Still Waters 3, Book 2: Day to Day, Prologue
Megalomesembrian Senate Offices Building
The echoing of his footsteps preceded Kurt Godel as he stalked up to the senate offices of one Ocali Kaunt, member of the Megalomesembrian Senate, whose sphere of influence rivaled Kurt's own. He paused before the door, the report he had received moments ago crushed in his clenched fist. He somehow managed to refrain from kicking the door in and took a series of deep, calming breaths in order to quell the rage generated by the report he had so recently received.
Ocali had really done it this time. Kurt himself had no love for the man, who had appeared mysteriously during the war all those years ago and somehow ended up in a minor position of power. From there, he had wormed his way up through the ranks until he became a member of the Megalomesembrian Senate, and was now considered one of the most powerful men in the world, though he wasn't anywhere near as well known as Kurt Godel, oh no. Ocali Kaunt preferred to work behind the scenes, for the most part; a mysterious presence upon whom no blame could be attached when things went wrong.
Kurt swept his hair out of his eyes and took another deep breath. Going up against Ocali Kaunt when you were angry was a bad idea in the best of times; with his health failing like it was, he knew the other man was just waiting for a chance to take him out of the picture.
What was even worse was that Ocali had of late moved beyond waiting for things to happen and jumping in afterward to pick up the pieces; he had already been instrumental in forcing several opposing senators out of office, though no one had any solid evidence for it. And now, with the Elf issue, Kurt's most recent pet project for stabilization, it was obvious who Ocali's next target was. The man was ruthless.
He heard voices speaking on the other side of the door, but couldn't make out any details. Well, it was now or never, and this issue had to be addressed immediately if anything was to be done to prevent a political disaster. He knocked on the door and was let in by a rather nervous looking young female intern. He thanked her and stood there in front of Ocali's desk, his eyes locked with the man himself.
"Godel," Ocali said.
"Kaunt," Kurt replied.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Ocali asked, his tone indicating clearly that it was anything but a pleasure to have Kurt standing in his office.
"A private matter," Kurt replied, glancing at the intern.
"Leave us," Ocali said to the girl, who hurried out and shut the door behind her. "Now then, let us-"
"What is the meaning of this?" Kurt interrupted oh-so-calmly as he held up the report he had been given earlier.
Ocali cocked an eyebrow and took the report, smoothing its crinkles on the surface on his desk. He bent over it for a moment, peering at it closely before sitting back up straight in his chair, nodding. "Ah, I see. The execution."
"Yes," Kurt said, straining to keep his temper under control. "The execution. He was found innocent."
"The elf, Mr. Godel," Ocali said, looking at him as if he was a stupid child, "was found 'not guilty'; he was not found 'innocent'. And in any case, the court of public opinion indicates what should happen to the elf in question. The judge who gave the verdict has already been arrested on suspicion of corruption."
Kurt just stood there for a moment, a vague sense of unreality assailing him from all sides. "The 'court of public opinion'? Since when have the people had the last word- Wait, corruption?" he said, accidentally letting his composure slip. That judge was an old friend of his; they had entered the political spectrum at roughly the same time, and had worked together many times in the past.
"My my, and I thought you were a veteran politician, Mr. Godel," Ocali said, his condescending expression nearly driving Kurt over the edge; as it was, he had to clench his teeth to keep from saying something stupid. "The court of public opinion is everything. Someone murdered the mayor of Megalomesembria and his family, and the elf was found at the scene of the crime and the judge who found him innocent was well known to be critical of the mayor's policies. The conclusion, the only conclusion in the minds of the public, has already been decided."
Again, that sense of unreality struck Kurt as he stood there looking at Ocali. Had Ocali really, truly, just said what he thought he had said? He had known Ocali wasn't exactly trustworthy, but this...
"My my, you appear to be ill, Mr. Godel," Ocali said. "Why don't you take a seat. You should be very careful; I understand your health is quite fragile. The execution will be over shortly; you might as well sit back and reflect on a job well done. The public will applaud the decision to rapidly bring the criminal to justice, and the reputation of the senate itself will improve. Scotch?" he said, indicating a bottle on a shelf behind him.
