Almar kept a steady pace as he made his way through the city. He could see his destination in the distance, its high glimmering towers poking up through the trees that grew throughout the city; another five minutes and he would be at the Hall of the High Council.
Though a full Council meeting wasn’t unheard of, this was the first time in many years, the first time since his promotion to head of the second level of the Council, that all twelve of them would be in the same room. Almar had a fairly good idea of what this meeting was going to be about; being in charge of the second level Council allowed him access to information to which others were not privy. There had been undercurrents in the city, and the wider international community even, for some time now, and there was only so long that the Council could ignore them before at least discussing the matter.
As Almar approached the steps to the Hall of the High Council he saw the head of the lower Council standing outside, apparently waiting for someone.
“Elmon,” Almar greeted. “I thought you would have already been inside, as the meeting is going to be starting soon,” Almar said as he came to stand in front of his fellow Council member.
“I am waiting for Alais; she is currently dealing with a small problem and is running later than expected,” Elmon explained.
“Arnaldo will not be pleased,” Almar told him with a concerned frown.
“Arnaldo is never pleased,” Elmon pointed out bluntly. Almar half shrugged, having to concede that Arnaldo truly was a seriously and often miserable man the majority of the time.
“Surely Alais understands the importance of this meeting,” Almar said, trying not to reprimand Elmon for not keeping better track of his subordinate. However, from the look of annoyance that Elmon was now giving him, it had obviously come across that way.
“You should get inside, wouldn’t want you to be late for this important meeting,” Elmon said turning his attention back out toward the street. Almar felt as if he should say more, after all Alais was his sister and he knew better than anyone how she could be; however, he said nothing else, giving Elmon a single nod of his head before going inside. If Alais was late, it was Elmon’s problem, and he would have to be the one to deal with Arnaldo. The only help Almar could offer was a silent prayer to the Gods that his sister managed to get here on time.
Almar made his way towards the largest of the Council Chambers, the one reserved for the use of the four Elders. He had been there before, but the impressive room still stunned him a little as he entered, light filtering through the glass-like walls, and showing off the high sheen of the rich, dark wood of the floor.
He was unsurprised to see that, other than Elmon and Alais, everyone else was already there, many of them taking their seats at the U-shaped table, which had the appearance of having flexed itself up from the floorboards beneath their feet. They all had their assigned position, part of the long traditions that were upheld in this building; the elders led from the middle section, with the Secondaries off to their right, the Lowers to the left.
The Head of the Council, Arnaldo, was already sat in his chair, and Almar’s eyes were unwillingly drawn to its sheer size and domineering presence; the chair was formed from a tree, one that was still growing, coming up through the floor from the levels below and disappearing up towards the sky, its crown offering a small degree of shade from the mid-day sun.
“Almar,” one of his subordinates, Rania, called out, drawing his attention, and Almar headed across the room towards her.
“Rania,” he greeted once he was close enough that he wouldn’t have to raise his voice to be heard. “Glad to see that the three of you could be here on time,” he added, glancing past her to where Farai and Cellica were talking quietly to each other.
“Hmmm,” Rania hummed, glancing over at where Elmon and Alais were supposed to be seated. “I had noticed that your little sister was missing. I had assumed she would show with you, but I can only assume that Elmon has gone to find her.”
“He is waiting outside for her,” Almar informed her, “And before you ask, I have no idea what she is busy doing this time.” Almar resisted the urge to sigh. Their parents had been delighted by the idea of having both of their children on the Council, and Almar had been mightily impressed by how Alais was coping with the pressure of the job, but most of the Council was less endeared by her rather unorthodox way of handling things.
“She may have finished her work early, and got distracted on the way over here,” Rania suggested, patting Almar on the arm as the two of them headed over to take their seats..
“That is less helpful than you may think,” Almar said, his brow furrowing, and Rania smiled at him.
“I never said I was trying to be helpful, sir,” she said with deliberate politeness, “Merely stating possible facts.”
Almar wished he could argue with her, but knew that Rania was correct. It was quite likely that Alais had got distracted, most likely having spotted someone in need; it was something that had happened on more than one occasion. Almar just hoped that that wasn’t the case today.
The door to the Council room opened and Almar looked around to see Elmon strolling in, but Alais was nowhere in sight. He raised an eyebrow in question at Elmon, who shook his head in reply to the unasked question. Resisting the urge to sigh out loud, Almar watched the door for a moment longer wondering how much longer his sister would be on the Council if she showed up late for this meeting.
