The basement of Galactic Manor retained that musty dungeon smell. Spiders hid in corners and lived out their lives in their strong, sticky works of art. The stone steps had felt many generations of feet stepping on them and even had slight indentations as proof of this. Electric lights powered by solar energy from the outdoor grid were glimmering and making the stairway less scary. Appropriate enough, since enlightenment was happening at the foot of these steps.
On the walls were certificates and other honors. These were awarded from medical colleges and hospitals for past achievements and discoveries in the healing arts. Placed in the same general area were awards revolving around politics and international relations, several of them containing the word “peace” or “advancement.” These honorable framed papers were made official by their golden seals and fancy fonts. Also decorating the stone wall were pictures of comforting things such as watercolor flowers and sleeping kittens, anything to make it homier.
Prince Ablias sat at his wooden table in front of a cauldron bubbling with pink liquid. A light pink fog floated away and dissipated from its restless surface, waving like hair in the wind. His large, bony hands held a dropper containing neon green liquid. Many years of experience had entered the doorways that were his blue eyes, which were currently covered with protective goggles. His curly beard reached down to his chest and was never properly combed. His black hair had long ago spilled out, even the grey was gone. Now, he had the pure white of age coming out of his follicles. Although he did not want to admit it, he insisted on wearing his pointed hat more often, even during situations like this, in order to hide his slowly-receding hairline.
His desk was cluttered with satchels and boxes of vegetarian and vegan-friendly potion ingredients. All the while, he made sure not to disturb the pickled meteorgon egg floating in the oversized jar, which had been watching his remedy craft for the past ninety-five years.
“Easy… easy…” he said with his comforting voice. One drop fell into the pink broth and swirled away to become one with it. This specific recipe, a potion for the treatment of warts, called for two drops. His concentration was of utmost importance, which was why he picked a time when he would be the least likely to be interrupted.
…or so he thought.
“Ablias, get up here!” shouted an even older voice from atop the stairs.
Thankfully, the drop that was about to separate itself from the dropper retreated upward. Ablias figured that this process would not take long, so he ignored this call.
“Boy, do you have candle wax in your ear canals? I said get up here!”
From hearing the voice a second time, Ablias accidentally squeezed the dropper harder than he wanted and let loose a stream of green liquid. This resulted in an explosion of smoke hitting his face and a cascade of pink liquid spilling over the sides of the cauldron. His waved his hand in front of his face and coughed. He hastily moved the clutter out of the way of the encroaching liquid, which had no doubt ruined the wooden table.
“This better be urgent,” he muttered to himself.
Upstairs in the Council Room, five people were sitting at the table. The first two were faces that were familiar from Ablias’ younger years, Oswald the velosis and Ludwig the walron. Oswald did not quite match the fearsome portrayal of the velociraptor anymore; his feathers had turned a smoky gray and liver spots had formed on his muzzle and cheeks. His eyes, while still feline and ghoulish, were also weary. He had lost a number of his sharp teeth but at this point in his life, he preferred to rip apart arguments rather than defenseless prey. All those added wrinkles aside, Ludwig aged quite well and even had a longer beard and tusks to show for it. He still looked like he was about to break the chair at any minute with his amazing girth.
Two new members had been added to the Council since Ablias’ youth, which was quite an achievement since progress in this area was slow for unknown reasons. The first was Brenna, a human with light skin and black hair that bordered on grey the closer she got to fifty. She wore proudly her witch’s hat, which was purple, plush and brimming with lace. Next to her was Calliope, a unitiri woman with green hair and a layered cloak. She had a necklace with a pendent shaped like a musical note. She was the youngest of the bunch, making this apparent with her bright hazel eyes that twinkled when viewed at the correct angle.
Grand Sorcerer Paul lumbered into the room with the help of his wooden cane. His legs buckled as he walked. The amount of time it took for him to walk from the top of the basement stairs to the conference room was longer than the amount of time it took for Ablias to walk up those stairs and grab a seat in that same room.
Paul cleared his throat and snorted a little right before taking his glamorous seat upholstered with red velvet. His face was worn and his cheeks sagged under the weight of his many years. His hair, although still in a field of spikes, was completely white. The front part of his beard was still in braids, which were held together with bits of blue plastic. His hands shook as he opened his large book to the place where he had placed the fabric marker. Despite his weakening strength, he still had it in him to write quite elegantly.
