10 YEARS AGO
A decade of service in Santa Fae had been rough, but Sherry had made it through with flying colors; which meant she had managed to survive with fewer wounds than anyone expected, and only lost what her peers deemed an acceptable amount of lives in the line of duty. She did not agree. A mere decade might not seem long to an elf, but it was enough to start noticing how the city had begun to change, and not for the better.
What began as a shining beacon of hope and unity now started to fester with crime and corruption. Places like Skye Street, Lapis Heights, and the private sectors and buildings of the city remained guarded, but the rest of it was on its own. Fewer knights were assigned to patrol the wider areas or respond to calls of burglary, public fighting between races, or the use of magic by High Borns on anyone else. These often were done for their own amusement, showing off or harassing a poor soul.
She often volunteered with Mort to get any assignments down in Wisp Hill, and Los Entierros, where most houseless elves lived, as well as Orcs, down-on-their-luck dwarves, and some halflings. The economy was floundering, many jobs had disappeared after the completion of the city. Outside of it, the dwarves in the mountain kept most of their riches to themselves, as did the dragons and the High Borns of the Seventy Houses, who wanted for nothing.
Sherry stared at the great red doors that led to the council chambers and thought about the first time she had come here; when the Queen herself appointed her as a Royal knight. She remembered the look of distrust around almost every other member at her doing so, and looking around the place, she once again felt very much like a literal black spot in this palace of crystal and gold, out of place and damaging the pretty picture of the place.
“You are late,” said Sherry as Mort finally joined her, hurrying along the corridor, helmet in hand, his golden armor clinking with every step.
“I know, I know, my apologies, but you know I’ve never gotten used to wearing all this armor. Feels so outdated now,” said Mort as he fidgeted with his chest plate, moving it around for comfort.
“You will be glad for it when a bullet bounces off you,” said Sherry, trying not to smile as Mort tried to push his green cape aside. It was true, he had never grown comfortable wearing the armor of the Royal Knights, but as one of the serving members of House Thril, he had to obey the rules.
“Oh, come on, we’ve had like twelve gun cases since we started working here. I think I can risk it,” said Mort, laughing it off
“Well, for what is it worth, you’re still the only elf who makes the gold armor seem most becoming.”
“Wow, even for the compliments you gotta make it all formal, huh?” Sherry gave him a side eye, but she never mind his teasing. “Well, ‘for what it’s worth’, they can give you hell about it until next century, but you do rock the black, Sherr.”
Sherry smiled. “Just wear your helmet, Mort. I don’t care if it dampens your style.”
“Yes, yes, I swear you worry more than Val, and he frets all day.”
The doors suddenly opened on their own, signaling them to come in. They entered a large room with the same high vaulted ceiling and colored crystal walls as the rest of the building, making Sherry feel like she was in a cathedral more than a government building, but here in this room stood a large raised dais of white marble with 4 wooden chairs and a large throne carved right out of the same white stone. There and behind sat the ruling members of the High Council of Santa Fae.
At the center of the dais sat Queen Uri,’Kumai’Lorr, the wise and ancient monarch of the elves, and by extension, all the Fae. As always, she wore her ceremonial armor of a softer, almost cream-like shade of gold, which complemented her dark skin beautifully. One of the oldest members of her race at nearly two millennia, when she first received the gift of magic with her husband, making them the first and only monarchs of the elves after they shared it with their people. She ruled alone since the passing of King Lio, but Sherry always felt she carried the burden well on her own.
On her right was Makro Hammer Breaker, the elected leader of the dwarves. Perhaps the tallest of them Sherry had ever seen, decked in their style of modern suit and tie with armor mixed in, and sporting a long gray beard with flecks of black trimmed past his chest. He had bronze skin and big muscular arms despite his four centuries in age, and a hard face like granite. He hailed from the south as she did, and like her, he always seemed to be scowling at something, so he was the only one Sherry didn’t take personally.
And next to him was Margola, the representative of the Orcs. Of all the races, they had certainly changed the most since the war, opting to become less battle driven and with intellectual pursuits, and Margola reflected that perfectly. Despite her huge physique and dark green skin, she was dressed in a delicate fashion with a long black skirt, white silk blouse, and high heel shoes. Her eyes were brimming with intelligence behind her black frame glasses, her long brown hair tied in an elegant bun, and even her two small tusk-like teeth seemed rather cute.
