Beyond the Void

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Lord Ilander Sool

Five moons and five tens since the Mark of the Other One blossomed.

Lord Ilander Sool sat in the office of his modest house. Despite the mess, everything was where it should have been. There was order in this chaotic flow. Documents and books were strewn about the room, the table and any surface that was large enough. He wondered if it was time to clean some of it up. He didn’t pay too much attention to the four bloodstones and three echoes on his desk.

“Lord Sool?” Galyn Vaer’s reddish form emanating from the bloodstone, asked cautiously. Ilander Sool hated this means of communication.
“Don’t worry about your flesh market. We need to cause some commotion, but it will go nowhere. Not yet. You have plenty of time to reinvest into other ventures.” He sighed.
“A lot of us still agree, that the slave trade is an essential part of not only the Empire’s economy, but this entire continent’s. It is not so simple to get rid of. There is nowhere else to put convicted criminals.”

“How many of those working in the flesh market are convicted criminals, Lord Vaer?” Sool shouted. “What kind of crime did a fifteen-year-old commit? Wander two steps too far from their front door? You are right that it will take a lot more to abolish the slave trade, but this idea will only set the grounds for future generations to ponder on. It does not have to be now. It is ridiculous to demand anything instantaneously. Results are achieved with time and patience.”

“There is no alternative to slavery! Without a cheap workforce, the prices of commodities will rise drastically. And what of the criminals? Where will we house them? Throw all the criminals into one facility and let them live and organise there?” The old man wheezed a grunt of contempt.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Who would bring all the criminals under one roof and just let them live there? Labour camps already exist, Lord Vaer. Those work fine. What you are worried about, is the flesh trade. That is not right. The women and the few men working there should be paid, at least. And not bound to owners.” Airik Roden sighed.

“Flesh markets have existed for...” Vaer began.
“Too long!” Ilander shouted. “The flesh markets do nothing to help bring crime under control. They only breed more of it. Most of the real criminals are too unruly to work in the flesh market. Instead, we get countless brigands who act as bounty hunters and kidnap people from remote villages. And from time to time those caught in the market are trained to be thieves.”
“The slave trade is a fully legalised business.” Vaer wheezed.

“Those laws have more holes in them than cheese.” Airik argued. “As for the criminals, that is also covered with this draft.”
“Don’t you feel that killing people outright is too inhumane? I apologise Lord Sool, but I must agree with Lord Vaer on this one. Just a little.” Lord Roden rumbled.
“Severe crimes deserve the appropriate punishment. However, that does not mean we will execute people left and right. We will be introducing a broader selection of punishments and adjusting punishments for more severe and more petty cases, father.”

“Ander. And Lord Vaer. Answer this. Isn’t subjecting people to years of torment and abuse inhumane? The extreme cases will only deepen their hatred if they are left alive.” Sool rumbled, each word louder than the previous.
Galyn Vaer wheezed several times in a row and grunted something unintelligible.
“For what your camp is demanding, most esteemed Lord Galyn Vaer, this is the compromise you have to agree to. These are our terms for organising the rule after the coup.” The old man’s visage winced at Ilander’s words.

“Your demands are barely an improvement on the lunatic prince’s!”
“With him, you get blood and void. Compared to that aren’t our proposals improvement enough? With us, the Grand Council remains untouched, mostly.” Ander Roden growled.

“Your threats hold true, Lord Vaer. Our ideas will upset many of the nobles. What we dream of will take time to build. If the nobility wants to retain their positions, then this is what they must give up. They will keep their money. That will guarantee them a healthy lifestyle.” Ilander was grinding his teeth. If he were in a better position, he would simply abolish the noble caste and take most of their money and lands.

“Then what guarantee is there, that their positions will not be further diminished in the future?” Vaer wheezed, clearly concerned.
“None! And yet, there is no reason to assume that someone is going to try. Not in a hundred years.” Sool barked. “And by that time, you and I will be long departed from this world as will be most of those who are alive now. These are our terms.”
“You did come to us, Lord Vaer.” Airik’s ghostly form reminded him.

“As if our camp had any choice in the matter. But I can sell them that. I can ease their doubts.” I know you can, you slippery eel, Sool growled in his mind. “But one last concern. Lady Auer. Should we not bring her camp into this? She would be willing to aid us.”
“Sonia the daft can do enough damage on her own. If I meddle directly, she will be a risk. You will keep your mouth shut!” Come on you old fart. Enough of you. Ilander Sool was in a bad mood because of Galyn Vaer.

“She admires you, Lord Sool.” Vaer was insistent.
“Admiration does not give her the ability to understand my desires. If we try to control every little piece, we will give our biggest sceptics weapons against us. We can’t please everyone.”
“Fine! We have a deal, Lord Sool. I will calm the nobility and the Grand Council will follow.” The figure of Galyn Vaer disappeared from the table. Ilander Sool pushed the bloodstone off the small nexus. He and his two ghostly companions sat in silence for a few moments yet.

“Thank the Makers he is old. He has to die any year now?” Ander sounded desperate.
“It seems, he intends to outlive everyone.” Ander’s son commented.
“And he will spend every year of his miserable existence in the Grand Council. That man wants to do all he can to be an annoyance. We need to make sure he retires soon. He is old enough to retire.” Breath escaped from Sool’s lungs.

“He was old enough to retire twenty years ago.” Ander said with a grim voice.
“He is a pebble. We can easily get rid of him.” Airik sounded sure. “He is the least of our problems.”
“Enough of a problem that we had to wait for him. If we had gone to him...” Ander began.
“Don’t you dare finish that thought!” Ilander Sool shouted.
“Quiet! The servants!” Ander suddenly stammered.

