Chapter One: The AdvisoryFriday, 31st January 2020 ◆ Leader’s concerning toilets (7)
It was the first day of the cycle, and the day upon which the Advisory was due to gather. The Great Hall was a large building which stood in the centre of the city, and it was from here that all government business would be conducted. The meeting room was not overly large; there were only a couple of paces between the table and the walls on all sides.
The Regent, who chaired the meeting, and was effectively the head of the land as a result, sat at the head of the table, slouched and tired. The current advisory had only been sitting for around a hundred cycles, and the Regent had still not managed to match the popularity of his predecessor. The Advisory may be against him, and the people on the cusp of revolt, but he believed he only needed a few more cycles to win the favour of the population. And if the people liked him, the Advisory would have no choice but to follow suit.
At the Regent's place on the table sat the ornate goblet, the symbol of his power. The outside was encrusted with so many jewels that the brass out of which the goblet was made was visible only on the inner surface. The goblet was currently empty, waiting to receive the customary measure of magic from each of the Advisors. That meant for the next few moments, the Regent was vulnerable. He did feel fear during these minutes, but ensuring his safety would involve breaking custom, and he could not do that without further invoking the ire of the others.
He stamped his foot hard on the wooden floorboards, indicating his readiness to commence. Two footmen stood by the doors, and each pulled one inwards holding it open. Behind the doors stood the Advisors: six men and women standing in single file. Each carried a small tin goblet, plain and containing a measure of the light purple liquid: magic. As they walked, the contents of the cups were disturbed, sloshing against the sides of the goblets. Where it made contact, sparks fizzed up into the air in unmistakable magenta, the colour of distilled magic. The distinctive fizzing sound was subtle with these small quantities, but it could still be heard.
As they entered, each Advisor made their way to the head of the table, pouring their measure into the Regent's goblet before taking their place at the table. A single measure was not sufficient to perform any great feats, but with six measures, the Regent could perform a Hex, in theory. He could crumble the table into the dust. He could leap twenty feet into the air and land unharmed. He could conjure up an illusion and make it look like the old King was at the table.
He could kill a man.
That gave him comfort.
He dipped a fingertip into the magic, and absorbed a small amount of the liquid. His fingertip felt warm and tingled as if he had been sitting on it for hours. He withdrew his finger and directed the magic towards his lungs, using it to amplify his voice.
"The Session Is Commenced. Menroe, Advisor for the Sword, tell me how are we progressing on the Eastern front?"
"Progress is slow, Regent. We simply cannot push further into enemy territory without sending more soldiers. An extra two hundred recruits have joined the barracks since the last cycle's meeting, but they won't be ready to fight for another five cycles at least. Even then, they will be inexperienced. We would be better off holding the ground we have, and making another push a year from now."
"I cannot wait that long. You know the people are restless, the food shortages are getting worse, are they not, Quandra?"
The Advisor for the Scythe spoke, "We must capture more eligible farmland before the year is up. We have yet to face the coldest cycles, and already we are eating into our reserves when we should be building them up. At our current rate, reserves will last three more cycles."
"We must begin to ration our supplies. And give food as a priority to our soldiers. Quandra, cut food supplies by a quarter for all citizens, except the army. That should give us an extra cycle to play with."
"You cannot cut supplies to the hospitals; the sick must eat or they will die," the Advisor for the Vial cut in.
"If we don't manage our resources they will die anyway, Holder," the Regent tried to reason.
The Regent turned towards the Advisor for the Staff. Wren was volatile without doubt, but there was no-one more suited to advise on the delicate issue of magic. She was powerful beyond belief: it was rumoured she could cast a Hex with only five measures. Then again, it was also rumoured she had magic where her blood should be, and that could certainly not be true. That said, she did have purple eyes.
"Are you making progress on the research?" he asked her.
