The Arcane Council of Rata Sum is… well, I suppose you might say ‘arcane’. There’s the magical aspect, of course, around which so much in the city revolves, but the Council also has a tendency for labyrinthine discussions, endless prognostications, and a fair few inexplicable decisions. Very little of what it accomplishes, in short, actually makes much sense.
Of course, Rata Sum rumbles on regardless, the menial jobs and grander schemes somehow all getting accomplished, despite the Council’s meanderings. Unfortunately, they’re technically still in charge, which means they were the ones who needed to know about something as serious as Zurra’s impending attack.
Whether we’d be able to get any of them to listen… was another matter.
And we had to get into the Council Level first. In theory, anyone could just wander in there, at least when the Council wasn’t in session; there were usually a few councillors around who’d be willing to listen to the concerns of their citizens. In practice, the Peacemakers around the Council Level’s entrance didn’t quite know what to do with two charr, a norn, a sylvari, and one wayward asura whose first and only appearance before the Council, years ago, had resulted in someone getting punched in the face (a story I only tell in the strictest confidence, usually after a few too many drinks).
I actually felt rather sorry for the Peacemakers on duty. One was elderly, and seemed somewhat deaf; the other, who somehow outranked his companion and therefore had to deal with us, was barely more than a progeny.
“You can’t go up there,” he told us, only just managing not to stammer. “There’s a m-meeting in progress.”
“A Council meeting?” I asked, my ears pricking up. If we could address the entire Arcane Council, that would make our lives a lot easier – and give us a greater chance of getting our message through to High Councillor Flax.
“A private meeting,” the Peacemaker insisted.
Behind me, Erin snorted. “You can’t have a private meeting when it involves your city’s Council. That goes against all due democratic process, and renders everything they discuss invalid.”
The Peacemaker was gaping at her. “Durmand Priory,” I told him, at which he nodded faintly. “And she’s right. You can’t keep us out of there.”
I’d expected more of an argument, but the Peacemaker was obviously feeling outmatched, whilst his colleague gazed off into the distance as if he’d decided to pretend we weren’t there. The first Peacemaker also seemed to decide that was the wisest course of action, and with a resigned sigh, stepped aside.
The Council Level itself was surprisingly busy, though there wasn’t much sign of the promised meeting. Instead, there was only a knot of Councillors in the middle of the room – and they appeared to be having a party.
And with them were the Inquest.
I’ll say this for the Inquest: they’ve wormed their way into the heart of Rata Sum in a way no other renegade krewe has ever accomplished. I’d known they had a representative on the Arcane Council, of course, but I hadn’t realised quite how extensive their influence had become. There were a good dozen of them here, and if only one was a certified Councillor, the rest were doing their best to turn hearts and minds to their cause.
They too were involved in the party, which told me something else: they didn’t know Zurra was coming. And why would they, after all? Her Tyrian Development Syndicate had well and truly broken away from what you might consider the ‘original’ Inquest; their representatives here were as clueless as the Councillors.
“What now?” Spark growled at my shoulder.
I was tempted to stride right into the middle of the gathering, but that, I suspected, would be a mistake. No matter how badly I might desire to make a scene, this was an occasion to tread carefully. There might well be asura here, Councillors and Inquest alike, who knew Zurra personally, and wouldn’t take kindly to hearing her denounced.
“Caolinn and I will mingle,” I said, deeming the sylvari to be the only one tactful enough not to wildly offend everyone present. “The rest of you, er… keep your ears open.”
Weir just shrugged and scooped a handful of nibbles off a tray being carried by a passing golem. Erin folded her arms, managing to look even more stern and imposing than usual. Spark, on the other hand, melted into the crowd before I could stop her. You couldn’t exactly hide a charr in a party full of asura, but she was less obtrusive than I’d feared.
And I… Well, I tried to look like I’d been invited.
The party, I quickly learnt, was a regular affair. Why hold a stuffy, formal Council meeting, after all, when this was the alternative – especially when someone else was paying? Unfortunately, that ‘someone else’ appeared to be the Inquest, who seemed to have decided not everything had to be achieved by brute force, and that the way to the Council’s hearts was through their stomachs. On that logic, I couldn’t fault them.
