"Keep going without me," The Sorceress called after a beat, her comic timing perfect. "I can hear through this curtain, you know." Some of the representatives from the Sorcerer Lands smiled at their leader's impropriety.
"Very well," The Artist said quietly, her voice small and thin in the great hall, "What issues do you have to bring to our attention, representatives?" she called to us.
So they do acknowledge the mortals, I thought. At least they had some semblance of a council in this place, rather than having the oh-so-aged immortals lord over everyone else openly.
Before I could speak, the Porin I had eaten with the last evening interrupted me. "I believe that both me and the Lady Grinya have an issue," he called to the room at large.
"Speak, then," The Bird told him from her humble seat, "What would the Northern Lands ask us for help with?" From the way that everyone was leaning over curiously to hear the Porin representative and Lady Grinya, I guessed that it was a rare occurrence for the citizens of the Circlian nations to speak up with the immortals so present.
The prim Lady Grinya, dressed in a severe silver gown, stood and moved to the centre of the great chamber, where a magical circle had been set up as an amplifier. "In the coastal lands of the north," she called, her voice far beyond its normal volume, "There has been a recent rash of unseasonal storms. These great hurricanes have ravaged our crops, and many of the great cities of our nations have fallen to being despoiled homes for our homeless countrymen."
I watched the reactions of the Immortals as the Genrian lady spoke. Mirar looked up abruptly as she discussed the unseasonal situation, and I saw The Artist give a slight shake her head. Something was going on. The Immortals were said to have a grove of Welcome Trees on the Sorcerer Lands, so they were most likely discussing what to do silently using the magical wood to transmit their thoughts.
When Lady Grinya finished outlining the troubles of the north, she curtsied to The Seafarer and returned to her seat, sitting demurely under the gaze of the seven immortal rulers.
The Seafarer spoke, "These situations are unusual, but not unheard of," he told us. "Though there is no power strong enough to control the elements, I will make rounds of the cities of the north this year to set up new barriers for your needs."
This sentence would have been completely innocuous, just a way of promising to do all he could, but I saw The Empress heave a sigh from her seat as The Seafarer spoke. So there was a power great enough to control the weather, and the immortals were displeased about it. Had the gods finally returned?
The representatives continued to voice their concerns, and the immortals continued to sympathize and promise all that they could do. I saved my speech for last, so no one would have a reason to interrupt me. Over the period of an hour, the Elai told us of the sudden leap in the populations of predatory sea creatures, one of the Sorcerers warned his mistress, who reappeared quickly wearing more suitable clothing, that the amounts of magic on the Sorcerer Lands were dropping swiftly, and one of the representatives from within the City of Artisans voiced the citizens' concern that the expansion of the city was affecting the surrounding mountain environment. I was about ready to leave without speaking when The Artist once more called for representatives to speak and, at last, nobody spoke up.
"I would like to speak," I called as the silence stretched.
Every eye in the chamber turned instantly to me and raked up and down my body, probably taking in my circ and young age. "A Circlian priest wishes to speak in front of us," The Sorceress stated drily, "times must be rather dire in Jarime."
The Bird shot The Sorceress a glare, "The Circlians have as much right to speak in this council as every other person," she told the other woman, "We should welcome his participation, not condemn it."
"Very well," The Healer sighed, running a hand through his hair, "Speak, Circlian."
I strode to the centre of the room and turned to look back at The Seafarer. He looked intrigued, and I guessed that the northern coast rarely participated so much at The Council. I looked around at every person in the chamber before continuing.
"The Immortals have ruled us for five hundred years," I began. Even to my ears, I sounded weak and nervous: immature. I saw some of the older representatives sigh and begin to turn away. They probably heard this speech from most new Circlian representatives, if not directly in front of the immortals, as I was doing. To fight their disinterest, I changed my voice, pitching it to sound confident and mature.
"For five centuries," I continued, much more pleased with how my voice sounded, "we have let the people who drove the gods out of the world rule us, running Ithania and all of its peoples.
