The Leaders finally do something for Ivy to record.
As I hurried to catch up, Jim pulled a device of some sort from an inner pocket. It was a clear plastic box with a screen, holding a lump of plasticine festooned with random electronic components. He held down several buttons, and spoke into a hole on the side. “Call: Clarisa. Council. Five minutes. Policy.” Several lights flickered, the object beeped twice, and a bit fell off and landed in the bottom of the container. Jim shook it, and put the device back in his pocket.
Jim turned around, and waved for me to catch up with him. “We must continue. As for that? It is said, among the Isikyus, that none but a fool relies, for a vital task, on something beyond their understanding. I follow that advice.”
“I see.” I presume the Isikyus also said it more clearly.
* * *
Eventually, we stopped outside the room where I had been taken the day I was freed. Bartholomew ordered out some people involved in some sort of mock fight, and we started setting up folding chairs and tables that had been stacked against the walls.
After I had helped Bethany set up a particularly heavy and rickety wooden table, she led me to the back of the room and lifted a chair down from a stack. “Just sit here and take notes. I’m not sure what about; guess if you have to. Oh, and remember, this is strictly in camera.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“It means ‘in this room’; nothing said here should be repeated outside it.”
* * *
I was set up, with my notebook open, well before anyone else arrived. Clarisa came rushing in, wearing a stained lab coat, but ran off immediately with Bartholomew to get laptops. Then Jim’s robot stumped in and beeped at him until he pushed it over to
stand next to the door.
After that was a short Asonian woman, with a scruffy coat marked with shiny new embroidery in the Lanthean script. She carried a plush rabbit and a sewing kit in one hand. With a surprisingly formal bow, the woman announced herself as “Ursula Ratjede, at your service.”
Bethany had her sit down at one of the smaller tables, where she sewed up the rabbit while we waited.
There was also a man wearing a perfectly ordinary black suit and a mortarboard hat, but Bartholomew ran in and ordered him back out before he could do anything. After that, Clarisa returned in her usual blue-green dress, and the Leaders arranged themselves as they had for my ‘trial’. I almost felt as though I was watching my own trial from a different angle.
But then Jim banged his fist on the table, breaking the illusion. “Council is now in session. Ursula, we must request you explain the current state of the education system we have in place.”
“Basically, we don’t have one. A group of parents —” Ursula nodded to Jim and Bethany “— a group of parents are rotating the duty of looking after the children of the base, but we haven’t really had the skills or resources to do any actual teaching.”
“Why not?” Clarisa asked. “Haven’t you had one yourself?”
“Yes, but you forget a lot of it. Anyway, we’d still need workbooks and readers and everything. These were hard enough to get.” She indicated the damaged rabbit.
Clarisa snorted. “So? You know all the things you need to. Why do we need to teach them things we don’t need to know ourselves?”
“You know. Names of kings, history, that sort of thing.”
Clarisa opened her mouth, but Bethany spoke first. “Look, these things have a place in the curriculum, but this isn’t the time to discuss that. At this point, we’re just trying to get a general —”
The robot at the door beeped twice, the piercing noise making it hard to hear anything else. Then it announced “
“Not again!” Jim pulled on a heavy black glove, and tapped his fingers in some sort of pattern. The robot made the universal whirring noise of a computer shutting down, then stayed silent. Jim hit a button on his computer, and the door slid open.
Outside stood Siersi, wearing a resplendent robe of that horrible yellow, and the black-and-gold pendant I had seen in her office. She drew herself up as if to stride into the room, then had to clamber around the robot, which was blocking the doorway. Then she stood tall, and recited her speech. “I am here to remind you of your obligation to the cause of evil. One —”
“There is a protocol to be followed here, Siersi. Follow it,” Bartholomew ordered.
Siersi bowed and spoke with exaggerated formality. “My Lords, my Ladies. Permission to speak, if I may?”
Bartholomew nodded immediately. “Granted.”