“Greetings, fellow elders,” he said, “I have gathered all of you for our usual meeting but there are also pressing matters at hand. I have been reading up on the latest news from the other nations as well as conversing with their diplomats. The doxios and renars have been blowing each other up. Unas has been having a so-called “witchy menace.” Cats have begun standing erect and talking!”
“Father, did that last point have any grounds in reality?” asked Ablias, still feeling the itch of impatience from his interrupted experiments.
“No, it did not. But I’m sure an evil wizard would make that happen if this Outer Universe keeps swirling out of control. The gods simply think of this as shenanigans but to us smaller beings, it is something of utmost seriousness. I’ve been doing some thinking on this issue and I have been considering reviving our army’s place as the peacekeepers of the Outer Universe.”
There was a moment of silence to take in this important opinion.
“Really, father?” asked Ablias, “When our army were the designated Peacekeepers, we were doing nothing more than policing the galaxy.”
“And what is so wrong with policing?”
“We teach our children of the good things that the Vitalian Army has done during the 9000’s AU but in some cases – nay, in many cases – we had become as tyrannical as the leaders that we were trying to pacify. It would be best to mind our own business and let them deal with their problems.”
“Son, you’re supposed to be a doctor. If anything, I would assume that you would want to cure the disease of oppression and greed that Vitalia had long since gotten rid of.”
“Things like oppression and greed can be cured with education and understanding, Father. Our educational system is the reason why we have a good quality of life. Nowhere in our history have we ever had a police state.”
“Ablias,” said Ludwig, “Watch the news once in a while.”
“I do, thank you very much.”
“Can you honestly say that those fired-up people could sit still enough to read some books?”
“Unless we cast a spell on them to make them sit still,” said Brenna, “Or I could simply amplify my voice to make them quiet down. Works for the grandkids.”
“Doing that for your grandchildren is one thing but doing it on a large scale like that would be just as bad as using force,” said Ablias.
“Son, you can live in your kindness and understanding wonderland all you want but the diplomats I’ve spoken to agree with me on the idea of resurrecting the Peacekeepers. All our army is doing these days is fighting monsters and playing war games.”
“It’s about time those kids got into geopolitics,” said Ludwig.
“Geopolitics with weapons!” interjected Oswald excitingly.
“This is why I am thinking about which government program to cut in order to fund our army,” said Paul, “I’ve been thinking that The Department of Health will have to make some sacrifices.”
Brenna, Calliope and Ablias looked at each other. Brenna bit her bottom lip. Calliope scratched her arm and shifted her cheeks upward in uncertainty. Ablias did not react outwardly but still had some choice things to say.
“You’re… cutting… the funding to the nation’s healthcare?” asked Ablias. By now, he was standing up with the palms of his hand pressed into the table. He could not stand the idea of his life’s purpose to be compromised.
“Now, Son…” said Paul.
“Don’t you ‘now Son’ me, father! You’re honestly making the suggestion to siphon off well-divided money from an honorable institution in order to fund an army mission that could put a detriment to our international relations? Have you been drinking, old man?”
“Old man?” asked Oswald. He put his claw in front of his jaw pretending that he had some sort of communication device. “Pot, this is kettle. I’ve called to make the accusation that you’re black!”
“Ablias, Ablias,” Paul held out his hands to calm the tension in the room. “First of all, I’ve only had two shots of whisky this morning. Secondly, you’re the one who’re referring to it as ‘siphoning.’ Why can’t you see this as sacrifice? Sacrifice is noble and honorable. It lets people know that we would give up anything to make sure that their quality of life is protected. Lots of war had to happen in order for this nation to exist. World affairs bleed into each other. If we simply sit around and do nothing, things could get much worse.”
Ablias looked at the people sitting at the table. They were sitting quietly like children who had been mercilessly scolded. He still had his palms planted into the table like a madman.
“Ablias, you may think it is none of our business what goes on in the Outer Universe, but think of it from the perspective of a neighborhood minder wizard. If a woman in the neighborhood has a husband that is constantly beating and neglecting her, wouldn’t it be ethical to talk to her and possibly to the man abusing her? Can’t you think of our nation as a minder wizard?”
