Seeing Darius standing with the Council members made the idea of burning them all to ash somewhat less appealing. It bothered me that the idea didn’t seem horrific though.
“You may have been right.” I told Fari. “The elemental’s getting to me.”
“I can take it away.” she offered, concern suffusing her mental voice.
“Not yet. I need to see this through.” I said.
With a long, slow breath, I exhaled fire from my nostrils and floated down to the floor of the rotunda. As I did, I pushed the fire elemental’s essence away from my mind and pulled in the wings of flame that supported me.
I hated doing it and my hands shook with the effort it took.
Maybe I’m more vulnerable to lure of power than most people. I felt like a lower life form for so much of my life because I couldn’t manipulate anima or cast even the simplest spell. Maybe that explains why the fire elemental’s essence was so intoxicating to me. The truth was I didn’t want to just burn them. Not when reaping their anima would be so much more delicious.
I tried to tell myself that those thoughts were the fire elemental speaking but I suck at lying. I had power, plenty of power, but more was always better.
Fari could have pulled me back from that precipice, but she didn’t have to, not when I saw Darius watching me and waiting to see what was going to happen next.
It wasn’t love that pulled me back. He was cute and smart, but it was a little early to say I cared about him that much. Seeing him with the Council members moved me in a different way. It reminded me that they were people. Not obstacles, and maybe not even enemies, at least not most of them.
One of the Council members who was standing beside Darius was the first to summon up the courage to speak in the hush that had fallen over the room in the wake of my arrival.
“That was a dramatic entrance. Who are you and what business do you have here?” the man said. He was taller than me, with skin of the same deep tan shade as Darius’. When I looked between the two of them I saw that their skin tone wasn’t that only resemblance between the two. Hair, eyes, facial features. None were an exact match, but if the Councilman wasn’t Darius’ acknowledged father then a paternity test was in order.
“I am Mel Watersward, Crystal Guardian, Initiate Class, and I am here on official Imperial business.” I said. My voice sounded weird when I spoke. There was an echo in it and it filled the hall more than its volume should have allowed.
“The Imperial ambassador has never established official ties with this Council.” the Councilman said.
“I don’t really care about that at the moment.” I said. The political situation on Hellsreach was the next best thing to insane as far as I could tell. Untangling the mess I’d been dumped into and establishing a proper dialog between the Hellsreach Council, the Empire and the governments of the other two planets in the system would take months of negotiations. With the way Red Robes had been striking at me, I guessed that I had days or hours until his plan came into effect.
“Then we have nothing to say to you.” the Councilman said.
“You may not, but Councilman Breeg does.” I said. Fari had filled me in the Council members names and connections via a handy visual overlap spell.
“This Council stands together!” the Councilman said. From Fari’s overlay, I saw that his name was Hector.
Councilman Hector moved forward to place himself between the rest of the Council and I. Another councilor, Osgood, stepped up beside him. Fari’s overlay spilled out information about the two men as fast as she mined it from the Council’s spell web. They belonged to the same voting block, though not the one that held the majority in the Council. Both were primarily mental anima casters but neither had tested in the top tier for proficiency, which suggested neither could be Red Robes. Beyond that it was all personal information. They were married, to each other, Hector was Darius’ biological father, and between the three of them they were reasonably wealthy by Hellsreach standards.
The last bit surprised me. I couldn’t puzzle out why Darius would serve as a scout in the Hellsreach Council’s army if his family was that influential and if they had enough money to avoid it. On Belstarius, rich people hired poor people to be the ones to go out and get shot at. I had assumed that was the way it worked everywhere in the galaxy.
I also couldn’t puzzle out why Hector was defending Breeg. From the information Fari provided, it looked like the two hated each other. Breeg was in a party that had no overlap with Hector and Osgood’s. The best guess I could come up with was ‘political theater’, where Hector wasn’t defending Breeg so much as defending the sanctity of the Common Council. From the way the groups of Council members were isolated from each other I could believe keeping the government together required that sort of drama.
I looked to Darius briefly to see if I could read any clues from him before I stepped on any more landmines. It was tough to read his scowl, but he didn’t appear to be delighted to see me.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you harbor a murderer.” I said.
“That’s absurd!” Breeg said, stepping forward, though not so far as to be in front of Hector and Osgood. “You can’t burst in here and slander my name like that!”
“Indeed.” the Head Councilman said. “If you have accusations to levy, then they must be heard by an impeachment committee and then the judiciary. This Council will not negotiate in the face of violence or threats thereof.”
The Head Councilman, a guy named Makkis, put me in a difficult position. Master Raychelle had told me that we needed to respect the Exxion governments’ policies as much as possible until the final peace agreement was worked out. On the other hand, I was, nominally at least, part of a law enforcement division with jurisdiction that superseded the Common Council’s legal framework. The various member planets of the Empire were allowed to pass their own laws, apart from laws which infringed on the Empire’s declared “Rights of All Sapient Beings”. Murder was specifically one of the crimes which no member planet was allowed to sanction as legal.