On the left side of the Queen sat the two elf elders appointed to represent the High Borns in the council, these could change with time, usually being the most powerful families, and now it was Var’Arian’Thril, the head of Mort’s House, which remained the biggest and most respect in the city. The other was a blonde woman elf dressed all in silver from House Laoun; but Sherry didnt know her since she had only recently taken the position,
Finally, behind the raised dais stood the two dragon representatives. The Chief, who stood for the Royal Knights, and spoke for all other dragons was Ira, a magnificent blue and white specked female dragon, looking like the ocean and its foam perfectly captured in a creature the size of a house. She looked down at her unpleasantly as all of her others. Only The Chief and the Queen smiled at her. They were, after all, her only allies in the room, and the only reason she got this audience to begin with, which the others were clearly not happy about.
“It is nice to see you again, Sherr’Yand’Rull,” spoke the Queen, her voice soft but commanding. Yet she spoke warmly to her as always. They smiled at each other in recognition before Sherry bowed to show her respect. It took Mort a few seconds to follow suit.
“And you as well, your majesty,” said Sherry. “I am truly grateful you granted us this moment to speak with you and the council.”
“You should be,” said the booming voice of Ira, not meant to be loud, but a dragon could hardly be said to speak softly even when they wanted to.
“A full audience isn’t often granted, even to the head of a house, and considering the house—”
“That’s enough, Var,” said the Queen, silencing him. The added insult was unnecessary, but nothing Sherry hadn’t heard before.
“You didn’t even call this for yourself, but on behalf of a dwarf,” said Ira, dismissively. “Why should we listen to his request?”
“I should think this council would always be open to hearing the words of all its subjects, including my people!” said Makro, his deep and rough voice like rocks grinding together.
“Peace, both of you,” said Margola with a raised hand. “All voices are welcome in this room. If Sherr’Yand’Rull feels this Orras has something worth listening to, then we should.”
They all turned to the front gate, as the signal was given for Orras to enter. He stepped with his confident swagger, holding a decorative lacquered wooden box in his hand. He had not shared with Sherry his discovery, only that it could change things significantly for everyone in the city. The dwarf had been a staunch ally to her through the last few years, not just as her armorer, but as one of the few who would speak to her regularly and without disdain. She owed him this chance to speak at the very least.
Orras nodded at her as he passed her, winking as he did, then bowed to the council. “Do not look so sullen, my lords and ladies. This is a day for rejoicing, I assure you.” He spoke brazenly, as was his nature, but even Sherry would have cautioned him to restrain himself here.
“That remains to be seen, Dwarf,” said Var, impatiently.
“Careful,” rumbled Makro across the dais at him; his eyes blazing in contained rage. Both Margola and him may be on the council, but their species still were looked down upon by many Highborn elves, and Var in particular had never been shy to show it, which is why Sherry had never liked him.
Orras ignored their moment of tension and continued uninterrupted. “I had asked for this meeting for some time, which this council saw fit never to grant before. I admit, at the time, I had only theories to present…” Orras paused, caressing the box with his hand almost lovingly. “...but now I have something no one can deny,”
He opened the box and a bright blue light emanated from it, brighter than any lantern, and one could almost feel the light pulsing as it blinds them momentarily. After their eyes adjusted to it, they saw it contained a large blue quartz-like rock, shining as if containing a small sun inside of it.
No one spoke for a minute, unsure of what to make of it, only Makro seemed genuinely surprised by the rock. “Where did you find this?”
“Deep below the mountains,” Orras replied calmly, but his grin was beyond smug. “Deeper than you’ve allowed us to dig, which I'm sure you had your reasons for it, Makro. But I have long suspected we were standing on more than just diamonds and gold.”
“I don’t understand,” said the elf woman from House Laoul suddenly, and she sounded more disappointed than curious. “It’s just a shining rock. I know your kind has a fascination with all kinds of pebbles, but why should this council care?”
“Because it’s magic,” said Orras, and his eyes gleamed with triumph as he did.