“Well… minder wizards and witches also open their homes to people in the neighborhood who are in need. And we’ve been doing that for immigrants for many generations now.”
“Immigration is good but it is not a miracle cure for this situation. Sometimes the best thing to do is to solve problems where they are actually happening instead of having the people run away from their homelands.”
Ablias sighed. “I believe it is going to take me quite some time to come to a decision on this, possibly by tomorrow. I will have had my walk on the beach by then.”
“Let’s just leave this on the back burner for now. Son, you can have your little sentimental walk on the beach but only after we talk about some other pressing matters first. Let’s see…” Paul looked down at his meeting agenda. “Now, let’s talk about the matter of what color we should make the carpeting in Guest Bedroom #23…”
“Blue,” said everyone in unison.
“Good. Glad we all agree on something for once. Now, on to point three…”
Later on, Ablias hopped off his jumbo gryphon Lennox and onto the puffy nebuland in deep space that housed the doorways that lead to the different areas of the nation of Unas. The man could not get himself to look anywhere but the ground, not that this prevented him finding the inter-dimensional skeleton key that unlocked one of the doors. The door that he approached had on it a lovely turbulent blue with an orange sky above it. Two upside-down U’s that represented a shore bird were drawn into the molten orange.
Once he opened the door, he stepped onto the pearly-white sand and sunk several inches in. Once he closed the door, he kicked off his glimmering wizard boots and cast a magical spell to make them disappear temporarily. He felt the granular massage on his withered, callused feet with each step. The sounds of the waves roared and splashed before receding calmly. Alpha World’s sun, Leyaggis, was more than halfway through his ascent across the sky and well on his way to making the sky look like its artistic portrayal on the dimensional door. As Ablias walked, his beard whisked away from his face. There was a strong smell of salt, an ancient smell. Far ahead of him was even more beach, which did not so much stretch out as it did wobble along the water, with each half kilometer in perfect view from where Ablias was. Despite his age, his knees were in good condition and he felt like walking fifty miles if he could, as long as it was at a slow pace.
Ablias eventually came to a series of cliffs sitting beside the beach with a crevice that opened up near the bottom. He walked through the crevice and onto the path, where he and many other people had treaded before. Once he stepped onto the path, the ground stopped being soft and sandy and started becoming more accommodating to the feet. As the old man stepped, he saw darkness around him for a few feet. But then, an amazing flurry of sparkles and colors came raining down by way of the cavern sides. As Ablias kept walking, the colors kept enshrouding him and bathing him in beauty even if it was just an illusion. This faux aurora was the result of the many colors of quartz that the Lalax Cliffs were known for.
He came into the clearing where the crevice widened. The space made it look like the geological forces had purposefully moved the series of cliffs so that something could be showcased. As a matter of fact, this was the case. A line of pilgrims of all races – humans, plomolas, veloses, walrons, molcues, rennars, doxios, urchins and unitiris – were lined up under the orange sky. They wore all manners of jackets and cloaks to shield themselves from the powerful winds in case they had to wait terribly long.
“What a surprise,” said Ablias, “A line as usual.”
He was not actually as grumpy as he made himself out to be. The way he saw it, waiting in line simply meant spending more time feeling the rocky, dusty land under his bare feet. Whenever he was in this situation, he would automatically ground himself even if he was not planning on casting a spell anytime soon.
He already had a sufficient amount of energy from centering that morning, so he could afford to give some back. He balanced his body evenly on his two feet and breathed in an even breath. As he breathed out, he focused on the bottoms of his feet. He started feeling his feet suction themselves to ground. As he concentrated his energy, he mentally sent it through his feet in root-like lines. As he did this, he was causing himself to grow in ways that the people around him could not see. He felt his energy trickling through the nutrients and rocks. He felt much older than he was but it was not a painful, creaky old like people would assume from hearing that word. It was a type of old that was aware of everybody, literally every body: the people, the animals, the trees, the lakes, the oceans, the rocks. It was the type of old that was gargantuan and slow but perfectly willing to live many more years to come. It was Alpha World.