Kurt, numb, shook his head mutely as he tried to calculate the political ramifications of the execution as a way of distracting himself from the sheer insanity of the situation. Without a doubt, the elf in question was innocent. Grainy video from inside the mayor's home clearly showed a human had committed the crime in question (though the video hadn't been clear enough to identify the criminal), and he had reason to believe the elf, a young son of some noble house, was the same one who witnesses reported had been abducted from the roadside almost a month ago. The elven diplomat here in the capital, an old friend, proud and stubborn, would need to be extremely careful in the ensuing witchhunt after the execution, and would need a bodyguard around the clock to protect him from angry citizens; the Alliance's diplomatic relations with the Elves would also be strained by the situation, made even worse by the fact that Ocali had been pushing through bills that seemed okay on the outside, but tended to have the side effect of damaging trade, immigration, or other relations with the elves and other groups. Godel was no angel, but this level of aggression was insane! His mouth went on auto-pilot to deal with the formalities of his impromptu meeting with Ocali and excuse himself as his mind raced.
So Ocali was pushing the elves. Why? Because Kurt was trying to forge a permanent peace with them for the sake of world stability? Or perhaps...a scapegoat? War? To what purpose? These thoughts occupied Kurt's mind as he made his way back to his office afterward. Ocali's actions over the past several years struck him as rather suspicious; Ocali's actions had directly resulted in one war already, between two small members of the Alliance in the far north. Senate forces had gone in and occupied both countries, seizing the leaders and declaring a police state; the other countries in the region had become nervous after that, and several had withdrawn from the Alliance altogether in protest. Tempers in the region were rising, and things could get ugly very quickly if talks weren't handled carefully. In fact, war with the Hellas Empire had almost broken out again a year ago, halted only by the frantic work of many politicians on both sides, resulting indirectly from a farming bill pushed through the senate by Ocali. Things were getting very, very dangerous, and now with the trouble with the Gray Knights building up again...he sighed irritably as he walked along in the hallway, accidentally frightening a group of young interns. Zealots, the lot of them. The problem with the Gray Knights, of course, was their numbers; while their total size was unknown, they did possess a sizable combat force larger than even the great mercenary guilds, unallied to any country, following some secret ideal no one outside the group knew about, despite repeated attempts at infiltration. And now, with time growing so short for both him and Mundus Magicus, he was bogged down by that fool Ocali trying to start another war. But no, that wasn't precisely correct; Ocali was no fool, he knew exactly what he was doing, and what getting into another war would mean at this juncture. Which, of course, brought Kurt right back to the beginning: Why?
Kurt continued on down the hall.
Meanwhile, in an ancient, well built mountaintop fortress dating from the time of the third demon war, a group of four priests, the three members of the council, and the man who held the title of The Warden were gathered around a table in the council chamber. Each chair at the table, the priests on the east side, the council members on the west, and The Warden on the south, was filled but for the largest, most elaborately decorated chair, which sat empty at the head of the table. The Daughter's Seat had not yet found its occupant.
"...and with the formalities completed, should we come to the point of the meeting?" the priestess Arlana said impatiently. There was a general muttering agreement all around, except for Ari Sigurd, The Warden, who maintained his stoic silence.
"Very well," councilwoman Edie Blythe said as she opened the folder before her on the table. "We have made progress in locating the Daughter."
"This isn't a false alarm, like the girl from America?" the priest Rudolph asked.
"No; that was merely a coincidence. You must understand, the likelihood of a stranger resembling the Daughter to such a degree is extremely low; we have a confirmed match." This announcement was met with excited murmuring.
"Well where is she?" Arlana demanded.
Edie smiled. It wasn't a pretty smile. She removed several copies of a map from her folder and passed them around. "As you can tell by the map, we have her location pinpointed; at this point it is simply a matter of getting our people in there on the ground and taking her."
"I do not recognize this area," councilman Braden Xyrely said, cocking an eyebrow as he looked at Edie.
"That would be because it's on Mundus Vetus, part of a city called, I believe, 'Mahora'."
Silence descended again.
"...this will require us to use the gateport system," Beccan Bloodleaf, the only elf on the council, said, his forehead wrinkling as he began calculating what would be needed to accomplish their task. "After what happened the last time, it will be difficult; we can't use the same group. The new ones will need false identification papers, money, the sort of clothing necessary to blend in..."
