Opeli’s steps were energetic, fast, annoyed.
“Nothing gets done anymore”, she grumbled under her breath while unlocking her chambers’ door.
She stepped inside, rounded the desk in her office and replaced the scrolls she had taken out for today’s meeting in their proper stands.
“Good evening, councilwoman.”
Opeli whirled around, her hand clasped to her chest. “Viren?! How did you… what are you…?”
“Calm yourself. Call for the guards and I will take your voice”, the mage threatened, his staff tilted in her direction, “Listen first before you act. I come as a friend.”
“How did you get in here?!”, the council member demanded, “We have seriously increased patrols!”
Viren shrugged. “I know more about this castle than anyone. We don’t have time to waste. I heard Ezran hobbled you. Denied you your rightful freedom to act. Do you see now how incapable he was? He made for the border, of all things, leaving you to deal with petty squabbling in the council instead of strengthening your capable hands.”
“How dare you show your face here?! How dare you denounce him?! I heard you killed him! Did you?! What makes you think I will pay heed to a single syllable that crosses those damned lips of yours?”
“Because you know I’m right. You know that he wasn’t a good king. He was not focussed. He didn’t listen to sound advice, just like his father. You and I are servants to Katolis, the state, its people, not one particular king.”
“So you did kill him?”
“What does that matter?”
“It means everything! If he is dead, we need to put more effort into recalling Prince Callum! We can’t be leaderless!”
“Don’t waste our time with the traitor prince! Seize the opportunity! Yes! I killed him! Katolis has no king. You must lead, like you were meant to!”
Opeli’s hand moved from her chest to her mouth as she shook her head, “No. No! Not even you would go this far! He was a boy, Viren! You cradled him as a baby! You tutored him! Nurtured him! For years of his life! You knew his parents, you were the best of friends! Your children played with him!”
Tears started streaming down her face, “And now here you are, speaking so matter-of-factly of his murder! What’s happening to you?”
“Reality, councillor. Reality often leaves us with fewer options than our ideals demand. You’d be right to hate me.”, his voice turned into a hoarse whisper, “Oh, I didn't do it lightly. I feel the burden and the guilt of the decision, but I know that it was for the best!”
Viren stepped towards her, jabbing a finger upward, “He is but one life! Don’t you see!? He’s lost our entire army at the border in pursuit of a peace that can never happen! Xadia looks at us and sees cockroaches, fit only for squashing! Here!”
He thrust a piece of parchment at her. With a look of utter disgust, she snatched it from his fingers.
After glancing at it, she gave him an critical look. “A Xadian document?”
“Orders, Opeli. Read them. Read them well. And make sure you look at the seal!”
As her eyes wandered slowly over the unfamiliar runes, she blanched. Then, she strode over to a bookcase and pulled out a dictionary. Then, a book of seals. After consulting them, she fell into a chair, breathing heavily.
For a moment, Viren thought she would pass out. “They’ve been ordered to break into our homes and `extinguish every human thing`. This is nothing but a thinly veiled instruction to genocide! Do you see now what we are up against?!”
“How did you get this?”
“I have contacts. On the Xadian side.”
“You are working with elves?”, she scoffed, “You will have to explain that. Isn’t this what you’ve murdered our king for? The crime of cooperation?”
“My contact is an elven Legate named Astilliar. He’s known to our spies, so you may confirm his status. He gave me this to soothe his conscience and I acted. I burned their army to ash. But I can’t do it a second time. If they are allowed to mass while we’re mustering reinforcements...”
“They will overrun us”, Opeli whispered, white as a corpse, “Did Ezran know? About this order?”
“Even I could obtain a copy, so yes. There’s no doubt in my mind that he knew.”
The councilwoman stared at him, as though she would see the whole truth written on his face somewhere.
After a moment, she got up.
“What of his brother? What makes you call him a `traitor`?”
“Opeli, he ran off with a moonshadow elf who helped kill his father! Isn’t that enough?”
“That depends on perspective. I seem to recall the reason for him running was that you had pilfered a certain item…?”
“Ah yes, of course. I should have left the Dragon Prince’s egg in its nest, yes? Given it the chance to grow? Add even more firepower to the Xadian extermination force?”, he said, sarcastically.
Opeli looked at him, not sure what to say.
He took the opportunity to add to his thoughts, “Callum is returning a weapon of mass destruction to the elves, and they have very clear intentions with it and us. What is it with you? He is a child, Opeli, he does not understand the gravitas of his actions.”
“The prince is no fool! So what if he’s under the age of majority! That doesn’t disqualify him automatically!”, she sighed, studying the ground, “However I will agree that returning the Dragon Prince would not have been my first choice. Either way, we can’t get at him, now.”
The councilwoman then waved the parchment in her hand, “This document. It changes things.”, she said, “I will have to speak to the council and the general staff. Get their input.”
Viren scoffed. “Do not repeat Ezran’s mistakes. You need to act. Think for yourself.”
“That is precisely what I’m doing! I will not act rashly on your say-so! You are a traitor and a murderer! Now go! Or I will call the guard, consequences be damned! I can’t bear your visage, knowing what you did! Out!”
“Very well. Don’t take too long. The blades of Xadia are sharp and at the ready”, the high mage said, walking toward the open window.
“Wait!”, Opeli said, suddenly, “Did you also murder General Amaya? Commander Gren?”
“No?”, Viren said, a confused expression on his face, “They are missing?”
The councilwoman frowned, then nodded curtly.
“Hm. I shall look into it.”
With those last words, Viren stepped over the ledge and soon vanished in purple mist.
“Interesting conversation!”, Aaravos snickered as the mage reappeared on the ground, “It appears you almost have your puppet. I have to wonder, though… why lie about one thing but not the other?”
“She knows to spot pure subterfuge. She has an image of me in her mind that I needed to satiate for her to follow any further point I was going to make.”
With a shrug, he added, “She doesn’t need to know everything. Least of all the truth.”