“Hey, buddy,” said a molcue. The one-foot-tall man with a tomato for a head tugged at Ablias’ pant leg, “Do you mind moving along, here?”
Ablias noticed a considerable gap between himself and the person in front of him. While he was grounded, he found it quite difficult to move his feet once more. He imagined his energy veins rapidly rolling back into his body like a roll of measuring tape. He then lifted each foot off the ground with no difficulty while resuming his place in line.
Ablias eventually approached the attraction. A series of rectangular rocks, not quite as pointy as standard rectangles, were standing on their sides in a circle. These were made of a mineral called cerebrium and were massive examples, towering over the tallest animals one can think of. They stood in a circle leaving large gaps between each one. The two at the front were facing sideways with another rock placed atop that connected them. It was a mystical doorway that marked the series of rocks as a distinctive place that fused nature with spirituality. Indeed, many visitors from Vitalia and elsewhere would argue that nature was spirituality. The bottoms of the rocks were glowing firey red or cool blue as the people were touching them.
Ablias entered the area. Once he stepped through the invisible threshold, he no longer felt the chill of the ocean breeze. Now, he felt warmth. There was spiritual energy concentrated inside this circle. Long, long ago, somebody had drawn the circle to make the shape in which the rocks would stand and never released it, not that he intended to. There were voices around him asking questions that carried some amount of importance and uncertainty. Each person spent very little time at their respective monoliths. When they were done asking their questions, they left quietly.
The third monolith had nobody standing in front of it. Ablias chose this one.
“Great Wislith of the Lalax Cliffs,” he began, “I have approached you to ask another question. Do you think the Vitalian government should cut healthcare spending in order to fund the army?” Ablias touched the rock with his entire hand, making sure to press hard into the cold cerebrium. He paid good attention to which color was about to creep from the outline.
The area around his hand glowed red. The answer was no.
Ablias was relieved to see that the Wislith agreed with him. Now, he was off to meditate on why it agreed with him. He left the sacred space to find a quiet spot.
When the old man left the Wisliths, he entered another crevice where the rainbow colors of the lalax quartz surrounded him once more. He left out of a different path than whence he arrived. This one led to a series of craggy rocks that exposed themselves through the sand to a certain extent. They had been rounded by the beach winds but this did not make them any less troublesome. He watched his step as he went down the sandy hill so that he would not trip over anything.
He looked out to the lone rock where he usually meditated after being given a divine answer. For the first time in a while, it was occupied. The silhouette there was of a man kneeling on his knee and holding something. His cloak blew in the wind toward the ocean, flapping like a flag.
As Ablias walked closer, he saw more details of the man: he looked to be in his early sixties or so with a beard that came down not full and thick but in raggedy strands. His cloak’s mousey brown color made it look like it was stitched from potato sacks, although Ablias was not close enough to touch it to see if this was the case. His brown eyes were tired, not just because it was the end of the day but because they had seen so many emotionally exhausting things. He clearly hadn’t smiled in days and the ocean was not doing anything to improve his mood.
“Good evening, good sir,” said Ablias. He stepped onto the large, flat rock overlooking the sea, not minding that someone was taking his place. He did not care to claim it, though. Places like this in nature were rightfully unclaimed and this made him satisfied.
“Good evening, Your Highness,” said the man. That was the good thing about being royalty; you did not have to tell anybody your name.
There were two cans next to the man. The first had a picture of a steaming mug and the words “Brigadier’s Choice Coffee.” The second had a picture of a brown, crunchy snack with the words “Crazy Kerzantite’s Corn Nuts.” Ablias knew this since he had knowledge of the Sardon language for quite some time now. The man picked up the first can, the coffee one, and opened the lid. As the wind blew toward the ocean, black dust flew out of the can and dissipated over the water. The man tipped the can forward until all the blackness was gone. Once he set the first can down, he opened up the second can and did the same thing. The black dust had become one with the air, floating to places that man could not reach or fathom.
“The evening sea breeze has knowledge of the land and this becomes the ocean’s secrets,” said the man.
“That is true,” said Ablias. “If I may ask… what were inside those cans?”
“My wife and daughter.”