"Training," the priest Peter added.
"Training to fit in with society," Beccan said, nodding agreeably with the other man. The infamous Beccan Bloodleaf respected few people, but it was obvious Peter was one of them.
"That will take time," Arlana said.
Edie bristled. "Of course it will, what are you, stu-"
The table went dead silent at The Warden's statement. Technically, his only purpose was to be the Daughter's bodyguard, confidant, right-hand-man, even her lover if she so desired, but as a naturally imposing, quiet, stoic sort of man in a high (if all but powerless) position, Ari Sigurd carried a lot of weight, and his mere presence was often enough to stop a furious argument in its tracks. When he spoke, other people listened. He focused his gaze on Edie. "You are sure she is there?"
Edie swallowed the sudden lump in her throat, and nodded. "One hundred percent." She had always been a little scared of both his size and his odd silent manner.
Ari sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Two teams, each led by an adept. Five to ten initiates each. Anything more would be unwieldy, anything less wouldn't be enough."
The others looked at each other thoughtfully. Ari had put all their arguments aside and set up their team structure for them in the space of three sentences. When it looked like he wouldn't speak again, councilman Braden spoke up instead, fingering the dagger he always carried.
"Cort would be good, maybe Amos as well." The two were quite competent at what they did, and Braden knew Cort from way back, long before the two of them had joined up here. He took out his dagger and began spinning it.
The others nodded or otherwise indicated their agreement, and after hashing out a few more details and getting Beccan's timeline estimate ("We should be able to have people there on the ground by late June"), the council members and priests left. Ari sat there for a long, long time, looking at the empty chair across from him at the other end of the table. Finally he, too, stood up and exited the room, leaving it, once again, in silence.
The two hooded figures slipped into the enormous torch-lit cavern, moving quietly among the deep shadows at the back of the crowd.
"So, this is it," the first figure, shorter than the other, said in a feminine voice. Her hood hid most of her face, but occasionally the flickering torchlight revealed brief glimpses of a face that could not quite be considered pretty, but was far from unattractive.
"That's right," the second replied. His hood hid his whole face deep in shadow, and he moved with a catlike ease obvious in spite of the thick robes he wore.
The noise of the crowd picked up and the two hooded figures, just two among hundreds of similarly garbed (if much differently shaped) folk, looked up at the raised dais at the far end of the cavern as a strapping young demon strolled up onto the stage, simply oozing charisma as he surveyed the crowd, a small confident smile on his face.
"Well I must say he is quite attractive," the female figure said.
"...that's a little disturbing," the male figure replied. "Quiet, he's about to start."
"Welcome!" the demon on stage said, and the crowd roared its approval. The two hooded figures were obliged to do the same, lest they stand out too much from those around them. The demon up on stage began speaking, his deep voice oddly compelling as it rolled over the crowd. The male figure glanced at the female and gave her a sharp nudge, startling her.
"He has a Commanding Voice. It'll snare you if you aren't careful," he explained quietly. The female figure nodded shamefully and turned her attention back to the crowd as a whole rather than the demon on stage. Like herself and her companion, a full third of the audience had hidden themselves in hooded cloaks or robes of some sort to mask their identities; no doubt for safety's sake. If one involved in, say, high level politics, was seen to attend one of these speeches, one would be quite likely to attract the wrong sort of attention; the type that typically ended up with someone in prison for half of their life.
"Shameful," she muttered. Truly, who was trustworthy...? Her advisor was one of the small handful of people she found she could honestly trust; her best friend had trusted him enough to bear his child, after all. She heard a familiar name mentioned and looked back at the stage.
"-shameful!" the demon bellowed. "Queen Kelory has done nothing but weaken demon pride! Truces? Alliances with the leaders of Mundus Magicus? Ha!" This was met with a near-universal roar of approval, and the female figure looked around in shock at what she was witnessing.
"Easy, easy, milady," the male figure said.
The demon up on stage continued. "And we are to be content with a little patch of desert land in Mundus Magicus? A few miles of sand and rock just outside the Demon Gate? What good will that do us? Travel is restricted, war is restricted, only a chosen few allowed to leave at any time? Even those filthy inferior youkai are treated better than that! Bah! What happened to our pride? Are we to be treated like trash, like diseased cattle, culled from the herd?"