"We have lost our independence from each other and allowed ourselves to be subjugated by those who have cursed our faiths for thousands of years," I continued, enjoying the magical amplifier and using it to throw my voice and fill the room with sound. I was heartened to see several of the representatives nodding slowly.
"Yes, many advancements have been made in that time," I said, nodding to The Artist and The Sorceress, who looked confused, "but our system of governance has become stale, and a new system should be tested and used so that we may rule ourselves, rather than being ruled by those who may not wish for our independence.
"I say," I called, readying myself to be burned to a crisp as soon as I spoke, "I say that we abandon those who say they are our elders and turn instead to those who can say that they have experienced our lives in this time, and our mortality."
I closed my eyes and waited for the blast of lightning that would end my life, but it never came.
"It is an intriguing idea," I heard The Seafarer say, and my eyes snapped open. Many of the representatives were nodding now, like they agreed with me, and even some of the Immortals were considering the idea.
"What are you saying?" The Sorceress asked, aghast, "We have worked to keep Ithania's peace for centuries!"
"We cannot say that we have not ruled unfairly at times," The Artist countered The Sorceress, "I say that we let the nations test this system, however temporarily."
"No!" Auraya cried, surging to her feet, "With the situation as it is, we must remain united! Circlian, what did you do?" What situation?
"Bird, he has done something," Mirar gasped, "Even I can see the magic he has affected."
"I see it as well," The Trader said from his seat, "Something has been done using powerful vocal magic within the last few minutes."
The Empress looked confused. "I can almost see the magic, but it could not change the situation. We have ruled too long." The Immortals were beginning to dissolve into pointless squabbling.
So The Seafarer, The Empress, and The Artist were agreeing with me, while The Bird, The Healer, The Trader, and The Sorceress opposed me. But I did not understand about the warped magic. What could have happened? I searched for a moment, reaching out to see magic, then gasped myself. Magical ripples spread out from me in all directions, bouncing off the walls in a pattern similar to sound waves. The four who opposed my plan had minor shields around them, or their own magical power nullified the ripples. And none of the mortal representatives had the magical power necessary to turn back mine or even slow it down.
I had unknowingly brainwashed the entire room.
I had expected the power I had had to melt away from disuse, but that approach was apparently not going to work. Instead, my power had developed itself. I remembered days back in Jarime, when I'd used my skill to get whatever I wanted. The people I'd spelled wouldn't be quite the same, though. People can get out of control when they will do your wishes and side with you without question. They don't quite see reason. How had my power gone out of control?
Changing my voice! When I had altered my pitch and tone, magic had also entered my speech. I needed to break the casting before the immortals entered a war. And I knew they would if I let them. A war between the greatest members of Ithanian society would devastate the lands of Ithania.
"Healer!" I called loudly, and his head snapped around from where he had now entered an argument with The Artist. They would get worse and less reasonable if they weren't freed soon, and I didn't have the power necessary to do that for all of them.
"Blast the room with enough magic to cancel the ripples and the curse should end," I told him. The magic would also run through their minds and remove any magical contamination; though I wasn't totally sure how my skill affected those I spelled.
He nodded and started sucking magic toward him.
"Mirar, no!" The Bird called just before he sent the magic roaring across the room. I guessed that she was worried that I would cause all of them to side with me. I had, after all, accidentally turned half of the immortals into my mindless followers.
As the powerful wave of pure magic hit me, I let it cleanse me of much of my magic as well, adding more power to the spell. As the magic left me and my brain began to fall unconscious from the sheer force of the magical wave, I thanked all the gods that Mirar was so trusting.
I woke up in my room, much later in the day. The sun was setting over the mountains as I changed out of my circ, since I wasn't expecting any visitors. I worried that I might actually be imprisoned, after what had happened at the Council, but I would have at least the rest of the day to myself. Once I was wearing only my undershirt and thin trousers, I settled into my desk with my journal and started to write down the occurrences of the highly eventful day.