“It seems as if your sister has deemed it unimportant to join us today,” the familiar voice of the High Council member Tinasia said from behind him. Almar kept a neutral look on his face as he turned to face her. Elegant and graceful were always the first two words that came to mind when he saw Tinasia. However, Almar also knew that no one made it onto the High Council easily, and while Tinasia was beautiful, she could also be a deadly foe if angered.
“Tinasia, I believe you are once again confusing me with Elmon,” Almar said politely. “While Alais is my sister, Elmon is her superior and any questions regarding Alais’ work priorities should be taken up with him,” Almar pointed out, clearly dismissing the conversation that Tinasia was trying to start.
“You do not seem worried that her failure today will not only cast a shadow on you and your position in the Council, but it will also bring shame to your family name,” Tinasia said, and Almar narrowed his eyes slightly.
“Anything that my sister does or does not do is on her own head,” Almar stated simply, ready to end this conversation and walk away, however, that choice was taken from him when the whole room suddenly went silent.
They all glanced in the direction of Arnaldo; the High Council Leader hadn’t moved at all from his chair, in fact the only thing that had changed was that the eldest Council member was now holding a small stone in his hand. The Surdus stone. It had been this tiny thing that had caused the room to go unnaturally silent. Even the sound of breathing or the footsteps on the floor could not be heard as all the other members of the Council made their way to their appointed seats.
The Surdus stone looked like any ordinary stone that you would find in a lake or river, the surface of it having been rubbed smooth over time. However, just by holding the Surdus in your hand, it was easy to tell that this was no ordinary stone; it had not been water and sand that had rubbed the surface smooth, but time and magic. Every High Council Leader had held that stone, each one putting a little bit of their own magic into the stone each time they used it.
In truth there were many objects like this throughout the city, and while someone who did not live there might find it amazing, or think there was some hidden purpose for such an object, the only use for the Surdus stone was simply to cancel out any and all sound, except that made by the person holding it.
Arnaldo tapped the stone once on the arm of his chair and, although no one spoke, Almar knew that sound had been returned to the room for the simple fact that he could hear his own breathing again.
Everyone had their attention on Arnaldo, waiting for him to declare the meeting had started. It was, however, at that moment that Alais decided to make her dramatic entrance. The sound of the of the doors swinging open drew all their attention, and they all turned towards her as she burst into the room, clearly out of breath. Almar was sure that she must have ran the whole way there from wherever she had been.
“Sorry,” she said looking around at everyone, who were all staring at her expectantly. “There was this old merchant… then a bird with a broken wing... and when I was nearly here, I realised that I wasn’t wearing my Council Robes...” she began explaining with a smile, whilst still trying to catch her breath.
“Alais,” Elmon interrupted, stopping any further explanations from her. “You are here just in time for the start of the meeting. Take your seat,” he ordered, his voice stern as he watched her smile and do as instructed, sitting in the vacant chair at the end of the Lower Level’s side of the table; though she seemed blissfully unaware of the looks that many of the other Council members were currently giving her.
“The meeting will now begin,” Arnaldo stated and once again all attention was on him. It was quite clear that Elmon was right, and that the Leader was not remotely pleased by Alais’ late arrival. Technically, however, she had arrived in time, and so there was no official reprimand that Arnaldo could give her; though Almar was sure that one of the four Elders would be having words with his little sister at some point soon.
Arnaldo waited until he had everyone’s full attention before he began to speak. “It has been many generations since we have associated ourselves with the World of Wizards.” He paused for dramatic effect. “As Hydras, we were once able to take great pride in having helped create their world, in having gifted them with abilities like our own, but now the World of Wizards lays in near ruin because of their greedy desire for ever more power,” Arnaldo said, his hand clenching around the Surdus indicating that this was a topic that angered him.
Nobody had to ask what Arnaldo was speaking of. Even within the Hydras city, they had heard the disturbing news of the latest Dark Wizard, who was slowly, but steadily, rising to power. In the past, they had always left such things alone, for there had been many dark and evil wizards over the millennia, their empires tending to rise and fall in one short century. Such time was little to Fae, whose lives were often six or even seven centuries long. But what this wizard was doing was forbidden, even by their own laws, and they could ignore things no longer.
“Are you suggesting that we take action against this evil one?” Vulre of the Lower Council questioned. He looked from Arnaldo to his fellow Council members, unsure if he was reading too much into what Arnaldo had said.
“Aid the wizards in their fight?” Isevel questioned from her spot next to Vulre.
“I do not see why we should lower ourselves to give assistance to those who have only sought to claim more power, rather than take pride in what was already given to them,” Rosario of the High Council said, dismissing the idea of fighting this rising evil. Like those before, she was sure that this evil would be gone in a century, two at the most.
