When Claudia had composed herself and the others were ready, the King of Thaumaturges stood at the other table head, across and far from Sallith.
“Let me first explain why we are here. If we are to defeat these mad elves and restore Mirek, we must work together and use all that we have.” His hood turned toward Claudia in that moment, making her flatten her feet on the wet stone.
“What’s your angle in this?” Claudia asked. “Didn’t Sallith say you provided that anti-magic metal to him and the elves?”
“Nimb Vard and Mirek are equally isolated and need each other. At first, I was merely interested in capturing the Fey, so rest assured I was never at risk of being true allies of the Ven Quari elves. They asked for skymetal arrows, and not very many. I did not see the connection.”
“It may shock you, Claudia,” Sallith said, “but I can look past my concerns with nonhumans in order to respect my neighbors. It doesn’t mean I trust all Thaumaturges around the world, but Wisp and I want the same thing.”
Claudia crossed her arms, and Wisp continued.
“What we are essentially dealing with is an elven cult who have taken their own holy figure hostage. The Fey is the creator of the elves, and so by broader definitions, is their god. It is a forever living being. However, the Fey is a lower creature before something much greater. The Ven Quari. They were meant to be secret, but somehow these elves know of them. They are able to go above their natural god and contact something with even more authority, disrupting the balance of power. This is why Glaradalle is seemingly coercing his own creator into obeying him.”
“You should explain,” Brinne said. “They think the cult itself is called the Ven Quari.”
“Ah yes, let’s correct that. What you call the Ven Quari are really a cult of elves who worship them. A better name for them would be the Ven Quari Elven Covenant.”
“Then what in the Seers is a Ven Quari?” Daliah asked.
“This may be hard for you to believe,” Wisp said, “But they are just that: Seers. They are the gods of this world and many others.”
“You’ve told me a little of this nonsense,” Sallith said.
“I’ll be direct with you. It is not nonsense. These elves may be murderous and conniving creatures that hold no place in the hearts of our true lords, but they worship those lords nonetheless.”
“You’re saying you have proof that the Seers exist?” Claudia asked. “That’s quite a claim, even for a Thaumaturge.”
“We made contact thousands of years ago. It was our greatest experiment and achievement.”
“You can talk to the Seers?” Daliah asked, turning her chair toward him. “I take it prayer doesn’t do the job.”
“Let me guess,” Sallith said. “That egg thing that Glaradelle was holding.”
“You are exactly right. That object is called a… Laxxar. Yes, that is the best way to say it in your tongue. And somehow, and I wish I knew how, but Glaradalle learned to make one.”
“What does it do?” the Mirekian King asked.
“Simply put, it calls forth the Ven Quari. The real Seers. Squeeze the laxxar and it bursts, causing the seed inside to vibrate all the way to the heavens in a song that calls them forth. Doing so, however, is risky,” he paused for the first time, his tone lowering. “The Ven Quari are not simple watchers the way our slovenly cultures came to describe them. Seers. A ludicrous word. They are actors, pivotal players in a game we could not possibly comprehend. To create a laxxar and break it, demanding their arrival, is to tempt fate.”
“So why was he threatening the Fey with it?” Brinne asked.
“The relationship between the Fey and the Ven Quari is one of the most mysterious things in this world,” Wisp said. “It is essentially the relationship between the oldest monster in the world and the highest of gods. Much could be learned from the Fey, if we made it talk. That is my main goal in capturing it. Sallith is more interested in its anatomy, and a way to separate its consumed captives. I want to know what it’s thinking, its history, the higher things.”
“Why not use a laxcar and ask the Seers directly?” Claudia asked with a raised eyebrow.
“The last time someone broke a laxxar was during the ancient Thaumaturge-Ozarian conflict. Our leader foolishly broke a laxxar to request assistance, for a speedier victory to help us dominate all non-magical life. As punishment for such a petty request, a quarter of our city was vaporized. It is my firm belief that had that not happened, our kind would be ruling all of Veminox right now.”
“Oh. Well… mistakes happen, am I right?”
“It is my guess that a similar consequence could befall the Fey, if Glaradalle breaks his laxxar,” Wisp said. “This means the Fey will do what he wants. And what he wants is for it to absorb the entire populace of Mirek. Likely to cause the Fey to produce more Chosen, though for what purpose, I do not yet know.”
“Glaradalle said something about resurrecting Latalla,” Sallith said. “Is that connected to what you mean?”
“Perhaps,” Wisp said. “The Ven Quari elves have beliefs they keep only among themselves. Glaradalle’s true objective is unclear, but his methods tell us enough to make plans.”
Claudia grew tense at the name of the god Reginald worshiped. She had thought nothing of it at the time, found it admirable at the most. Never would she have expected that Reginald had sacrificed himself for a real deity. Not to mention, it was never portrayed as a Fey, but as a kind human woman.
“What matters is that we stop him,” Sallith said. “We have a shapeshifter, one of the rarest and most powerful beings when trained properly. That has to count for something.”
“And how do you suppose we could work together on anything?” Claudia asked.
“Simple. I’ll give you a deal. Assist me in reclaiming the city and protecting my people, and I will renege the throne.”
Claudia stared at him. “You are not going to convince me with lies.”
“I haven’t lied, ever. I rose to power because it served as a shield for my boys. Clearly not a big enough shield. The only real solution is to pacify the threat once and for all. You want me gone and for your city to be safe. Let’s work together and pacify the elves.”
“Don’t think I don’t realize your role in all of this,” Claudia said. “Mirek was just waiting for a crazy Elven cult to swoop in and take over, when there are no casters or powerful demihumans to stop them.”
“Oh, is that so? Well, thanks for warning me beforehand.”
“Enough,” Daliah, hands shaking. “You mean it, Sallith?”
“Yes. My position as King was meant to protect others. Everything was. That’s all I need.”
“Take his word, honey,” Daliah said. “After all, you’re apparently no longer a mere woman to be betrayed or ignored. There will be real consequences for anyone who crosses you, from now on.”
Claudia turned to her mother and hugged her. In the moment, no one else existed.
The Nimb Vard throne room had no stone walls. Instead, it was a hemisphere of coiled tubes ranging from silver to copper in color, going all the way in a domed roof hundreds of paces high. At the very top was a glowing ball of fire, like the ones Rat had seen lining city walls, but fuzzier. He had been waiting here for an hour.
“Are you ready?” Wisp said from behind him, making him jump backward.
Wisp held out one arm, completely covered in cloth well beyond his hand. Rat cautiously put his hand out, and a swirling flask of liquid, as shiny as a thousand stars captured in a bottle, fell into his palm. He tucked it away.
Rat had requested this item ever since the Fey transported him here, as protection. Now he would use it in a different way than intended, but he kept his mind clean of that fact. The less Merrian could see, the better.
Across from them, a mirror appeared. It held a wavering image of a rising obsidian cavern, with sandstone steps. Without hesitation, Rat walked through, feeling the odd, bubble-like resistance of the image before it accepted him.
He relished the colder air here, but he could barely see. The portal must have inherently exposed what lay beyond better than his own eyes could. He fumbled his way up the steps, ears focused on the faint peaks of noise that were no doubt caused by a hectic battle to fill a leadership void.
If there was one thing Merrian couldn’t pick up, it was memories. Those were too abstract. Rat reminisced about Merrian, back when they were both barely adults and she had a lovely head of hair. He would need to remember, if he was going to go through with his impulsive plan.
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