Eventually, I found myself at the edge of a smaller circle. High Councillor Flax was nowhere to be seen, but I thought I recognised a few of the other faces I’d attached myself to. More importantly, I was a good distance away from the majority of the Inquest, who seemed somewhat unnerved by the fact that Spark kept sidling closer.
“Can I interest any of you in a drink?” I asked, swiping a tray from a golem.
There were a few appreciative murmurs, and one thunderous glare; I got the impression I’d just interrupted one of the Councillors mid-rant, and whilst he looked murderous, everyone else was rather relieved.
I waited half a minute, until the drinks were all in hand and the former conversation looked in danger of starting up again. “Do any of you happen to know Zurra?”
I don’t know what I’d expected. Outrage, perhaps, or just blank expressions. Instead, I was greeted by smiles, by nods, and by one of the Councillors saying, “Of course. A fine student of Dynamics, very fine indeed.”
I almost winced. I too had been a student of Dynamics, though largely because my tutors hadn’t quite known where else to put me; there must have been years between my study and Zurra’s.
“And have you seen her in Rata Sum recently?” I asked.
There was more mumbling as the Councillors considered this. “Not for some time,” one of them finally said. “A shame. A very great shame. Her research into the properties of magical energy sources had the potential to be truly ground-breaking.”
If I’d partaken of a drink along with the rest of the circle, I was fairly certain I’d have spat it out. Ground-breaking? That was one word for it, yes.
One of the Councillors was peering at me myopically. “Friend of Zurra’s, are you?”
I took a deep breath. This was it. “As a matter of fact, I’m not. I worked on Flikk’s golem krewe – perhaps you remember?”
The muttering took on a darker tone; they remembered.
“And perhaps you also know that the Inquest were behind his death,” I went on. “The Inquest, and Zurra.”
There was a moment of silence. Behind me, I could dimly hear Caolinn’s voice, and suspected she was being a good deal more diplomatic than I was. Now it came to it, though, I couldn’t play games, couldn’t muddle the truth, and certainly couldn’t pretend Zurra was anything but a threat – exactly what I needed to make the Council see.
“Zurra has created her own krewe,” I said. “They call themselves the Tyrian Development Syndicate, and if the Council actually looked outside Rata Sum once in a while, you’d have seen what she’s up to. She believes we as asura have been weakened by our cooperation with the other races. She believes Rata Sum has been compromised. She wants a fresh start – and she’ll destroy this city, if that’s what it takes.”
I should have known my warning wouldn’t go down well. I’d hoped at least one or two of the Councillors would take me seriously, but I was greeted only by derision.
“Destroy Rata Sum? Impossible.”
“Utterly implausible. No asura would want anything of the sort.”
“A fine student of Dynamics, very fine indeed.”
I glared at them all, wondering if this was the point at which I ought to start cracking heads together. I pointed to the Inquest on the other side of the room. “Are you really so blind to what they’re up to? Why is it so hard to believe one of them doesn’t want to play by the rules?”
The Councillor nearest to me shook her head. “The Inquest are just another krewe. Allowing them access to the facilities of Rata Sum lets us keep an eye on them.”
I snorted. “Excuses. You’re just too scared to deal with them properly. You haven’t the faintest idea what the Inquest are really up to, much less Zurra. Well, trust me, you’re about to find out.”
I looked round at the circle of faces and my heart sank. They simply weren’t listening. They didn’t want warnings, and they certainly didn’t want to hear about anything that might shake up the status quo. For all our research, our deeper learning, our understanding of the physical processes of the world, sometimes asura can be peculiarly blind to what’s right in front of us.
By then, I’d had enough. I left the Councillors without another word, rejoining the rest of my party. Caolinn was already there, looking downcast, and Spark arrived a moment later.
“Got the Council eating out of the palm of their hands,” she said, crooking a claw in the direction of the Inquest.
“No-one wants to listen,” Caolinn confirmed. “It’s not just about Zurra – no-one wants to be the one to stick their head above the parapet and call the Inquest what they really are.”
“I’ve come to the same conclusion,” I said grimly. “We’re going to have to do this the hard way.”
“Speaking of which.” Erin came forwards. “I had a little chat of my own whilst you were gone.”
I couldn’t hide my surprise. “And?”
“And I found someone you’re going to want to talk to. Someone very useful indeed.”