“If we just ignore this and let it play out, as we have all the others, surely the problem will take care of itself.” Itham, the other male Elder, leaned forward so he could see around Tinasia and look at Rosario.
“Ever the optimist, Itham, assuming that the problem will sort itself out as always,” Farai of the Secondary Level said with a chuckle, earning himself a glare from the High Council member. Before any reply could be made, the room once again fell eerily silent and everyone once again turned their attention towards Arnaldo.
“We will not be aiding the wizards,” Arnaldo stated firmly. “However, this new evil will do irreversible damage to the World of Wizards, and lesser folk. This evil will spread and grow, and in generations to come it will consume the world.” Arnaldo paused looking around the U-shaped table; no one was able to speak as he had yet to remove the effects of the Surdus stone. They all sat, their attention still on him as he continued, “Taking action and destroying this evil will not stop this from happening. Our ancestors saw great potential in the lesser folk, gave them magic and raised them above what they once were. However, through neglect and misguidance the gift of magic has been corrupted.”
There were nods of agreement around the table, all of them knew that the world of wizards had been in poor shape since before most of them had even been born, and it was hard to watch something that their ancestors had put so much time and energy into building, just fall apart. The question of ‘ how do we fix this ’ had been passed around many times before. Many people had ideas of how to restore everything to how their ancestors had envisioned it, but an agreement had never been reached by the Council before.
“We are all in agreement that something drastic must be done, if we want to rid the world of this rising evil, and restore what our ancestors built,” Arnaldo said, making sure to choose his next words carefully. “The only way that greatness can be achieved is for us to take an active part in raising the next generation. We will teach them how to harness the pure magic of the world, raise them to respect what has been given to them, and punish them as we would our own people for disobeying the laws,” Arnaldo finished, tapping the Surdus and returning sound to the other Council members.
The room remained silent, everyone looking from one another, all of them silently contemplating what Arnaldo had just said. None of them could argue that something should be done, but the thought of being so involved with the wizards, working close enough to raise their offspring… It was certainly a radical concept.
“I do not believe that the parents of this next generation will be agreeable to this,” Cellica spoke up from her seat next to Farai, looking toward Arnaldo.
“If we choose the families carefully, explain the situation and convince them, this is a plan that could truly work,” Rania said thoughtfully, looking to her fellow Council member, not wanting Cellica to dismiss the idea out of hand. “Though, I agree it may take some time to convince the wizards of our good intentions, with this rising evil and the fact that we have not been involved with them for so long.”
“There are flaws in this plan,” Elmon spoke next, “But, admittedly, it has merit. As Rania said, this is something that has potential; however, there are too many variables; what families we choose, if they are receptive to us, if they will allow us to take part in raising their child. And, even if we do help raise this next generation, they will still be in the World of Wizards, there is still a chance that they will become more corrupt than any generation before them,” Elmon said, pointing out one of the largest flaws in this plan.
Everyone fell silent again, contemplating his words. This was a problem with their interactions with the Wizarding World that many other Council members had talked about before, and they had never been able to reach an acceptable solution to the problem.
“Then we remove some of the variables,” Tinasia spoke up, her soft voice heard clearly in the quiet room, and she smiled as she now had everyone’s attention.
“And how would we do that?” Almar questioned, not bothering to hide the scepticism in his voice.
“The wizards send their children off to school for months at a time,” Tinasia pointed out, pausing to let the others take this information in. “Something like that could be acceptable,” she suggested, her smile still firmly in place as mutterings broke out around the room.
“Are you suggesting that we set up a school?” Alais asked, looking Tinasia in the eye. “Or something more…?” she questioned, glancing at Arnaldo before back to Tinasia; the two High Council members were looking rather pleased with the direction of the debate was taking, and she couldn’t help but feel concerned.
“I do not see how this would address my concerns,” Cellica pointed out, before Tinasia had a chance to answer. “Why would the Wizarding parents put Fae in charge of their children’s education? Surely they will want their children to be taught by their own kind,” she said, and a murmur of a agreement flittered around the room.
“Orphaned witches and wizards then,” Farai suggested, excitement rising in his voice. “Children of Wizards that we can raise ourselves. Ones who will only know our ways and laws, that will be able to take that respect for magic back to the Wizarding world.”
“There are not enough orphans to achieve anything,” Rosario said dismissively with a wave of her arm. “Even if we were to raise them with our ways, they would never be able to change anything.”
“But the idea of raising them ourselves is definitely worth considering,” Tinasia insisted, turning in her seat to fix Rosario with a contemplative look. “Don’t you agree, Arnaldo?” she asked, her eyes going to their Leader, already knowing she would have his support.