That didn’t mean that the Crystal Guardians had the right to pursue murder cases wherever they cropped up though. There were only two instances where we were allowed to that I could remember. The first was when the decision of a planetary court was appealed to the Imperial ambassador. That didn’t apply here since the Imperial ambassador seemed to be out of commission or absent. The second case however did apply.
“As a member of a governmental body recognized by the people of Exxion 3, Councilman Breeg’s actions place him under direct Imperial jurisdiction.” I said, hoping that the brief lesson I’d had on Imperial law wasn’t leading me astray.
The idea, as I understood it, was that the Empire wouldn’t cast judgment on the citizens of a planet directly unless it was either requested to or in cases where the accused was in a position to put themselves above the law. As the sole Imperial representative on Hellsreach, (Master Raychelle was out of contact, so I was guessing she didn’t count), I had full judicial privileges to exercise. Or, in other words, I could act as judge, jury and executioner. Something told me I was probably missing the finer point of a few laws there but the reality of the situation was however things were resolved there was going to be a huge mess. The best I could do was try to preserve as many lives as possible.
Except Red Robes crew, the fire elemental essence whispered to me. Breeg and the rest of them could burn or be ripped apart just like they’d done to others.
“It seems as though we are at an impasse then.” Head Councilman Makkis said. “Unless you wish to press your claim and kill us all.”
I recoiled at hearing Makkis speak my private thoughts.
“He tested extremely high for mental anima aptitude, but he wasn’t reading your mind there.” Fari told me.
“I guess my entrance made it sort of obvious.” I replied back on the telepathic link.
Darius opened his mouth to say something, but Councilman Osgood managed to speak first.
“That’s not necessarily the case.” Councilman Osgood suggested, turning to face the Head Councilman. “There is precedent for calling emergency impeachment hearings in the face of serious charges.”
“This girl blasted her way into a closed session carrying no proof of her wild accusations. How serious are we to take her claims?” Head Councilman Makkis said.
“Murder is as serious a claim as anyone can make.” Councilman Hector said. “As for her evidence, that’s for the hearing panel to determine.”
“We are assembled for a matter of planetary importance. That must take priority.” Makkis said. His face reddened and his lips compressed into a thin line. The council members near him shuffled back a half step or more even though he hadn’t raised his voice or moved in any threatening way.
Fari provided a series of colored lines on the visual overlay spell she’d cast. The lines connected the members of the various parties and showed the parties affiliation with each other. Breeg and Makkis were in allied parties, both of which were in opposition to Hector and Osgood’s party. Beyond that, the web of voting history and public allegiances Fari turned up was so tangled I couldn’t guess what the council would do if they decided to vote on the matter.
“You seem to be confused Councilor Makkis.” I said. “I am not here to make a personal accusation. This is a planetary matter.”
“All the more reason we should engage with her on an official level.” Councilman Osgood said. The outer edge of his mouth were turned up in the smallest of smiles but his eyes shone with sheer delight. I didn’t mistake that for approval of me. Osgood had the look of someone playing a game and stumbling on a winning move. It wasn’t hard to imagine that, by invoking my Imperial authority, I’d changed the political landscape where Osgood and Makkis were fighting. The Empire hadn’t made official contact with the Hellsreach Common Council until I decided it was a bright idea. I had no idea what the ramifications of that would be, but I was sure all of the parties involved would fight to turn it to their own advantage.
“I see you’re point.” Makkis said, addressing Osgood and ignoring me. “It will need to be a proper hearing to hold official weight. The absent Council members must be alerted so that they can hear the testimony and have a say in the deliberation.”
“Of course.” Osgood agreed. His smile widened and Fari showed me why. The current assemblage of council members was made up of barely more than half of the Council. Many hadn’t been able to make the emergency session. Given the right window of time, Osgood and Hector could count on tipping the balance much closer to their favor.
I winced. Agreeing with Osgood would win me an ally, but I couldn’t do it. The political stakes were high, but the planetary stakes were higher.
“I’m sorry, but this cannot be delayed.” I said. “Councilman Breeg has murdered hundreds of people already. The group he is affiliated with has murdered ten times that number and destroyed part of one of your military bases, all within the last twenty four hours.”
“She’s insane.” Breeg said. I saw him siddle closer to Makkis as he did so though. I winced again. Breeg looking to Makkis for protection wasn’t proof that they were part of the same conspiracy, but the move had been so instinctive that it made me consider the possibility.
“Makkis is Red Robes.” Fari said.
“How can you tell?” I asked, surprised that my intuition was correct.
“His reaction to your reaction clued me in. I cast a high tier analysis spell to confirm it though. His body structure matches Red Robes exactly, and the anima signature on the defensive spells he’s wearing is the same.”
I thought about my next words carefully. Whatever I said, whatever I did, and however people reacted, I knew that things were about to get loud.
“The Imperial embassy is transmitting again.” Fari said.
I felt relief sweep over me. I’d played this to the precipice of disaster. With the embassy responding again, the experienced professionals could come in and sort things out.
“They’re broadcasting a Wanted notice system-wide. For you. You’ve been declared a rogue agent and an enemy of the Empire.” Fari said.