“Indeed,” was El’Arad’s response. I could see his face clearly now, and admittedly, it was hard not to look at him in awe. This was the man who had proposed the rebuilding of the Nexus, and it was through his guidance that the two cities were now cooperating, and working toward a common goal. To imagine that Zal’Urid now stood against the man who had brokered peace between our cities made me ill — but I knew that my master was no fool, and would not be here unless he was certain of his position.
“Let me assure you that I am not offended by your accusations,” El’Arad said calmly.
“However, I am puzzled. What is it you think you have discovered that compels you to argue so vehemently against your plan?”
“It’s not what I think I’ve discovered, El’Arad,” my master returned, “It’s what I have ascertained through rigorous study and calculations. Your plan is flawed, because it is based off incorrect information.”
“And what information is that, scholar?” El’Arad asked.
“You are attempting to reconstruct a spire transportation network to replace the now nonfunctional Combine Spires. Yet, you based your design off the Combine Spires themselves,” Zal’Urid explained patiently. “My calculations suggest that the new spires will still attempt to connect to the Luclin Nexus, as did the originals. Although I cannot be certain at this point, my research suggests a dangerous feedback of mystical energy resulting…”
El’Arad interrupted my master’s speech. “You cannot be certain of the outcome, yet you stand before this high court asking us to cease what could be the greatest achievement of the erudite people. And why? Based on admittedly uncertain information.”
“The only thing I am uncertain of is the outcome,” Zal’Urid returned. “At best the spires simply will not function. I am still working on the calculations for any other outcome aside from that.”
“What then, do we have to lose if the spires do not work as we designed them to do? IF your calculations cannot conclude any other outcome with any degree of certainty, why are we holding this court?” El’Arad asked with a hint of amusement in his voice. My master has always had impeccable control over his emotions. It is a rare case when I have seen him allow circumstances to get him
visibly upset. In almost every situation, Zal’Urid is deconstructing and analyzing the situations around him, and formulating plans for any given situations. I could see though, that El’Arad was beginning to make my master’s shell of logical detachment begin to crack. At the time, I could not be certain as to why, since Zal’Urid had been in many such open debates, but I knew that something was different this time.
“I believe, esteemed scholar, that the spires not functioning is the least likely outcome,” Zal’Urid said sharply. “In fact, I believe the most likely outcome is more likely as I said before — something far more catastrophic. That’s why I mentioned it at the beginning of this court.”
“You are questioning, then, all of the scholars who have worked on this project, all of the great erudite minds, both from Erudin and from Paineel, and all of the hours upon hours of research that has been poured into what we are attempting to accomplish?” El’Arad turned to face the councilors seated behind him now. “You are saying, to this court, to these scholars, to these people, that all of their research is flawed, while yours is accurate? And we’re supposed to take this based on what — your uncertainty, which you cannot
support with facts?”
“Indeed,” Zal’Urid responded, to a chorus of jeers and disapproving murmurs. “I believe that more time and research must be dedicated before we begin this project in earnest. We can still get to Antonica by sea, so there is ample time to conduct further study.”
“So you admit your contempt for your peers, then?” El’Arad said, a slight chuckle in his voice. Turning toward Zal’Urid, his gaze narrowed. “Tell me something. How many generations of your family have lived within Paineel?”
“I am the first, councilor,” Zal’Urid answered.
“Interesting,” El’Arad mused, as he began to circle my master. “Tell me then, who were your parents, if not scholars from Paineel?”
Zal’Urid hesitated, briefly before he could answer. However, Coriante Verisue wasted no time in answering for him. “They were Deepwater Kngihts, were they not, scholar?” she called out, the disdain evident in her voice.
“Indeed,” Zal’Urid said loudly, “My parents were both members of that Order.”
“And why, then, did you leave Erudin as a traitor to live within Paineel?” El’Arad said, punctuating the offensive word ‘traitor’ for effect.
“Because the scholars of Erudin have proven to be shortsighted and narrow in their thinking,” my master answered bluntly. The angry muttering from the crowd grew ever larger.
“And is it also true that the Deepwater Knights have opposed this project from the beginning?” El’Arad began, never taking his eyes off my master. “Is it not true that they have made their own shortsighted and narrow way of thinking very clear to this court, and to all of Erudin very well known?” Calls of agreement began echoing off the walls of the high court now. I began to shift uncomfortably, unable to hold back my unease. “Tell me, scholar,” El’Arad said fiercely, “Did you not go to the high court of Paineel simply as a mouthpiece for your parents’ order? Are you not just repeating the rhetoric of the Deepwater Knights, looking to spread their fear and lies to any and all who will listen?”
“How dare you!” Zal’Urid retorted, seething now with anger. “My research is my own!” My master thrust his notes into the air, shaking them toward the seated council. “My calculations and findings are sound! I challenge any of you to study my notes, and find a flaw within them, as I have found flaws within yours!”
The council chamber erupted into jeers. “Throw him out!” came the calls from the benches above. “I’ve heard enough!” My master attempted to argue back, but the crowd was no longer paying him any heed. El’Arad walked backwards out of the light, almost melting into the darkness beyond. It was clear that he had done what he had set out to do. It was over.
The large, heavy doors to the council chamber closed behind us as we left the chamber. As we walked slowly down the hall, I saw that Zal’Urid had calmed considerably, and was back to formulating a new plan. Before I could speak, he spoke to me. “There is something else amiss here, apprentice,” he began. “I can’t be certain what it is, but El’Arad has another motive — I could sense
it, but I cannot put my finger on it.” I nodded my agreement, because I was not sure where my master was going with his thoughts.
“We must find out more. I want you to go to the library of Erudin. Begin seeking out whatever information you can there. Listen in on the scholars’ conversations, observe what tomes they are researching, find out who is associating with whom. Whatever is happening here, it is intertwined with the Nexus experiment, and thus could decide the fate of all of Odus — we must learn all we can, as quickly as we can,” he explained. I was surprised, to say the very least.
“M-m-master,” I stammered, “Please forgive me. Planning for the next round of debates is one thing, but looking for a web of conspiracy is something completely different! How can you…”
“Do not question me, apprentice,” he said firmly. “I ask only that you follow my instructions faithfully, and speak none of this to no other. It is imperative that this remains between you and me.”
“As you wish, master,” I replied.
Zal’Urid looked up to me. “There will not be another round of debates — I am sure that El’Arad will see to that. Meet me in three days back on the shore of the Vasty Deep with your notes. Be as discreet as you can.”
“I will,” I answered. “Where will you be?”
Zal’Urid looked away. “I am going to meet with the Deepwater Kngihts, and begin to compare notes. Where that meeting will take me, I cannot say.”
I nodded. ”
Very well. I will meet you in three days,” I said, and turned to walk away.
“Indeed,” Zul’Urid answered. “And apprentice,” he said calmly, “Watch
your back.” I froze for a moment, hearing the deliberate cold tone of his voice.
When I turned around, Zal’Urid was gone. I will not fail you, my master. I will not fail.