“I don’t have any. I can cook my own food for my family.” Ilander Sool was upset.
“Others of us don’t have the luxury of spending each night at home with their family. You can control your temper. It is not good for your health, Ilander.” Ander was scolding him and did not improve his mood.

“I am an old man. I do not have the time to prattle about topics of little consequence or walk on my toes. The brat prince did enough damage. We shouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place.” Sool’s voice filled his office.
“We won. The Prince is an idiot.” Airik’s figure smiled and looked content with everything.
“This year has proven that he is anything but an idiot. He is dangerous. He has no fear, the brat is simply lazy to check twice and be sure of his actions. That barely saved us from disaster.” Sool picked up a pencil and started playing with it.

“But this means, that soon all this will be over. The coup will happen.” Airik sighed in relief.
“Son, it’s only starting. We have need of you every step of the way. Don’t argue with me, you must help!” Airik’s father demanded. The boy seemed to ignore his father.
“But, are you sure, uncle Ilander? About the arcane arts? Do we really have to stop teaching new acolytes? We will cripple our armies.”

“Boy, have you listened to anything what I have been saying.” Airik wanted to say something, but Sool would not have it. “Under the rule of arcane the human kingdoms have been in stagnation and decline for thousands of years. Ever since our ancestors crossed the darkness. You can roll your eyes all you want, Airik. Those stories are not fairy tales of our past, they are the truth. When machine and mind controlled the world, our civilisation rose to the peak of existence. No one more advanced than us existed anywhere. Then, the coming of the next day and what lie beyond, was more important than some war that happened two thousand and a few hundred years ago or even eighty years ago. Those humans knew to look towards the future. Everything changed when our home world was swallowed by power and our ancestors were forced into this world.”

“Uncle, I do not mean to be rude, but you said you do not have time to prattle. A simple yes or no would have sufficed.” The boy grinned, although a reluctant look lie in his eyes.

“I am an angry man, Airik. I am upset and tired. I am old. If we want to build towards the future, then we need to change things drastically. We can’t take example from Keldin Ebonveil. This is the legacy I want to leave for the future generations. A courage to change. Our armies are still more battle tested than any of the others. We have fought enemies that aren’t human.”

“The arcane secrets hold solutions to your old age, Ilander.” Ander said with a grim voice. “There is no denying that. And you should take courage, that you aren’t ill, you are still only fifty-eight.”
“You are right, Ander. However, I despise arcane might more than I do my mortality. I can’t have it all. No one should be able to have it all.” Sool said with a disappointed voice.

“Have we any word from Jarral?” Sool said after sorting his thoughts for a moment.
“The Crux is ready. They know what they need to do.” Airik sighed. Sometimes it felt like the boy wanted as little to do with their cause as possible. The boy hated responsibility, Ilander knew.

“These foreign mages better be up to scratch. The faster we can secure the forts in the Ironcourt County, the better.” Ander growled. “The less we have to worry about the fringe areas. We expected the Prince to go after the army, but to create this mess? If anyone even thinks of attacking our borders, we will be up to our neck in shit.” Ilander listened to the husband of his sister. He knew how upset Ander had been when the news of the maddening reassignments had reached him.

“Changing the subject. The Alyar thinks she has an answer for our problem with Furos. She insists on going after the Archmage too.” Airik bit his lip.
“The Crux has not been of any help here.” Sool commented. “We have no choice. I was about to tell you to ask her.”
“Can we really hope to kill that man?” Ander sounded doubtful.
“We cannot allow the brat to take the throne. We will have lost then. If the people celebrate him, then it is over. The riots will fade and order will stabilise. Everyone will fall back into the same old path they have followed for a thousand years. We have no choice, but to leave this one gamble.”

Saying those words, Ilander Sool felt hollow inside. Having to resort to this smelled of desperation. Was he rushing? But all of this was for a just cause. It was not about him winning or losing. It was about the commons.
“I have to ask. What exactly is going to happen?” Airik sounded nervous.
“Leave it to Orion and his fanatics. A riot is all we need.”
“I have to voice my concerns here, once again, uncle.”

“The fanatics will be wiped out. There’s a reason we let them bring three legions into the city.”
“Orion will not be happy after what was promised to him.” Airik wouldn’t let up.
“Son, you are right to be worried, but we are prepared.” Ander said.
“Your father is right. Orion will not live much longer. Neither did I promise him anything.” Sool smiled. His mood was improving.

“You mean to say, you lied.”
“Boy, the first heir should learn to lie. Instead, he broke his promise to the commons when he failed to discipline the unhappy nobles. And he alienated the nobles by making them choose between radical changes with the return of blood and void or our, more reasonable approach to changes. The nobles are worried because the city is rioting, and they are losing their place. The commons are unhappy because the first heir turned his back on them. Lies are necessary for the cause. Cults have no place in our vision. Once the riots have been quelled, those few who still yearn for the ways of the old empire will fall silent.”

It may have been the effect of the bloodstone. But the distorted figure of Airik looked tired. “I will leave you two now. Father, uncle. I have to talk with the Pelesi Princess and princes. The hostage’s aunt is still reluctant.”

Before Ilander Sool could reassure the boy, his figure was gone.
“It’s happening Ilander. We are right to carry through with it. Once the nobles fall in line, we have a chance to create something new for the commons.”
“For the commons. For something new.” Sool pushed all the bloodstones off the nexus.

“Am I not interrupting?” His wife’s voice came from the open door soon.
“It is done, Cassia.” He said with a sigh of relief. “After decades of work, we will have a chance to create a nation run by its people. Not blood and ancient promises.”
“I worry what will come of this. But I will stand by you no matter what.”
“Victory. There is nothing else that can come of it. And no matter what, I will keep you and Duran safe.”

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