Larell Lac Taal’s ankle winglets tingled. The air of the Court Chamber fluctuated with uneasy echoes. Whispers of past conferences clung to the curves of the vaulted arches. Larell’s sensitive winglets twitched at the almost imperceptible vibration the room emitted as it ingested the underlying tension. Today the disquiet of the Senex seemed to overwhelm the chamber’s soothing capabilities.
Perhaps my own concerns are shaping my perceptions.
He scrutinised each of the Senex members in turn: their Royal Highnesses like carved stone; Queen Aurelia, alabaster but for her eyes, warm as amber, Prince Elumin's colouring more that of green marble, Brairton’s cat eyes flashing in Larell’s direction, whiskers twitching. He occupied his chair with languid ease leaning over towards Mirasel beside him. But, she furled her delicately arched wings away from Brairton.
Mmmm, she mistrusts him.
Larell's attention was drawn to Emuelle and Rhil as they arrived in a shimmer. Facing the thrones the twinned pair bowed elegantly from the waist in unison before claiming their seats. The representatives of the Four Corners were present as protocol required and the proceedings could begin.
The Court Chamber released a deep sigh.
Or was that me?
No-one could blame the people in the chamber for their alarm. Least of all Larell. He hated having to be the bearer of such news. As Citadel Security Chief he could not shirk his duty.
Rufus, the Head of Gargoyle Surveillance, was the most reliable trouble detector Larell had ever worked with. The ancient gargoyle could feel the rumblings of the city far beneath the bedrock of its foundations, down to the very core. He knew when the magma wheezed, when the crust cracked, when the bubbling at the centre wanted out. It made little difference how small the tremor, Rufus felt it. The mere fact he experienced a shift made Larell’s insides go cold.
While the Senex assembled, Elumin sat with his arms languidly draped along the engraved armrests of his throne. Now his left arm moved minutely as he trailed a slim forefinger along the length of the throne arm. The design carved into the dragon ivory no longer resembled the other armrest. Eyes pinned on Larell, he spoke.
“Larell, your initial investigation suggests beings are sprouting which seem at first glance to be a part of our world but on closer inspection are not.”
Larell's eyes flicked to the altered tracery on the throne. “Yes Sire. As it says in my report.”
Elumin jabbed at the armrest with a long forefinger. A dent appeared, marring the new carving. “Summarise it for us.”
Shifting his position, Larell drew in a steadying breath. “Outwardly they seem like us, but their vibrations do not resonate in the same way. They have what can only be described as episodes of fragmentation. Their behaviour is more reminiscent of the world we do not like to name.”
Larell's eyes drifted back to the arm of Elumin's throne. The little hollow had been replaced by a leaf design.
Always the use of these subtle methods to assert his power and authority over me. Does he not weary of them?
Brairton’s sultry voice interrupted Larell's thoughts “Once these creatures are captured they will need to be kept under lock and key. How else are we to ascertain exactly what they are? We don’t have the capacity to support a large amount of internment. Since the War to End all Wars we’ve never had to resort to incarceration of any kind."
A communal tinge of sorrow flowed through the chamber at this mention of the War.
Trust Brairton to put the hawk amongst the doves. I was hoping to leave this problem till later.
Brairton did not wait for the sorrow in the room to dissipate. Instead he wrinkled the skin on the top of his feline nose as he spoke. "Will this be a problem for you Larell?”
Was Brairton truly concerned? His cat's eyes together with his sculptured leanness made him so inscrutable. What if the rumours of his duplicity during the war are true? “You’re right Brairton, infractions have always been minor, merely high jinx. Imprisonment has never been a part of our justice system. When we rebuilt everything, we designed for the better, not for the worst that could happen. We promised ourselves we would never return to a time like that.”
The current status of The Citadel bothered Larell increasingly the more information his troops gathered. In his agitation he levitated several centimetres off the emerald floor tiles. “I’ve enlisted the dwarves to help with regards the creation of holding cells but it irks me to have to take this measure. Then there is the fact that to date we have yet to capture one of these… beings.”