Now he had everyone’s undivided attention. “I’ve long been an admirer of the power you wield, and I have seen the effect it leaves on the world. This ‘pebble’ is proof of that,” he added, looking at the elf council woman mockingly.
“Do you mean to say, our magic is contained within that stone?” asked the Queen.
“You fought for years all over the world with that power against the humans during the Century War, and this city was built on top of one of the greatest battlefields we ever saw. All that magic thrown around, it doesn’t all just dissipate, you know? Sometimes it lingered and fell buried under the earth.”
As Sherry understood what Orras was getting at, she anxiously looked at everyone on the dais and confirmed both elf lords looked disturbed if not outright angry. Only the Queen and The Chief look thoughtful, but she feared Orras had made a huge miscalculation by sharing this information with the council, and now she regretted not pressing him further for the news.
“Is this the only one?” asked Makro gravely, when no one else would.
“Only a few so far, but my clan has found a promising vein of it already,” replied Orras with deep satisfaction.
“Can you use it?” asked Var, his voice like a whip, angry and stiff.
Orras grinned and in reply put his right hand on the stone, and the pulsing light sped up, and then suddenly a small burst of flame shot out of Orras’s free hand. It was enough. “I trust that answers that.”
“It does indeed,” said Var, smiling unpleasantly. “Guards!”
The doors behind Sherry and Mort burst open and no less than eight Royal Knights walked in, golden spears in hand, and they promptly surrounded Orras. Sherry was on her feet, rushing towards them angrily, but two of them blocked her. She punched the nearest one to the ground, and stop the attack of the second, but it was Mort who knocked him down, taking the opening she provided.
“Never liked you anyway, Vaol!” said Mort to the fallen knight, grinning at Sherry as she summoned the magic to her hands, ready to take the fight to the next level.
“I will break you all if you touch him.” Sherry didn’t need to say more.
“ENOUGH! Both of you will behave!”
It was not Var who shouted, but The Chief, his voice already loud enough to make the room feel like it was shaking. He bared his teeth at all of them, snarling angrily at the scene his knights were making. They all froze and looked uncertainly at him; only Sherry glared back.
“This is outrageous! What crime have I committed?!” Shouted Orras, still surrounded and now clutching the blue stone in his arms preciously like a baby.
“'Only the Highborn may wield the gift of the gods',” said Var, quoting the ancient laws.
“This is not taking magic from your precious source!” he said defiantly, looking at the Queen, who remained silent. “These stones have absorbed the remains of ancient spells and nurtured them to become their own power sources. Do you understand what that means? This could change everything for the people of Santa Fae! We could all share these and finally be equal!”
Sherry’s heart broke for Orras as he spoke, she knew how he wanted to see that equality for his people, and because she knew the other Highborns would never allow this. The Queen looked like she wanted to speak, but instead, she turned to Var, “Surely, this is something we could explore?”
Var’s face stiffened for a moment, but then quickly put his hand on hers, and spoke with a soft reassuring voice. “Maybe with time we could see how to properly do so, but we cannot let this explode out of hand. We must contain the information until we know better. We cannot let this man ruin the delicate balance we have protected for centuries now.”
“Balance?!” shouted Orras angrily. “Is that what you call it? Most of your own people are aging and dying without the magic you deny them, and to say nothing of all the other races who have never been able to touch it. Why must everyone live under your infinite rule as you decide what’s best for everyone from above them?!”
Orras spoke passionately, but he may as well be talking to a wall. Var had no sympathy for him, and the Queen, while kind, still had to answer to the rest of the Highborn lords like him who would oppose this immediately. Makro and Margola both looked angry, knowing they were being denied, but any protest on their part could cost not only their seats on the council but what little voice those seats represented for the rest of their people. The Halflings didn’t even have one.
The Queen finally stood up, “Orras son of Arkas, you have given us much to consider, and I promise you we will…but as my advisor has said, it is not something that can be done recklessly. You will share all the details and the stones you found with councilman Makro, who will report to us and keep them stored until a time when this council can decide what to do with them.”
"Failure to comply will mean banishment," added Var, with that same unpleasant smile.
Orras staggered, deflated at his words, then turned to look hopefully at Sherry. She looked down, ashamed, there was nothing she could do.