And to think that Ablias was nearly going to call out the man for littering. He would have watched on with more respect if he had known better. At least he could respect the dead people now as well as empathize with the man. “Are you comfortable in telling me how they passed on? I am only curious since they seem to have died at the same time.”
“It’s that brain-eating parasite that’s been going around. Breccia and Minette were trying to defy the corporate powers that be by bathing in the lake instead of making our water bill costlier. That, and they figured that it was cheaper.”
“I’m really sorry for your loss,” said Ablias. He felt a tingling in his chest, a weakness. “I know all too well what it is like to lose more than one family member at once.”
“That’s very sapient of you, Your Highness. You’re being nice to me even though you don’t know who I am.” The man used the other definition of the word sapient, meaning kind and civilized.
“Well, people everywhere depend on me to hold up the values of the nation and to concentrate the resources into all the right places. Also, I would know who you are if you told me your name.”
“The name’s Arkose. Born and bred wizard.”
“Well, Arkose, I cannot help but notice that your wife and daughter’s remains were kept inside food packaging.”
“If you think I could afford those fancy urns that the uppity elite have, you’d be mistaken. I’m a healing wizard, not a material wizard.”
“Did you try any healing spells on your wife and daughter?”
“Alas, parasites are beyond my level of expertise.”
Ablias thought, well, he could have at least tried to help them. This was something that Brenna surely would have said out loud but Ablias was respectful enough to keep to himself. Even then, he was already using his words to peel every layer from this man and finally, he was getting to the core of who this man was. “I take it you’re from Sardonica?”
“How did you guess, Your Highness?” Arkose wore his Sardon identity with a badge of shame.
“This talk of corporate powers and elites… just a guess.”
The two men stared at the ocean, which was a bit calmer than earlier. A seagull squealed.
“Say… you don’t think I could ask you a favor?” asked Arkose.
“What kind of favor?” asked Ablias.
“A small one. A small, important one.”
Ablias did not know this man just moments ago but was compelled to assist him in his daily struggle. “What would you like?”
“When Breccia and Minette died, they left behind their pets. I only have enough food to last them a short time. If it is at all possible… would you make me a growth serum so that the food would last longer?”
“All you would be doing is prolonging the problem so that you would have to deal with it in the future rather than right now.”
“I’m a little desperate right now in case my demeanor didn’t give off that impression.” Indeed, the man seemed eerily calm.
“You’re a man in need and since I’m one of the more privileged ones, I will be happy to help. Here, let me just transport a vial of growth serum from my lab that I’ve just brewed up…”
“Really? You’re willing to help a man who comes from a nation full of people that hate your guts?”
“You’re a fellow wizard. You can’t possibly hate me that much.” Ablias held out his left hand and made a swirling motion with his wand. He imagined the vial of serum – its olive color, its ingredients and the rainbow, swirly, shell-like vial – and used his magic to make it appear in a puff of smoke. He handed the vial to Arkose, who looked at it while turning it with his thumb and forefinger. “Just one drop is all it takes.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. I will certainly remember you for this.”
“You’re very welcome. I wish you luck in your coming days.”
“Well, there ain’t enough luck for everybody. That’s how the system is. If you want I can give you my wirevox number.”
“Ah, yes. You Sardons don’t use ravens, do you?”
“Nope.” Slate took out a piece of paper and pencil and wrote down a string of numbers. He gave it to Ablias, who was impressed that a man so destitute could have such eligible handwriting. This was made even more amazing since, as a doctor, he knew that even the wisest of the healers had terrible penmanship.
The two men looked out at the ocean, which was a bit calmer than earlier. A seagull squealed once more. Ablias was not sure but he may have made a friend.
The Second Day of the Flair Moon
The elders were gathered at the round table once again for an addendum to this week’s meeting. Paul was sitting at his grandiose seat once again waiting for his son to ascend from the basement.
“We wouldn’t be holding this meeting if it weren’t for Ablias not being able to make up his mind,” said Ludwig, “I have other things to do today.”
“Oh, Luddy,” said Brenna, “You’re back with your work buddies. You like being with your work buddies, don’t you?”
Ablias arrived at his usual seat and sat down, knowing exactly what the members were going to ask him. He was also prepared for the onslaught of disapproval that he would surely receive. But it was not like anyone had to wear armor when making arguments.
