Chapter 4: The Raian Plan

The Chancellor visits a military installation near the border with Nordak.
Chancellor Madrigo of Ra surveyed the forest from the battlements atop the fort. He contemplated the land beyond, the cliffed border of Nordak just a few miles north of the. Here in Ra, everything had its place: forests, fields, farms, towns, cities. Nordak was a land of caves, of mountains, of monsters. Wild, tame, and uncivilized. Barbaric. Yet even the might of Ra could not change that forest, could not expand past that cliffed border. The Kingdom of Ra and the Ring Countries had maintained an easy peace for over three hundred years. Anno Firmitatis held the balance; the Kingdom of Ra could hold off an attack by a single country, but if if Ra attacked any country, the others would, by ancient agreement, band together to repel the invaders. The centuries of peace had allowed open communication and trade to flourish between the peoples of Aoeth. Farmers unburdened of the heavy taxes of war sold their excess foods in village markets bought luxury goods. Skilled artisans and traders filled the growing middle class. But as Ra had grown, so had Nordak, Castony, and Marnath. An ambitious ruler would have to press more than an economic or military advantage to see their country grow. The Chancellor flipped his collar up against the late evening cold. His jacket was cut in the military style, black, slim, and long, with two tails resting elegantly against the back of his knees. Polished brass buttons gleamed in the mist like orange stars between the castellations. He rested a gloved hand on the stone wall, imagining a greater history for his country. A unified Aoeth: modern, enlightened, where political uncertainty was a thing of the past. It was the next step in the great progress peoples had made for nearly half a millennia. One nation, one continent, united. The Chancellor-Secretary Willard entered through the stone trapdoor. “Pardon me, your excellency. The Nodemaster is ready at your convenience,” he said. He was a thin man, nearly as tall as the Chancellor himself, nearly as elegant and proper as the Chancellor, but very carefully never quite so. He folded his hands and bowed. The entourage of the Chancellor came upon a field south of the forest. The Chancellor and his secretary lead the group, guided from behind by the Nodemaster. Behind her, the local Legion Commander tromped in great steel boots, huffing from exertion. They were followed by assistants, a very small honor guard, and a Cardinal from the Church of the Five Spiders regional diocese. They all stopped at the entrance of a small tunnel in the middle of the field. The Chancellor peered down into the dark opening and noticed the tunnel was lined with metal. The Nodemaster animatedly started to explain the coming experiment in a rush of words. “This is it, this is, yes, I’ve found it. I figured it out, look, look! It’s the metal, that was the key, and the flow knows the earth. It’s all clear now, and the possibilities are endless! I must do more research, yes, but first, but first. I suppose. A demonstration.” She bent down to tinker with the metal plating around the tunnel, angling plates upwards and smoothing out the thin metal. The Cardinal stepped forward. “You must excuse her, your excellency,” he said. “She becomes very absorbed in her work. We are, of course, always loyal to the Crown, and are eager to demonstrate the means to further its purposes. If I may explain?” “Cardinal Fen, a pleasure. We are most appreciative of the work the Church does for the military, and I have only heard good things of your charitable works in this area. Please continue,” the Chancellor said. The Cardinal splayed his five fingers in a blessing and bowed. “Thank you. If I can direct your attention to the fortress, you will notice the faint glow of the Node within its walls. Even now, which I would estimate to be over a half mile away-” “3150 feet, exactly, our longest run yet! If it works, if it works,” the Nodemaster interjected. “Quite,” the Cardinal continued. “The purple glow of the node is visible. And as you know, the node location is constant. Great cities, countries are built up to protect and be protected by these nodes. Even our small node here allows the Nodemasters to produce wonders. But only within the walls of the fort. As we travel further from the node, the wonders lessen. Even our esteemed master here is only slightly more powerful than a common wizard only a half mile away. Yes, influence, and therefore power, is geographic and resistant to change. But what if it weren’t? A mobile source of magic. A way to move the very veins of the Oeth. This is beginning of a shift, a change to 300 years of stagnation. Chancellor, this is history in the making.” The Chancellor was rapt with attention. He had met the Cardinal a number of times, but had never before noticed such a kindred spirit. The Kingdom of Ra was ready to grow, its leaders ambitious, and its means great. Yes, this could be very important indeed, if it worked. “Nodemaster, if you will, please proceed,” the Chancellor said. The nodemaster and her assistants fluttered around the hole making last minute