The air felt pristine and untainted, a luxury in times of madness and misery. It silently entered the cavernous space, bringing with it sounds and scents both imminent and afar, as much of the present as of recollections and dreams, illuminating portions of the vast blackness inside. The images reeled in one by one, revealing themselves in the glow, painting a canvas both coherent and chaotic in equal measures. The Sovereign, his eyes closed, looked at the cavern stoically, breathing in deep, taking in the sights and the sounds that were as real to him as the air that was purging him.
The first set of images that presented themselves were as much about his vicinity as of his own thoughts: the rustle of the leaves, the flutter of wings, the battering of gunfire… But with every deep breath, the Sovereign found himself losing more of his surroundings, until the cavern became his reality. The images were starting to get progressively darker now, and not even the pristine air could mask them. The Sovereign braced himself even as fear and trepidation had started to set in, for he knew where he was being led.
He found the Burnt Market deserted, the memory from many years ago now fading. He saw the pulpit, raised tall, much taller than he had remembered. He found a golden device hanging from it, with its umpteen dials, beckoning him. He stood still however, for he knew the image was not yet complete. The shot rang soon afterward and he saw Jermiaani holding the dead girl, amidst a crowd that had given up all hope. The Sovereign looked at the spreading circle of red, and waited for the rage to subside. He let go, and the morning in the Burnt Market turned pitch black, extinguishing the memory.
The glow now darted towards a different corner of the cavern. He saw the old man responsible, frail and yet resolute, studying the carpentry of a young lad and beaming. The Sovereign paused for a moment. He observed the dynamics between the two, and nodded silently to himself, making a mental note. He progressed through the cavern, looking for the next shard of reminiscence. He heard the collision much before he arrived at the scene. He saw Kerii, shivering but unfazed, aiding the Council member to safety, the latter still reeling with shock. The Council was important for the functioning of Carane, the Sovereign silently thought. Without it, the center of power could shift drastically.
He moved on. He knew what would come next. He found anxiety engulfing him, and he begged the cavern not to illuminate this image. The cavern obliged. He just heard the healers talking to each other, mumbling and whispering, for no one wanted to deliver him the news. Finally he heard Palmeida’s voice: “They’re no more”
Three of the ten councillors are dead, the Sovereign found himself saying. He breathed in deep to allow for the pain to recede, waiting for his mind to steel itself. Three out of ten was no small feat. They had been his brothers, his companions right from the days of the rebellion… And now they were gone. Fjor had steered clear of any implication. There hadn’t been a shred of evidence against him. The Sovereign found fury replacing the pain and yet he couldn’t act. For every action had consequences and the Sovereign knew better than to topple a house of cards. He could only plan, for now at least. It was maddening, he knew, but also essential.
But more than the wait, it was the haze surrounding it all that bothered him. He didn’t know if he would be victorious. If the gamble paid off, he would be touted as a shrewd leader. If not? He shook his head violently even as the cavern observed unmoved. No.. The Sovereign said to himself. This has to work.
“Meditating?” said a voice. The Sovereign saw the cavern disappear, gradually replaced by the lush green plains of Gravasa. It was morning once again. The Sovereign shook his head. “Just thinking” he said to Palmeida, without a hint of fear or doubt that had been so prominent in his thoughts a moment ago. He had made up his mind. “I want to call the council tomorrow. I shall invite Fjor also. I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s high time that we start discussing on his demands.”
Palmeida considered the Sovereign’s statement. “You had said he is not the real enemy” she said. “Do we know who is?”
The Sovereign shook his head, clearly in a thought of his own. “There is no point in waiting. There have been four of the nobles dead already. The fifth just barely survived. No… I can see the endgame forming. This will be a gamble and we may lose terribly. But it is a hand we must play now”
Palmeida nodded, her mind drawn back to the ward, the three councillors in front of her, reduced to mere bones from the savants that they had been. “Please tell me that this will work” she said to the Sovereign.
“I don’t know that” The Sovereign shook his head. “I just can’t know that.”
After a moment’s consideration, he spoke again, this time with the conviction of a leader that had traversed many a treacherous trail, a voice that was so true to his own self.
“But I believe”