"Will you concede to our demands?"
The young king stared helplessly at the Master standing confidently before his throne. Guilt and bitter shame rolled savagely in his chest as he considered the deal he was about to make.
His father had died not mere days ago, and here he was, going against everything the late king stood fore, all in a misguided attempt to save Verran from complete destruction.
"Men die by the second as we await an answer." The Master spoke coldly, his bored demeanor twisting the knife of the king's worry. Of course the Master would take advantage of the situation, it was just the way they were. Mages. Manipulative, corrupted people who bargained with demons for powers beyond that of mortal men.
His father had despised the mages. Persecuted them, pushed them out beyond the borders of Verran territory. Yet here his son sat, arguing an alliance with the magic born.
He had no choice though, and even the Master knew it.
"Is this all you ask for?" The King inquired, weariness rasping his voice. He was only thirty-three years old, but his once vibrant brown hair was now streaked with more white than his older half-brother. "For the right to live and practice magic within Verran?"
"And an Academy in which to teach it to the next generation." The Master flashed a sharp edged smile. "The Counsel would also like custody of every child born with the Mark."
Anger flared hot and fast, but just as quickly, it dissipated. He had to keep his emotions out of this, it was the only way his kingdom would survive the Darkin.
"And the families of these children?" The king found himself asking, despite knowing the answer.
"Their families will not matter. The children are magic born, marked from the moment of birth for the live of a mage. With what this kingdom used to do to the babes, I would have figured that giving them to those who would care for them would be the more humane course of action." The Master spoke with such scorn and distaste that the king couldn't find a way to argue. The laws against magic had seen every Marked Child executed, and if a family harbored one of the Marked, they too would be killed.
But when the king closed his eyes, he pictured it. Every child born with the Mark would be taken, every child trained and used. Raised by Mages.
"You want an army." The words were a breath in the wind. An exhaled fact spoken just so the words would taste the air.
"Yes." The Master admitted without guilt. Unabashed by the implications. "Those of us with the gifts have been persecuted all our lives. Forced out of our homes, driven away from our families. Exiled and executed. We will be victims no longer."
Hard black eyes pinned the king to his throne as the Master curled his lip in a sneer. "Now we are needed. Now, when beings far more fowl than Mages have come to your door and are more than capable of tearing it down, now you ask for our help? You will pay the cost or die. It makes no difference to us."
Swallowing hard, the king collected his thoughts for a moment.
"Magic will no longer be outlawed within the Kingdom of Verran. I will even agree to the construction of a school to train the children, but I cannot grant you custody of every Marked Child."
The Master bristled, but as he opened his mouth to speak, the king rose his voice to be heard over the Master's protests. "I will not take a child away from a family that loves him. Unlike my father, I refuse to rip families apart any longer, for any reason. You were once forced out of your own home, can you of all people not understand a child's need for a family?"
Any protest the Master had, died instantly at the king's words. A venomous glare spoke intently of the Master's displeasure at having his own situation used against him.
"A compromise then, my King." The Master snarled out the title, but the king did not flinch. "When the child is of age. When the magic settles in and the Mark comes to life, then and only then will the child become ours."
The king frowned, not liking the words used by the Master Mage.
"Children are not property. They will not belong to the Counsel. Once the child learns to control their magic, they will be able to choose their own path. I refuse to allow the Counsel to control an innocent child's future."
"The child has a future! To be Marked is enough! They will live as a Mage, they will always be a Mage."
"Enough! If that is the path chosen, then so be it, but it will be a choice!"
The Master snarled, a vicious glint of danger in his eyes, but the king did not back down. He stood from his throne and stared the Master Mage down. On this, he would not bend. If the Mage Counsel wanted an army, they would have to work for it. He wasn't about to make deals with demons to save his Kingdom, just to hand deliver it to more cunning enemies.
"Fine." The Master conceded, knowing when he has lost.
A guard burst into the throne room violently, his face marred with blood and dirt as he stumbled his every step.
"They've reached the Highlands to the East of the Capitol! They will soon breach the city!"
Fear flashed across the king's face, but it was soon replaced with determination.
"What do you say, my King?" The Master probed, a victorious smirk already working its way onto his face.
The king had no choice. This was the worst of two evils. Humanity was relying on the joint efforts of The King's Alliance. Even if the alliance now had monsters in its midst.
This was needed.
It had to be.