I was interrupted when I had just barely started by a knock at the door. I jumped, but turned to the door.
"Come in," I called. Was the justice system this efficient? Surely not.
I was highly surprised when the door was opened by none other than The Seafarer himself. He stopped for a moment and blinked at me, in my much less formal clothes, but he came in swiftly and closed the door behind him, his green eyes flashing around the room.
"I expected you to still be unconscious," he told me, "The Healer has a tendency to blast people into comas when he's panicking."
"I'm pretty resilient," I told him simply, "Are you and the others feeling okay?"
"You mean the three of us you spelled?" he asked, then he chuckled, "We're all fine, but some of the representatives have terrible headaches."
"I'm sorry," I said sincerely, "I didn't know I was using magic."
"Don't be sorry," he told me, and he moved to sit on my bed, "We wouldn't have found you if you'd stayed quiet."
I quickly relinquished my chair to him and moved to my bed, feeling self-conscious in my too-small shirt, which I only kept because it had been my first clothing as a Circlian priest.
"What do you mean, you 'found me'?" I asked once The Seafarer sat down.
"I mean that your power would have gone wasted at this critical time, and our enemies probably would have gotten to you." The Seafarer sighed. It seemed like such a strange noise for him to make.
"I don't understand," I said meekly. It was obvious that The Seafarer was nervous, and he wasn't explaining properly.
"Well," The Seafarer said nervously, "this is going to be a bit of a shock, but-"
"I'm powerful enough to become an Immortal," I said stonily. I had known since discovering that no other Circlians could use my persuasion power, but I had never expected to actually get a chance to act on the knowledge.
"Yes, and," The Seafarer seemed to be struggling to explain, "we need your help right now. The storms that Lady Grinya discussed – weren't natural storms. The Artist can explain better than I."
"You want me to join you," I stated. Not something I would want to do, but if things were bad enough to put the eldest immortal on edge, they might need every magical power they could find.
"Not necessarily," The Seafarer explained. "We need your help, that's all. If you can help us, we won't ask you to do anything you don't want to do."
"How do you need help?" I asked warily.
"Go talk to The Artist in the Great Hall tomorrow," The Seafarer told me, getting up, "She can explain better than me, and she'll make arrangements for you."
"And if I can't help you?" I asked, more rhetorically than anything else, fearing the answer I had already guessed.
"If you can't help," The Seafarer said from the doorway, "We may already have lost." And then he was gone.
More than a little confused, and incredibly scared, I spent the night tossing in my bed, unable to sleep. What could the Immortals, the rulers of the known world, want from a junior Circlian priest? Did they need someone brainwashed? The Sorceress could do that, surely.
When dawn finally came, I gave in to sleeplessness and used one of the simplest Mind Arts to keep me awake. The temporary alertness would come with a cost later, since human bodies weren't designed to remain awake for long periods of time. I would probably collapse in the afternoon. Small price to pay for a little clear-headedness.
My preparations were simple, as usual, except for my flyaway hair. Keeping away from Change Arts, I spent a long, frustrating time combing away before I had some semblance of control over my appearance.
Many of the people who had been in The Council had already left the Seat, so my journey to the Great Hall was eerily quiet, since none of the servants who had been bustling around even the day before were still working. The Great Hall was terribly quiet, and the taps of my shoes on the immense marble tiles echoed multiple times before dissipating. The Artist was waiting in the centre of the hall, dressed in what looked like a fine silk shift.
She turned to me as I approached. Her gown swirled around her, patterns appearing and disappearing in the light. "Hello, Corin," she said quietly. She frowned, "Did you sleep at all?"
I blinked at her. Usually the signs of suppressed exhaustion were hardly noticeable, but I suppose that an ancient sage could easily tell.
"You didn't," she said, answering her own question with an astonishing certainty. "Very well," she continued primly, "I will try to be brief."
She gestured to one of the many seats in the hall, and we moved to sit down.