"He is quite good," the male figure said. The female figure didn't respond.
"We are strong! We are superior! The humans are weak, the youkai filthy and ignorant! And the oni, don't get me started on the oni, those disgusting pigs, rotting away in their little corner of the world...! They accepted their punishment from the humans. Are we no better than the oni?" his tone of disgust met with a roar of approval; demons traditionally held no love for the humans who had fought them to a draw again and again, less still for the groups that had splintered off back during the demon wars and become the youkai and oni. Elves, beastmen, sprites, fairies...all others were typically ignored or lumped in somewhere between the humans and the youkai.
"This is disgusting," the female figure said. "He wouldn't dare to say these things in the council-"
"Of course not," the male figure replied. "That is why he holds these speeches. I received word that he also has his agents come into these small towns before his arrival to spread dissension and gain more support for his cause. He is no amateur."
The female figure clenched her fists in frustration. Had she not been afraid of being forced to fight off almost a thousand demons, she would have shoved her way up to the stage and decked the frustrating young demon then and there. How infuriating he was...! Lucian Ramenthy, heir of the infamous Ramenthy family...a dangerous foe indeed, now that she had allowed things to come this far. Something he said caught her attention again. "Oh no, please no..."
"And so we only have one choice, one way to regain our rightful demon pride! We must rise together, and cast down our sweet, naïve little girl of a queen! Cast her down, and raise a true demon in her place! Someone with the strength of will and the power to do what is necessary, what is right for all demons, everywhere!"
"I...I think I may be sick," the female figure said quietly, her voice utterly lost in the deafening roar of the crowd.
"And then," the charismatic young demon on stage said, lowering his voice in order to grab the attention of the crowd and put them further under his spell, "and then we can go on from this world; we can move on to the next one and show the others who the rightful owners of Mundus Magicus are. The humans and the elves and the other trash deserve to be swept aside, and when that is done...perhaps...just perhaps..." he trailed off, looking down at his hands as if contemplating the power of a single demon compared to that of a whole world, and he had the crowd wrapped around his little finger. He abruptly made a fist and looked up at the crowd with fire in his eyes. "Mundus Vetus!"
The crowd's response was deafening, and the two hooded figures took this opportunity to slip out unnoticed.
Outside, the male figure wasted no time, swiftly leading the female figure away from the cavern and off into the brush. He continued on until he judged they were a safe distance away, and spoke.
"So what did you think?"
The female figure pushed back her hood in order to better feel the night breeze on her face; it was very refreshing after the dank, smoke-filled cavern. "He is...quite insane."
"Maybe," the male figure said as he looked around, watching for anyone who might stumble upon them. "He believes in what he says, at least, and it's good for you to know your enemies. Put that hood back up; it's not safe for you here."
The Demon Queen Kelory Omeris reluctantly pulled the hood back up over her head so that her surprisingly human face was again hidden in shadows. "I do believe he could convince them even without that Commanding Voice you were talking about."
"Maybe," the male figure replied. "Come on, I promised her I would I help you, and I can't do that if we hang around here until you get lynched," he said, taking her hand to lead her back to their vehicle. She couldn't help but blush in the darkness under her hood at the contact; her adviser had always been so kind to her, no wonder her best friend had...
The two of them continued on in the darkness.
Ocali Kaunt locked up his business office and rode the elevator down to ground level. Once there, he nodded to the security guards, who nodded back, and stepped out into the street, easily merging with the crowd. Like many politicians, Ocali's face had been splashed across newspapers and news shows many times in the past, but he moved through the streets unnoticed. Fortunately, his face was rather forgettable and his presence could be almost entirely missed, if he so wished.