"Yes." The reply may have been short, but it was important. Since the current Advisory had been established, Wren had been looking for a way to augment the growth of crops using magic. Andria's power was due exclusively to the large network of magic mines found underneath the city centuries ago. Its founders had discovered the mines, and magic along with them, and had used them to build an empire. However, since the monarchy was dissolved, drought and a declining military prowess had caused the empire to shrink. Even though the mines showed no signs of depletion, magic's uses were limited, and there were not many people who could use the stuff effectively.
"And?" the Regent probed.
Wren rummaged around in her robes and produced a bundle wrapped in cloth. She tossed it onto the table. The regent hesitantly flicked a finger at the bundle, using the last of the magic he had imbued in himself to unwrap it.
"Why in Andria didn't you say earlier..." he exclaimed, his voice now at a normal volume.
The bundle contained around twenty ears of wheat, each bursting with grain. The tips of the stalks where tinged with a subtle magenta, so it was clear that magic had been involved in their growth. The other Advisors were in shock, and this did nothing to alleviate the unease which Wren invoked in people.
"I will need a hundred measures of magic, and I will give you a field of wheat like that before our meeting, next cycle."
A hundred measures of magic was a dangerous quantity for anyone, but in the hands of an experienced magician, it was unthinkable. Wren could destroy Andria completely, along with a good chunk of land around it, with that much magic. The Regent along with the rest of the Advisors knew this, but they also knew that there was no alternative. The survival of Andria depended on Wren’s efforts. The smirk on the young mage’s face implied she knew they had no choice, and it did nothing to settle their concerns.
If the Regent's Advisory could be the one to end the food crisis, that might be the boon needed to improve his reputation. The Regent's power was so tenuously held as it was, he didn't have much to lose.
"I will need to see proof of your efforts. But if this is the truth, I see no option but to supply you with what you need. Advisor Grunn?"
The Advisor for the Pick was in charge of mining. Gold and iron, of course. But also magic. Grunn along with all miners, were amagical. They could swim in a lake of pure magic, and they would not abosrb a single drop. Magic was deemed safe in their hands, and it was their duty to deliver small quanties to those who needed it. Outside of the miner's protection, distilled magic was never to be found in large quantities together.
"We have been protecting magic for years, and not once has there been an incident on my watch. I cannot intentionally gather more than twenty measures and escort them out of my safes. If a single magician were to gain entry and abuse the magic, who knows what they could do. We could see a return to the magic-fuelled tyranny of the monarchy we have worked so hard to avoid."
Wren shrugged and gathered the wheat into her robes.
For her research, Wren had been supplied five measures a week, whereas the other advisors had an allowance of at most one measure per week. Of those measures, custom dictated that one was to be brought to the Advisory meeting every cycle, leaving them with even less.
"If we were to double the Staff's allowance to ten measures per week, would you be able to support that Grunn?"
"I could, but with reluctance."
"Wren, how much wheat could you bring us under these terms?"
"I will still use five for research, leaving five per week for the wheat. That's twenty measures in a cycle. I have told you a hundred measures gives you a field. I can give you a fifth of a field." Wren was visibly annoyed at having to waste time explaining the mathematics to the others.
The Regent then declared: "It is decided then. The first delivery will be tonight, Grunn. And I look forward to seeing the results."
Quandra then spoke up, "As Advisor for the Scythe, I must be involved in this process. The growth of wheat falls under my domain, regardless of the methods used to achieve it. I know how to check its quality, measure the yield, effectively pick the crop."
Wren seemed fairly unbothered by this, waving her hand nonchalantly.
"If you were to send a group of workers to inspect the results each week, would that suffice?" the Regent asked.
"I would be happy with that," Quandra replied.
Wren nodded, and the others didn't expect to get anything else from her.
"Regarding the Eastern Front, does this mean I have your support to hold back?" Menroe asked.
"You do," the Regent replied. "We will reassess the situation on the next cycle."
The only Advisor yet to speak was that for the Coin. Brensom was the oldest of the group by some years, and he was already beginning to doze off. They called him Clink, jokingly suggesting that only the sound of coins jingling together could wake him from one of his slumbers. He managed Andria's finances, a complicated affair which no-one else really understood.
