Project ZEAL

Scene 31 - Revelations in the Night (Aitrus)

Aias gazed at the woman, regarding her for a moment before making a reply. "Not yet, Provostia," came Aias' reply. "Not just yet." He stood and leaned against the desk where Sessimine was sitting, sighing as he did so. "Tell me, what do you know of the Council?"

"The Council?" she replied. "What does that have to do with you and I?"

He smiled at her condescendingly. "Just humor me for a moment, if you please."

"Well," she started, "not much. After all, they keep everything about themselves a secret. All that anyone knows about them is that they exist, and are continually buying up resources and hiring everyone they can lay their hands on, or impressing them into servitude depending on the rumor you hear." She sighed, and looked at Aias. "I normally don't spread gossip," she lied, "but there's a rumor going around the higher circles of the major universities that the Council is mostly interested in Temporal magic. However, everyone over at the School of Temporal Magic claims to know nothing about that. But you know how far you can trust those wackos over at Temporal." She snorted at the very idea.

Aias smiled. "Not very far, exactly," he replied. He looked at her, noted the impatience in her eyes, and grinned. "As for you, however, I also know exactly how far to trust you."

She smiled back. "And how far would that be, your highness?"

He sighed and stood up, walking around the desk, heading for the couches in the raised mezzanine just past the doorway. The window, with its mountain of pillows, was not much farther away, but this wasn't that kind of a visit. "You remember the dream I came in to talk with you about a few days ago?" he called over his shoulder to her.

"Of course," she said, sliding off of the desk and following him. "It was one of those dreams that's hard to forget."

"Tell me about it," he muttered under his breath. Sitting down on a couch facing Sessimine as she approached from the desk, he continued "Anyway, those shadows we saw at the end of it, did anything seem familiar about them?"

She frowned in concentration for a moment as she lay upon the couch he was facing. "No," she said distantly, still trying to think about them. "Nothing at all. I could tell that it obviously meant something to you, or at least your unconscious mind, but I wasn't inclined to press the matter, as you obviously weren't willing to talk about it."

He sighed and looked at her. "The reason I didn't tell you anything wasn't so much that I wasn't willing to talk about it. On the contrary, sometimes I wish I could tell someone everything that's going on." He hung his head slightly, staring down at the floor instead of at her. "But I can't divulge all that is going on, because much of it I don't even know." He stopped, trying to gather the piecemeal thoughts rattling through his brain.

She walked over and sat down beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, highness," she said soothingly. "Just say what you wish to say."

He almost laughed. "No, it's not what you think," he said. "I'm alright, I'm simply trying to figure out how much of what I know I can tell you."

She balked. Obviously, she wasn't used to people keeping secrets from her. "If you were any other man…" she started.

"Yes, I know. You'd get all the information out of me just with a thought." He smiled at her. "However, I doubt you would get much from me if you did try. I may not be able to use magic, but I do know how to keep anyone out of my mind if I want. There are still places in the world where non-magical techniques are remembered, though few now care to remember where."

She scowled at him. "However," he said, trying to head off the storm that he saw brewing in her face, "that's not what I came here to say. I do want to share some of this with you, as I can tell you are trustworthy." Her face softened somewhat, but not by much. "The Council, as you could probably guess, is a very secretive organization. They don't let anyone find out anything about them, not even their immediate lieutenants. The only people that know anything about the Council's activity are the Council members themselves. All five of them."

Recognition flashed across her face as she caught the connection. "Five. The same number of shadows as in your dream." She looked at him in disbelief. "You can't be…" She trailed off, not wanting to say it.

"In discreet ways, only," Aias reassured her. "I oppose them, but can take no action against them. After all, the Council is literally the most powerful organization in all of Zeal. No one, literally no one, can oppose them."

"Not even the royal family?" she asked.

"Not even us. The Council effectively runs the show now. They tell my parents what they need done and they do it. I don't know exactly what they do or how they got this power, but it's there and it's real." He fell silent, not wanting to say anything else.

She just looked at him for a moment. "Dearest Montlasalle, help us. To live in a day and age when the King's power has been usurped by people who don't even exist to the vast majority of us…" She looked back up at him in pity. "It's simply unthinkable." Slowly she turned away, when a thought flashed across her face. "Wait, how do you get your information out? If they're as secretive as you say, how can you know anything about them?"

"I have my sources inside the organization," he said. "I get the information out and piece it together from my end."

"Someone may have been compromised," she said, a faraway look in her eyes. "Someone came by here a few nights ago, a representative from the Council. He was asking me about different methods of interrogating prisoners using enchantments, about how effective each method would be. They said that they had captured an enemy of the crown, but he was proving tough to crack, asked if I would come and help." She looked at him, sincerity in her eyes. "If I had known, I wouldn't have been so cooperative..."

"But that would have tipped them off immediately," he interrupted, "and tipped them off to the wrong person. Even knowing what you now know, the best thing you could have done was exactly what you did. I have fail-safes in place to ensure that, even if one of my operatives goes down, it won't take me or the rest of them down as well. No one knows me by name, none of them have even seen me, so nothing can be traced to me. And none of the operatives even know that there are others like them, so one operative being caught won't even scratch the rest of the group."

He looked her dead in the eye, to make sure she got what he was trying to say. "Now, I don't want you doing anything out of the ordinary," he said. "I didn't tell you all this so you could become my partner, or so you would start working for me. Sea of Zurvan, I don't even tell this much to my operatives." He scooted a little closer to her. "I told you all this because, if I didn't tell someone soon, I was going to fall to pieces, and you were the only person I thought I could trust with this. Do you understand?" She nodded, a little overwhelmed at all of it, something she obviously wasn't used to expressing. "I'm sorry I had to tell you this, but like I said, you're the only one I could trust. The palace is bugged, my sisters hardly ever leave, and my parents are too close to the Council for my taste." Sessimine balked in distaste at that, but he shook his head. "They don't like the Council, either, but they've been coerced into working for them. If a Council representative should walk in as we were talking about this, it would mean death for both of us, even though we're royal. The same applies to my sisters. But you, you've already been entrusted with many secrets by virtue of your position, and you've proven both your trustworthiness and your loyalty to the royal family." He smiled. "Plus it's not so bad coming back to see you, either."

She smiled at that, and perked up somewhat. "Of course," she said as if he had just stated one of the fundamental laws of magic. "What else would you expect from a master enchantress?"

"Nothing else but what you did," he replied. He smiled at her and stood. "Thank you for listening, Sessimine. If you ever need me, simply call upon me and I shall be there."

"Thank you, your highness," she said as she bowed. "I shall ever be here to serve you."

He nodded, motioned for her to rise. He was about to turn and walk out when he stopped. "Actually, Provostia, there may be something you can do for me."

"Name it, highness," she said.

"About a week from now, there will be a ball held in the Palace, in celebration of my younger sister's birthday." He smiled at her. "I currently have a gift for her, but I have no one to take to the ball. And, of course, it would be unseemly for the Crown Prince and Heir to the Throne of Zeal to appear without a companion." She could hear the capital letters as he said his title, but was that a hint of sarcasm she heard in there, as well? "Would you care to join me for the ball?"

"Certainly, your highness." She curtsied, playing the role of love interest instead of servant. "It would be my honor to accompany you to the ball."

"And it would be my pleasure to have you there." He smiled at her again. "I shall send someone by with the details tomorrow," he said after noticing the darkness now looming outside. "Until then, I guess. Good night." He turned and walked out the door, feeling better than he had in a long time.

Use the sidebar to navigate to other scenes and access the "writers' bible" for the project. Discuss Project ZEAL and this feature here.

Return to Features