“Merry meet, everyone,” started Paul, “We have gathered here today to hear Ablias’ views on my proposal to divert funds from the Health Department to the Defense Department.”
“We know that,” said Ludwig.
“Son, what say you?”
Ablias cleared his voice before he began.
“Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday I took a walk to the Wisliths to ask their opinion on the matter. The wisliths agreed with me in that funds should not be diverted from healthcare to support future violent confrontation.”
“A rock, something that normally can’t speak for itself, agreed with him,” said Oswald. “Big surprise.”
“Oswald, I keep telling you, The Wisliths are different. Anyway, I was going to go to a quiet space to go meditate on the rock’s decision and why it arrived at it until I came across a man on the beach. This poor man came from the infamous Lowly Zones of Sardonica to set free the ashes of his wife and daughter, who had died from a nasty brain parasite that had been thriving in the warm waters. I helped this poor man with his survival by giving him growth serum so that the food for himself and his pets could last longer.”
“Lowly Ones have been known to eat canned dog food,” said Oswald.
“Enough of the Peanut Gallery, Oswald. So the point I’m trying to make is that I did not need to meditate on the Wislith’s decision that day, for the exchange with that man was all that was needed to reaffirm my reasoning. In Sardonica, not enough funds are diverted for the wellbeing of their underclass and this has caused disease and crime rates to soar. If it were not for their army being more funded than any other government institution, as well as their citizens’ incredibly low opinion of government social programs, his wife and daughter would still be with us.”
“Your highness, in all fairness, his daughter probably would have become a prostitute,” said Oswald.
“Ozzy, do you really think that matters right now?” asked Brenna.
“Luddy? Ozzy? What is it with you women and cute nicknames?”
Brenna stood up and pointed at the velociraptor man. “Call me ‘you woman’ again to my face you toothless miser!”
“Stop!” shouted Ablias, “Stop this now! I’m not even finished with my proposal yet! Can’t you people act like patient adults for a few second?!” Ablias, although he was still a prince, felt more authoritative with each passing day. He could make the populace tremble, that is, if he wanted to. “My proposal is to leave the health budget alone and have the public vote on a tax that will fund the army to go along with the current budget.”
“Taxes? That’s your solution?!” asked Ludwig in his gruffest voice, “Next thing you know you’ll be taxing the steps I take and my morning coffee and my big, thick tail and the big tusks that have taken me years to grow!”
“Yes, Ludwig, I said the t-word. Get over it. The public is not that hung up over paying a few extra dollars in taxes.”
“What about that embezzlement scandal in the Education Department three years ago?” asked Calliope as she held up her hand partially.
“Calliope, do you really think that one scandal is going to sway people from voting on another tax?” asked Brenna, “The public typically don’t hold grudges for that long. Just wait for the next scandal to come and they will forget all about it.”
“Yes, but we cannot wait that long,” said Paul, “We need a decision now. It is about time that our army protected and served the Outer Universe like it once did.”
“So what do we think of my suggestion of implementing a tax to fund the military instead?”
The other people at the table sat in silence until Brenna spoke up again.
“I say it’s worth a shot,” she said, “Politicians are so intent on public image that we simply don’t try things just for the hell of it. If we leave it up to the public to vote, the worst that can happen is that they would vote ‘no.’”
“Son,” said Paul, “I may disagree with you but I am willing to meet you in the middle with this proposal.”
“Well, Father,” said Ablias, “That’s all well and good but this would depend on whether or not the public would want the army to expand in the first place.”
“I will address this in my weekly knowlegram address. I think I have the arguments that will convince the public that the Outer Universe needs us now just as much as they ever did. All who are all right with this, say ‘I.’”
“I,” said all five in unison.
Nobody said anything.
“Then it is settled. We will have the public vote on the tax increase and the funding for the Health Department will stay where it is. Are you happy now, son?”
“Erm… yes,” said Ablias, “I am quite content.” Ablias sunk into his chair and simply pretended not to be there for the rest of the meeting. When, oh when, was his father going to acknowledge that there are other ways of fighting off enemies? Why couldn’t he send teachers and philosophers instead of soldiers? At least he had time to think about these things before he would become Grand Sorcerer. If only it were to happen that soon.