“And where are these children supposed to come from?” Alais asked, unable to keep her thoughts to herself. It sounded an awful lot like Tinasia was proposing removing wizarding children from their families. “We can’t just take them.”
“Why not?” Farai asked arrogantly, and several of the members gasped in shock at the suggestion; it was certainly a lot more extreme than anything that had been proposed before, but many of them seemed to be giving the concept some serious thought. “The wizards would not be able to stop us.”
“You cannot seriously be considering his, Arnaldo?” Itham asked incredulously, hardly able to believe that two of his fellow Elders seemed to think this was a good idea, and even Rosario seemed to be giving it consideration. He was only grateful that the reactions of the Secondary and Lower levels seemed more mixed.
“I think we must,” Arnaldo said, his voice sounding weary. “I know it is a difficult thing to contemplate but if they cannot raise their children to respect magic, then we must do it for them.”
“This would be a serious undertaking,” Elmon pointed out. “Even if we decide to do this, we would have to house, feed, care for, educate and train these children. I do not think I could even consider agreeing to such a thing unless we can spare people to take personal responsibility for each of these young witches and wizards.”
“I agree with Elmon,” Rania said. She understood why this needed to be seriously considered as an option, but she wasn’t going to allow these children to be taken from their families only to end up mistreated in the Hydras City.
“I am sure that could all be arranged,” Vulre said, speaking up now that most of the Council seemed to be leaning towards approving the idea. “I think what we truly need to consider carefully is a long term plan. We cannot simply correct one generation, we will need to put a system in place to maintain the changes we want to see.”
“This could start a war,” Itham protested. “We cannot take their children and expect them to sit back and do nothing.”
“Then we only take a few,” Isevel suggested, and everyone turned to look at the Lower Council member. “Take maybe ten from each year for maybe five years. Then we raise those fifty to adulthood, until they have children of their own; then, when the time comes, we start to let them return to the wizarding world, taking our ideas with them, and we take a few more children to be mated to the children born of the previous generation.”
“That’s a great plan,” Farai said enthusiastically, glancing up at Tinasia and Arnaldo, who both looked serious but pleased with the suggestion.
“A great plan?” Alais asked angrily, getting to her feet. “You are talking about stealing 50 children from their families. Itham is right, this could cause a war, and that is without even considering how morally reprehensible this is.”
“Alais, calm yourself,” Elmon instructed firmly. He appreciated the passion that Alais showed in her work, but there was a time and a place for such displays, and in front of Arnaldo and the other Elders was not it.
“Calm myself? We are talking about seriously considering kidnapping children here,” Alais said, having a hard time keeping her anger under control.
“Alais,” Almar snapped, “your opinion is important, but there is no need for you to raise your voice. Everyone feels very strongly about this proposal, and it is not a decision that will be taken lightly. Taking children from their parents, even children that are seen as a lesser version of what we ourselves are, is a sensitive topic and one that, if agreed upon, we will do our best to make sure is handled properly,” Almar promised his sister.
Alais didn’t seem entirely appeased, but she did at least take her seat again, and Elmon nodded gratefully at Almar, appreciating the assistance.
“I believe that before this conversation continues any further, we should vote,” Farai suggested, “Are we going to make plans for this, or are too many of us against this idea to even consider seeing what we could come up with?”
“Yes, it would seem pointless to continue this if we can’t even agree that this is the best course of action that any Council has ever come up with,” Tinasia said and looked to Arnaldo, who nodded his head in agreement.
“Yes, let us vote now,” Arnaldo said. “Shall we see where planning will take us, or are too many of us uncomfortable with the idea of taking in children in order to save what our ancestors have created?” the Head Elder asked. “Everyone who is against proceeding?” Arnaldo looked around the table and watched as Alais raised her hand, though that was not a surprise as she had been the most vocal about her displeasure of this idea. The only other one who raised their hand was Itham.
“And everyone who is for putting together this plan?” Tinasia asked, though this wasn’t truly needed, as everyone else raised their hands.
“Motion passes,” Arnaldo stated, ignoring the death glare he was getting from Alais.
“We shall at least see if this idea is feasible,” Rosario said, getting a nod of agreement from Arnaldo. “Clearly we all agree that something has to be done; we have removed ourselves from the situation long enough that it has gotten out of control.” Nods and mutterings of agreement sounded around the table, Rosario speaking what so many of them had on their minds. “I think that whatever we do, we must accept that it falls to us to fix how far the World of Wizards has spiralled out of control.”