok from the island of Marae Lassel.
Elysa scanned the faces of the council and, gesturing toward the Lugian, said, "This is Lord Kresovus of Linvak Tukal." He inclined his head as he was introduced. Directing her hand toward the Tumerok, she said, "And this is Aun Hareltah of Timaru. The Lugian and Tumerok people face the same doom as we. They have been invited today to serve in an advisory capacity."
Hareltah directed his attention toward Elysa and bowed. "Thank you, Ispar Elysatah."
"Yes, thank you, Queen," Kresovus spoke up. "Although your people still war with our brethren, it is in our best interests, especially now, to work together."
"Thank you for coming," she said with a smile, then turned her attention back to the council and began, "Let me bring you up to date on what has happened. You are all aware that in the past few weeks Asheron has divined the locations of Gaerlan's siphoning crystals. Our people have been successful in shattering these crystals, although with each successive assault, they find the crystal stronger and more difficult to destroy."
As she spoke, she surveyed the faces of the council. "The last one, which Asheron discovered only a few hours ago, was the most powerful and proved to be the most challenging. The intensity of the energy contained there prevented our people from even entering the facility where it was located. In order for our people to enter, they were required to step out from under Asheron's protection. We were also distressed to hear that a few misguided citizens opposed the destruction of the crystal, out of fear of what might be released if it was destroyed. They attacked our people and tried to hamper their efforts. However, in the end our people proved successful. This crystal's destruction has weakened Gaerlan, opening a way to attack him directly."
She paused for a moment and looked down at the table, collecting her thoughts. She returned her attention to the council members and continued, "Martine has been working alongside Asheron to aid our people--"
"And what of Martine?" Celdiseth interrupted loudly. "So nice of you to inform us of this now, even though I had heard reports right after the first crystal was destroyed. How are we to know that this isn't just another of his mad tricks? That he isn't playing us for the fool?"
"Celdiseth," she said slowly, turning to face him. "You are well aware that I have. . . reservations about dealing with Martine. Nevertheless, Asheron has assured me that Martine's intentions are pure and that he is a changed man. In regard to the situation currently confronting us, I have no reason not to believe Asheron. However, do not think for a moment that I have forgotten all Martine has done."
Celdiseth simply snorted in response.
"As I began," she continued, focusing her attention back to the faces of the council. "Martine has been aiding our people, informing them of what is to come. After the last crystal fell, he created portals to a location below Gaerlan's floating citadel. Reports from some of my Guard indicate that he told the crowds that he was going to face Gaerlan personally."
"Yes, a member of--" Ciandra blurted, then stopped an instant as she realized the attention of the entire council was upon her. "A-a-a member of the Arcanum spoke to Sir Olivier Rognath, a member of the Explorer Society. Sir Olivier had known Martine before he was modified by the Virindi and was in attendance when Martine spoke to the crowds. Sir Olivier said that Martine appeared before them as a human. He appeared as Sir Olivier originally remembered him!"
"Amazing," Asheron said quietly, stroking his beard.
"Asheron?" Elysa said, turning her attention toward the man seated next to her.
"I knew that as his mind healed," Asheron addressed the council, "he would gain the ability to appear human once more. However, I'm surprised he gained the ability so quickly. Although Elysa and I differ on our feelings, I feel that Martine's mind is truly healed. I can feel the sincerity in him, the enormous guilt that he feels. I feared that it might move him to take this course, to confront Gaerlan. I only hope he survives."
At one side of the table, the usually quiet and serene archmage Shoyanen Kenchu spoke up, "I can appreciate the need to bring us up to date, Your Highness," she said, agitation clear in her voice. "But you have not yet told us what we are to do. The destruction of the crystals has not removed Gaerlan's elemental creatures from the land. They still surround my tower, and my visitors are slaughtered as they try to approach."
As she continued, a tremor entered her voice. "Just before I was summoned here, I witnessed a horrible murder of someone new to our lands. Although they were returned to life, death still has a price."
As Shoyanen finished, the council broke out into a chorus of voices, each clamoring for Elysa's attention, or the attention of the person seated next to them. Some talked of events they had witnessed, others of the course the Queen should take to rout Gaerlan. Elysa tried to regain their attention, but their voices drowned her out.
Suddenly, from a corner of the room, a voice cried out, "Silence!"
All eyes turned to Lord Kresovus, who simply said, "Among my people it is customary to respect the matriarch."
"Thank you, Lord Kresovus," Elysa said as their eyes turned back to her. "I can appreciate your concerns--all of your concerns. I share them. We will act, and we will focus on the dual threats that face all of our people."
As she spoke, she looked directly at each person in the room. "First, we need to prepare for the assault on Gaerlan. We must face him and rise to the challenge that he presents. Together we faced the Hopeslayer and defeated him; can we do no less with this Gaerlan? Asheron has promised to provide whatever means of support he can to aid us against Gaerlan."
Her voice turned gravely serious. "Although the destruction of the crystals has greatly weakened Gaerlan, he will be a formidable force to counter. It will require the abilities of all our people.
"Lord Kresovus and Aun Hareltah," she said, directing her attention to the two figures that stood to the side of the table. "I would ask that you provide whatever support your people can to help in the battle. Already your support has been invaluable, and I wanted to thank you especially for helping us to try to understand the threat growing below Yanshi."
The scholar Asaina al-Arqis spoke up, "Is this the second threat that you spoke of, your Highness? Something in Yanshi?"
And now they were coming to the decision Elysa had made, the one she knew Asheron would not agree with. There was nothing to be done about that now, though; it was necessary.
"Yes, below Yanshi something is forming. Our scholars feel that this thing, if left unchecked, could destroy this world." She paused to let that point sink into the minds of her listeners, then continued, "However, our people should focus their attention initially on Gaerlan. I will lead my Guard against the threat below Yanshi. If the Mothers smile on us, the threat will be easily countered. If not, then hopefully we can provide the vanguard that will lead our people to its defeat."
"Elysa. . ." Asheron began, but was interrupted by an earth-shattering rumble. He rose and quickly strode to the nearby window. The sky above them was now a sheet of elemental colors, flashing from green to blue to red to purple and back again.
"It has begun." He turned back to face the council. "Candeth is attacking Gaerlan."
Elysa spoke, gaining the council's attention. "We must hurry. Let us conclude our discussions here, then set about our tasks. The fate of our people may well rest on our actions in the coming hours and days."
To be continued. . .
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