"Clink, do you have any news to share?" the Regent asked of him, coughing to catch his attention.
"Hmm!" the Advisor woke with a start, "Yes, yes, everything is chugging along splendidly. The cross-mint coin valuation show stability on all counts. Markson’s coinage is inflating a little rapidly, but no foul play suspected for the time being. The magic-infused coins we introduced to the market were very helpful, and show that about one in a thousand is a forgery - that is an excellent figure. Overall spending is a little low, but that is totally normal just before the cold cycles."
Good news, the Regent supposed. He didn't follow, and he suspected neither did the others. There was no need to probe further.
"Menroe, I believe you had another item to discuss?"
Menroe was in charge of the army and the city guard. As long as Wren did not have access to magic, Menroe was certainly the most powerful Advisor. The army was very loyal to him on account of excellent leadership and an unwillingness to treat them with anything short of utmost respect.
"I have had worrying reports from the guard concerning the monarchists. They are gaining in numbers, and are growing bolder. We have gathered they have taken to meeting in the northern forests semi-regularly, but we have yet to find out exactly when or where."
The decline in Andria's power had coincided with the fall of the monarchy, and as such there were many who blame the rise of the Advisory for their problems. It had been over a hundred years since the last King was slain, and no-one alive today could remember those times. That only made matters worse.
The King had been a powerful magician and kept a firm grip on the nation through magical force. It is a matter of great pride for the amagical that they managed to assassinate the King and seize control of the mines and magic reserves. After that, they established the first Advisory and carefully controlled access to the substance. Although the amagical are respected by most for this, the monarchists resent the amagical, and long for a return to the days of splendour and power which they associate with the late King.
Menroe pulled a cloth from his pocket and laid it out on the table: it was a square of white silk, about the width of a handspan, with a golden crown at the centre.
"My guard have siezed over twenty monarchist cloths in the past cycle. They have taken to keeping them poking out of their pockets in order to identify themselves to other like-minded people. We cannot let them promote the monarchy. All those we caught wearing them is in a cell, how should I proceed, Regent?"
The Regent was wary of allowing the monarchists to gain support, but he also didn't want to rile them by detaining them.
"Get their names, and send me a list. Other than that, let them go, I fear imprisoning them will do nothing but build up their resentment of the Advisory. If Wren's findings are successful, we will be able to garner support of the people before the cold cycles start. Getting the people through the cold will harm the monarchists' cause more than any amount of force."
Menroe was clearly unhappy with this resolution, but he nodded.
The meeting concluded with various other quibbles. Holder wanted increased funding to prepare her hospitals for the cold cycles. Grunn was worried about a decline of amagicals being interested in joining the Pick. Menroe wanted to divert some troops from the city to patrol the surrounding lands.
As the meeting came to an end, the advisors filed out of the hall, and the footmen closed the doors as they left. The Regent was alone once again. He mused over the meeting: it has gone well, and although he suspected he was winning back the Advisory's favour, he worried that was due solely to Wren's developments. If Wren's plan were to fail, or if she ever craved more power, his Regency would be over and he feared Andria might fall with it. He needed a backup plan.
The Great Hall had a door at the other end of the room which lead straight to the Regent's quarters. It was through this door that the Regent retired, carrying his goblet with him. He swirled the remaining contents around listening to the fizz of the magic.
He put the goblet to his lips, and swallowed the magic in a few gulps. It immediately went to his head. He felt flushed and warm, as well as more than a little dizzy. Within moments, the magic was absorbed into his body, and he felt the power. He grabbed a black cloak from beside the door and wrapped himself in it, obscuring his face. He leaped, enhancing the jump with magic, grabbing a ledge near the ceiling. From there, he squeezed through a narrow opening and ascended to the roof. The breeze buffeted the cloak, but the sheer quantity of magic flowing through him meant he was still sweating.
The Regent leapt from rooftop to rooftop, heading towards the forest at the north of the city.
Towards the monarchists.