adjustments. Satisfied, she stood up and wiped her hands on her dirty robe. She then took a small firework bomb from one of her many deep pockets, uttered a spell, and the bomb shot up into the night sky. It exploded in a shower of green sparks. A few seconds later, the Chancellor’s party could see a fountain of purple bands arcing out and over the walls of the fortress in the distance. The bands shimmered with white stars, reached their apex, and gently faded into the dimmer stars above. “Showoffs,” muttered the nodemaster. The signal was given. A soft hum reverberated through the field and below the gathered officials. Out of the tunnel entrance, a purple mist leapt up into the air, fitful, like a cat batting at a string. Curls and wisps of vapor alternated between darting up into the air and slowly drawing back. As more of the substance bellowed out of the tunnel in great puffs, the mist rose into the air in a glowing column. The Chancellor and his retinue stepped back in awe. “By gum she did it, whaddya know,” said the Legion Commander, breaking the silence. He rocked back on his heels and made a phew! sound. He was a quiet man, not well respected around the fort, but well connected through his family in Ra. He had the ashen complexion of a Raian, but his cheeks, nose, and ears were tinted bright pink. He clasped his hands behind his back and stared up into the new node as it glowed against the black sky. “Ha! Oh yes, they said, they said it was no good, but oh, oh, yes I did it!” The Nodemaster danced and jumped in glee around the base of the node. She clapped her hands and laughed as she approached the node. She stopped a pace in front of the glowing side wall of the column, and stretched out one hand, palms facing the front. The mist inside the column near her hand radiated an orange glow, and her palm began to incandesce the same orange color. Her other hand she flung towards the sky. With outstretched fingers, a burst of light appeared from her upthrust palm and tore upwards into the sky. She howled triumphantly and swept the light across the sky. For a brilliant second, the entire field, forest, and fortress were illuminated by a false day. They all raised their hands above their eyes and blinked in the sudden light. “Well! Let them top that! Well. Ha,” said the nodemaster, drained of energy and calmer than she had been the whole night. “I must congratulate you,” Chancellor Madrigo said. “The new node appears entirely genuine, and, if I may say, quite potent indeed. The Crown will be well pleased with your efforts. We can assure you of any support you need for further experiments. Ladies and gentleman, this calls for a celebration, and I have come prepared for just the occasion. Willard, if you will., the wine.” The Secretary produced a bottle of shroomwine and four glasses. The Chancellor, Cardinal, Nodemaster, and Commander all sipped the wine and marveled at the magical node. “A wonder, to say the least.” “Ah, yes, and an excellent vintage as well.” “Ha! The wine, oh, it matches the node!” “Goes down easy, yep. Ah, any chance of another glass of that wine?”
Later that night, the Chancellor, Cardinal, and Legion Commander were in the fortress tower, drinking around a small table. The nodemaster had long since retired, exhausted from the night’s work. The Chancellor and Cardinal both sipped at their glasses of wine, and the Commander was surrounded by empty beer mugs. As the Chancellor and Cardinal conversed in a low tone, the Commander’s eyes unfocused, and his head gently drifted onto the table. “But why at night? Was there some particular scientific reason to direct the flow at that hour?” the Chancellor asked. “Your excellency must excuse my flair for the dramatic,” Cardinal Fen said. “I had supposed it would make a striking picture against the night sky.” “It was rather exciting. And please call me Madrigo.” “Thank you, I will do so. Now, I cannot claim any of the credit for the scientific aspects of this achievement….however, I will say that I had some small part to play in its success. Some weeks ago, the nodemaster was attempting to direct the flow of the node so it converged further up. She was interested in condensing the vapor so it would dissipate at a higher altitude. Although I’m sure this would have been interesting for her and the other scholars to study, I determined there to be no practical application. It was my idea direct the flow out, not up. And the political ramifications are not lost on me.” “Ah, Cardinal, may I call you Fen? You are an astute fellow, and I assure you this act of service will not just be rewarded and then forgotten. No, you were right to come directly to me: this is information that will further the glory of Ra, and by extension all of Aoeth itself. Aoeth is changing, and we must ensure the change is proper, and right. Who else to act as guides to usher in a new era other than the Crown and the Church?” “I agree. The Church of the Five Spiders is ready to put its full backing behind you in Court. There is another piece we may use. The Church Keepers have been receiving some very strange messages recently. Have you heard of the legend of the Sixth Spider?”
Next -- Chapter 5: A Bit of Countryside