"Last year, you may have noticed that there was very little contact from The Seafarer to the people of Jarime," The Artist began, and I nodded mutely. "The reason for this is that both The Seafarer and The Bird had a job to do.
"The Seafarer recently told us of a land other than the Ithanian ones, located on the other side of the planet," The Artist explained, and she opened her hand, palm up. A magical image appeared above it, an illusion showing the planet and the Ithanian continent. The planet's other side was covered in grey film, like every other planetary globe.
"According to The Seafarer," the immortal continued, flipping her white-blond hair out of her eyes, "There was commerce between the two continents in his youth, unknown thousands of years ago." I was surprised. No knowledge of such a place was left, if such writings had ever existed. I had researched through obscure volumes for long months, trying to find some reference to a continent beyond Ithania. Nothing had shown up then.
"Over the last year, both The Bird and The Seafarer made separate visits to the other continent, and we now have a rough map of the land." The grey cloud cleared, revealing a large, roughly circular continent with few geological features across it. It looked completely unremarkable, yet it was something that could change our whole understanding of the world.
"There was a slight problem with the journeys," The Artist said flatly. I looked up, confused. "The Bird was attacked by the natives of this land, and The Seafarer's ship was nearly destroyed." The woman stated all of this so flatly, without any emotion, that I had to wonder how many people she had seen die. Even how many she had killed herself.
"One thing was constant in both of their reports," The Artist continued, "The news that an army was massing on the coasts nearest to Ithania."
I felt like I had been physically hit in my stomach. The last war in Ithania had been the devastating conflict between the Circlians and the Pentadrians, in a massive bid for power over the entire continent. A war from another continent could be even more disastrous.
"A-are you sure?" I asked weakly.
"My brother and I looked into their minds after our friends arrived home," The Artist said gently, "There could be no mistaking their wish for new land. And Ithania is the only other land."
"Why do you need me?" I asked, scared for the answer.
"My brother and I have hypothesized your power and future path," The Artist told me. "We believe that your power is people. With practice, you will know their minds on sight, be able to convince them of your righteousness without magic, and you can already use a basic, but powerful, persuasion technique." She smiled slightly and touched her temple, "I still have a headache, by the way."
Before I could respond, she continued. "We realized while we were working with your personality that you could be easily swayed by a sufficiently convincing member of the enemy. We will not allow that."
"You were-!" I started, but The Artist held up a small thin hand to stop me.
"If we lose you to the foe, we may lose Ithania before the war even begins," she continued, looking at me, "Your power alone may be the greatest known to us. Together with a group of immortals, you would be a near unstoppable force. If the others know of you, they will want your assistance. You could lead an army with your voice alone, and turn a country to your will on a whim."
"And I'm a Circlian," I realized, voicing my idea, "If a Circlian joins the Immortals, you will have Northern Ithania in your power. If I joined the other continent, they would follow without hesitation."
"Precisely," The Artist smiled; then continued, "The massing armies that we could see were immense, but they must still cross a great sea. There is much distance between our lands and theirs, even at the narrowest point. Against the creatures under The Seafarer and the violence of the storms that they have created themselves to sow dissent among those we cannot help, which will stir up the sea currents, they will progress slowly, and we have much time to prepare.
"But not enough," she continued, "To speed your learning, and to show the lands of Ithania that you support the Immortal cause, I have arranged for you to meet each of we seven separately, within our own domains, and watch as we gather our forces."
I was pleasantly amazed. I had always wished to travel the known lands from the stuffy confines of Jarime, and now I could travel and learn at the same time. It was a chance I had waited for all my life.
"As I will not be very interesting to be around." I realized The Artist was talking, and was swept out of my reverie. "I have arranged for you to travel with my brother as he leaves today for Porin, and from there you will meet The Seafarer," she told me. Apparently I did not have any choice in this matter anymore.
She smiled at me, seeming to read my thoughts, "You have every choice, young Corin," she told me, "But my knowledge of human minds tells me that you will choose to travel." She was completely right.