He made his way to his estate, located in a small community of the rich and famous. Magical wards protected each residence, and those among his neighbors who could afford it kept full security squads on hand at all times. He continued on past the summer home of the Prince of Tristan, the estate a famous female reporter had built for her secret beastman lover, and the traditional manor of the Youkai King, what amounted to a squalid hovel of only twenty eight thousand square feet among the much more lavish mansions surrounding it, unlived in but for the cleaning crew, security team, groundskeepers, and the overseer, who was in charge of running the house until the Youkai King decided to grace it with his presence; the overseer would likely be waiting for quite some time, as there wasn't a Youkai King at all at the moment...hadn't been for several hundred years. Ocali's own mansion, the next in line on the long street, dwarfed it; a little over a hundred and twenty thousand square feet, it wasn't the largest here, but anywhere else in Mundus Magicus short of the capital city of the Hellas Empire, it would have excited much comment with its towering structure and sprawling outbuildings, not to mention the private lake, elaborate gardens, and miniature forest complete with live deer. Ocali let himself in at the gate, nodded to his assistant, the tall, strong-looking man waiting for him beside the gatehouse, and set off up the long driveway toward the main house at a steady, measured pace while his assistant followed along, relaying news and rumors sent by the agents Ocali had planted all around the world.
He nodded at the security guard at the door and entered the house, his assistant following. Ocali listened without comment as he walked along and began climbing the elaborate spiral staircase that dominated the enormous entry room, itself larger than many regular houses. He climbed up to the top of the staircase and stepped off on the sixth floor, nodding in acknowledgment at the report of the amazing accomplishment of one of his agents stationed in Mundus Vetus; the man had, after years of work, finally wormed himself into a high ranking position that, in due time, would allow him major access to certain resources that would hasten-
Ocali paused in front of the door to his library and stood looking at it for a moment.
"Ocali? Sir?" his assistant asked.
"Leave me, Kagan. I will listen to the rest of your report after supper," Ocali said. When the other man was gone, he opened the door and stepped inside, pulling it softly shut after him. His home library was quite large, the walls lined with bookshelves filled to the brim with rare and unique texts on any subject one might imagine; his agents had standing orders to send any and all special books they might discover on to him here at his home. It was his only vice; hoarding knowledge... useful to him, potentially dangerous in the hands of his enemies, or utterly inconsequential, he wanted all of it.
"Ah, there you are; I was wondering when you would get back."
And there, seated in his huge, exquisitely constructed chair with her feet propped up on his insanely expensive desk made of sapient pearwood, was what was, by all appearances, a young human girl.
"I did not anticipate your presence," Ocali said carefully. The girl looked at him, smiled the way a robot or an alien who had only viewed humans from a distance and wished to appear like them might have smiled, and dropped her booted feet off the desktop. She stood up and strolled around the desk to stand in front of Ocali, still making that hideous smile, and put her hands on her hips as she looked up at him with her dead gray eyes.
"Have you become independent?" she asked.
"Good," she replied as she turned around to show him her back. "Now tell me, is this a good color, or is this one better?" she asked as her long hair shifted from blood red to a shade of blonde so unnaturally blonde that it was like the average of all blondes, everywhere. "I like the appearance of the first, but from my observations, the second color appears more popular among humankind."
"The second is indeed the preferred color," Ocali observed after a moment's calculation. "However, I have noticed most girls of your apparent age in this region with hair of that length tie it back, like so," he said as he towered over her, carefully taking her long hair in his hands and separating it into two long pigtails. He had a brief thought about how she appeared so frail and light that he could probably snap her in half like a twig, but he quickly dismissed it; any attempt to do so would be suicide, and he was not yet finished with life, or his version thereof.
"Very well, it will be so," the girl said as she popped two strings into existence and held them out to Ocali, who took them silently and tied the pigtails in place. She popped a mirror into existence to get a good look at herself, then let it drop and shatter on the floor when she was satisfied. "Moving among them unnoticed is surprisingly difficult; how do you do this so easily?" she asked as she took her seat again.
"One grows accustomed to it, over time," he observed. He remained standing, ignoring the broken glass.
"One grows accustomed to it...what a bore," she said. "I don't want to wait that long, but there is no choice, huh...oh well. If I kill a few it'll be fine."
"That would be...unwise, I am afraid," Ocali replied. "The local authorities frown upon such things."
"Damn," the little girl said, a look of mild annoyance on her face. "Oh well. I guess it doesn't really matter, then. Anyway, tell me what you've been up to since the last time."
Ocali bowed his head. "Of course, Master."