The Weapon and the Council
“How?! How did this happen?!”
“It must be a traitor; there is no way the great barrier of Lord Kyrin would fail without assistance from within!”
“A traitor? Don’t be ridiculous! You really think any of our people would willingly help a human?!”
Ugh, why are the elders making such a racket at such an unearthly hour?
I checked my internal time mechanism – it was a little after three in the morning. The Council of Elders was usually asleep by that time, so to have them in such an uproar was unusual, to say the least. If I was in humanoid form, I probably would have covered my ears to shut out the shouting and frenzied debating. Finally, I had enough. A burst of light enveloped my shaft, and I materialised my humanoid form, leaving the comfortable stand where I had been resting. I materialised in the middle of the Council Hall, drawing the attention of the elf and catkin Elders in the Hall by glaring at them. The moment they saw my humanoid form, they immediately stopped speaking and fell to one knee.
“What is going on? Do you people know what time it is?”
One of the chief Elders, an elf named Drinul, answered my question without raising his head.
“I apologise for disturbing your rest, Lady Aethry, but we are currently dealing with an unprecedented situation.”
“Oh? What situation? Also, get up, please. I’m in a bad enough mood without having to stare at your collectively balding hairlines.”
A few of the Elders reached up and touched their heads self-consciously, but otherwise the group raised themselves to standing height.
“Give me details. What’s this unprecedented situation, and what has you people so flustered?”
Drinul bowed his head and began to fill me in.
“Our scouts have located a human woman walking through the inner reaches of the Forest; within the boundaries of the barrier. We’re not sure who she is or how she got in, so we were just considering whether one of our own might have helped her enter this place.”
“It wasn’t an inside job. The barrier hasn’t been tampered with; I would know if that was the case.”
After all, I was the one that had put up the barrier in the first place. It was a rather unorthodox use of my power, but I had essentially put up a field that cut the space between it and the surrounding forest – trespassers with mana signatures other than those that were registered in my database would find themselves unable to enter the inner forest, with any steps past the barrier taking them back to where they had entered. It was a complicated piece of magic, and had taken me an unreasonably long time to construct. That said, the barrier still drew power from me, and so I knew of every little detail about the barrier – I knew who entered or left it. I knew the exact number of living things within its boundaries.
And yet I had no idea that an intruder had appeared. Intriguing.
“Drinul. Do we know where the intruder is now?”
“Yes, our scouts last sighted her making camp by the Nyso Basin.”
“A human, making camp in our forest? Oh, Lord Kyrin must be turning in his grave.”
“Nethep, I don’t recall asking for your opinion.”
I shot down the interjecting catkin Elder with a sharp rebuke for him to stay silent, then focused my senses on the Nyso Basin. A projection of the scene appeared in my mind’s eye. Sure enough, there was a black-haired woman sitting by the lake, casually roasting some fish over a fire. Where had she come from? When had she entered my barrier? Her particular set of features looked a little strange, compared to the others of the descended races. She had features similar to some races of the humans that had lived in the time I was created, before the War. Yet, few of the new humans that had emerged after the war had such features, making her a rather rare sight. The new humans of the Eastern continent shared those features, but that continent was destroyed years ago, and for the most part, mixing bloodlines had left such features all but gone from this world. Intrigued, I focused my attention and tried to scan that area for magical responses, to see how much of a threat this woman might be.
…Nothing. My scan turned up nothing. No magic signature was found. Whoever this woman was, she wasn’t emitting any sort of magical energy. How was this possible? All of the descended races – human, catkin, elf – emitted magical energy from their cores. The last time I had seen an individual without a magic signature was when I was being used to cut down demons. If we limited it to the last time I had seen a human without a magic signature, it was back before the war – the old humans had no inherent magic.
Could it be? Was this woman one of the old humans?
Unlikely – none of those humans had lifespans long enough to survive the centuries that had passed since the War. Perhaps she was stored in cryogenic sleep? No, that was unlikely as well – all the Cryo labs had been destroyed in the great Purges of the gods back then.
So where did this woman, this anomaly come from? Now that I had seen her, I had to know. Even though I knew it was infinitely unlikely, I had to eliminate that small possibility of the woman being an old human. I turned to Drinul.
“What is your current plan of action?”
“We were planning to send a team of scouts to persuade her to leave.”
“Has your age gotten to your ears? How many scouts did you send?”
“We sent a full squad of ten, Lady Aethry.”
“Not enough. That woman’s a fighter. A veteran. Ten scouts are not going to be able to match her.”
“Certainly, if you deem it so, it is not my place to disagree – you are the vastly more experienced one when it comes to warfare, after all. In that case, what do you suggest we do?”
“Send a full company down. No, make that 2 full companies. Your best soldiers. Make sure at least a quarter of them are mages.”
“Should we eliminate her?”
“No, capture her and bring her back here for questioning.”
“A human? In our city?”
“Yes. We must question her and find out all we can.”
“Might I ask why, Lady Aethry? Did Lord Kyrin not decree that no human shall enter our city?”
“He did. He also gave me the authority to veto that if ever I felt it necessary, or if our relationship with humans ever became more peaceful. I don’t think the latter applies, but the former certainly does.”
“You think it necessary for the human to be questioned?”
“Of course. She managed to get through the barrier. I want to know how she did it, to prevent a future occurrance.”
“In that case, could we not simply interrogate her outside the city’s walls?”
“No, I want to be present, so I can examine her magical flow in close proximity.”
“…Very well, Lady Aethry. If you feel it to be necessary, we shall bring the human back to be questioned. Please, return to your rest, and leave the dispatch orders to us old men and women.”
“I’m counting on you, Drinul.”