The other members of the Senex exchanged significant looks.
Larell realised his breach of protocol and hastily lowered himself. He concentrated on the feel of the square-cut gems through his soft soles to reground his emotions. Then he reiterated. “We are however yet to capture one of these creatures. They are remarkably illusive, despite an increase in sightings.”
The youngest member of the Senex, Mirasel, spoke. “There’s something else troubling you.” Her wings fluctuated in colour to offer him moral support.
Smiling his thanks through his eyes, Larell continued. “I suspect they are co-existing. If this is the case then it means..."
"We know what it means Lac Taal." There was impatience in Brairton's tone. "We need more information. What we need is one of these creatures for study... and questioning.”
There it was, the underlying feeling Larell always had that Brairton was more interested in Experimentation than information gathering. And he knew without question that Elumin would second Brairton’s motion.
Mirasel sighed, her wings rustling her agitation. Emuelle and Rhil shimmered as they sent empathy waves to ease her destress.
As expected, Elumin spoke. “Mmm, an intensification of the investigation Brairton. That seems to be what you’re suggesting yes?”
Brairton bowed his head.
Elumin looked first at the queen who nodded almost imperceptibly and then at the rest of the Senex. “What say the rest of you?”
They all assented. The situation was too precarious not to agree.
Aurelia finally spoke. “Larell, I suspect you have already had the foresight to increase your inquiries. But I nonetheless urge you to make this your highest priority.”
Larell's heart thumped in his ears. He could hardly hear what she said. All he knew was that she was speaking to him directly. I must not look at her. If I look at her I will crumble like rock beneath a well-aimed mallet blow. He focused his attention on the new elaborate tracery Elumin was yet again creating on the arm rests. What was queen Aurelia saying?
“Find out how this is affecting the populace. You say that at present The Citadel is the worst affected?”
Larell flushed. He let his eyes flick from the movement of Elumin's hand to the queen’s face, avoiding eye contact, looking instead at the silky smooth curve of her cheek. “Yes Milady. The fissures appear…”
Larell cleared his throat. “That’s what I think of them as. Cracks between their world and ours.” His eyes forgot to look at her skin and met hers. For an instant everything in Larell’s world stopped. The queen’s gaze barely grazed his face but Larell felt it like a rain of blossoms on his upturned cheek. Then her attention moved away and he came back to the chamber. “I…I believe speed and increased resources are vital. I have a task force watching out for the appearance of fissures.”
“As ever Larell you think on winged feet. Do whatever you feel necessary to remedy this situation. I leave all the details in your capable hands.”
Larell soaked up the queen’s tone of approval. He only hoped he could live up to her high regard. Elumin and Aurelia rose as one and left the chamber. The council members followed in their wake. Larell was left with the faintest whiff of jasmine blossom and his slowly fading blush. Still rooted to his seat he slammed his fist down on the conference table.
“Idiot. Such an idiot. I can take down a gargantuan rampaging troll with the flick of my wrist but the instant the queen speaks to me I become a gibbering imbecile. It’s a wonder she didn’t think I was one of the creatures from my report.”
Presley, his assistant, materialised above the table in a puff of pink smoke.
“Oh for Senex sake Presley. Were you ear wigging again? Oh never mind. You already know all about my failings anyway. It’s the only reason I don’t fire you.”
“And I’m really good at my job.” Presley wiggled his genie tail back and forth as he hovered in place.
The weight of Larell’s added responsibilities pulled at his insides. “Just get me back to the office. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m not even sure where to start.”
Presley settled himself on Larell’s shoulder as he spoke. “I can help you there. Rufus says Gargoyle surveillance is in full swing. We’ve had a report of an intoxicated goblin with a food product called a burger on its head. Janelle and Benelle have gone to collect it. Gamden and the four are holding down the fort till the troops muster in.” Larell and Presley disappeared in a small cloud of smoke and a tendril spiralled its way to the chandelier of the court chamber’s vaulted ceiling. The chamber released a groan.