Clarisa rolled her eyes. Siersi went on with her speech, now completely serious. “I am here to remind you — my Leaders — of your relationship with evil. One cannot simply do what one likes and then claim to be evil. Doing as you choose is no valid basis for any sort of principled life. Rather, we have to acknowledge that others in the world have the power to interfere with us, and to take their actions into account when deciding how best to gain power ourselves.”
Bartholomew fiddled with the braid on his uniform as he waited for her to pause. “Yes, Siersi. We remember that.”
“Good. What I need to remind you is that, just as you inhabit a world controlled by powers greater than yourselves, others see you as a force to be overcome. It is in your interests to have them appreciate the danger you present, or both you and they could be destroyed. In particular, the children you are proposing to educate must learn that you are not a force to be crossed.”
Clarisa drew an exasperated breath. “I don’t see why we have to subscribe to your — your doctrine of equally distributed villainy. When I worked for the Raethe, they knew how to keep people under control with education. You just don’t give them any, and they don’t realise they could be overthrowing you.”
Bethany looked up from her notes. “Siersi, you might have a point, but we’re not quite at the stage of writing curricula yet.”
“I won’t be dismissed that easily. A truly successful force of evil must act as a unit, which is achieved only when the members understand whom they should fear. This is something that has to be taught, or it is useless.”
Clarisa shook her head. “That isn’t the way it works. This is a waste of resources and effort. We have better uses for your time than frightening children, however evil it makes you feel.”
“This is not about how I feel. This is about the reasonable way to be successful in evil, Clarisa.”
Bethany hammered at her keyboard like she meant to kill it, but said nothing.
Clarisa replied slowly and carefully. “And the reasonable thing is not to listen to you. You were saying, Ursula?”
The Raralandra walked over to one of the walls of the room. “I will stay here until you recognise I have a point. Aielist Escrin. Genbeiar Uster Oeald. Salestari Am.” The spell appeared to turn the air around her a foggy white colour, as though I was looking through a partially tinted glass.
I let myself become invisible. If I recognised correctly, that was a yaeraeld, a ward to stop magical attacks, and I didn’t want to be in a fight.
Bartholomew confirmed my suspicions. “This is no time for battle, Siersi. We will listen to you, when we choose to do so.”
“I am not leaving until you listen!”
“You will leave something else, then.” Clarisa stood up and came far too close to Siersi, the whitened air drawing back from her like candle smoke from a waved hand. She was clearly standing close enough to be drawing life, but the other elf didn’t flinch.
“Clarisa, no!” Bethany shouted, “We don’t need to do it this way!”
Clarisa ignored her, and recited her own spell: “Hitiearil Samareae!” She took a step back, and swung her fist towards Siersi’s ear. Siersi remained perfectly still, and was vindicated when the hand stopped just short of her face.
I stopped holding my breath, and faded back into the visible world. Then I noticed Siersi’s skin. Instead of being as white as the walls, it was covered in green and purple bruises, which grew from tiny dots as I watched. The Raralandra stood tall for a moment longer, then slumped to the floor.
* * *
Bartholomew frantically gestured Clarisa away, and Bethany rushed over and knelt down next to the fallen elf. “She’s alive. Ratjede, get a medic or something. Run!”
Ursala dropped her sewing, untouched since Siersi entered, and ran off.
After a few very long moments, four guards came in with a stretcher. “She should be alright soon. That spell isn’t supposed to do permanent injury.” Nevertheless, they were slow and careful as they carried her body out.
Once the medics were gone, Clarisa meandered over to the fish-tank and collapsed against it, shaking. I could make out the odd word of her quiet sobs. “… again … rational … not the whole of life …” Jim walked over to her, but she flinched as he approached, and stared into the tank rather than look at him.
* * *
As the other Leaders clustered around to Clarisa, Bartholomew motioned me over to the door. “I think that’s probably it for the council today. You can go back to your office. But …”
“Next time, don’t turn invisible without permission. It doesn’t exactly help us trust you.”