Colors swirl and spin around me, reforming the library into a balcony with a view of a lakeside city. I feel mildly sick from the weird magic the Librarian had used, but I’m still determined to find Faladel and Briareth. Turning around to take stock of my bearings, I nearly bump into a strangely dressed Elf, and then yelp in surprise as he walks right through me.
“Balderk?” I hear Faladel’s concerned voice and glance around, but he’s nowhere to be seen. “Where are you? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, a weird elf guy just walked through me like I wasn’t there. No harm done though. I don’t think he even noticed me.”
“You mean the guard?” I hear Briareth’s voice shout from what feels like right next to me. “The design on the armor he’s wearing looks a little like one of the really old formal uniforms I once saw on display.”
“No need to shout, I can’t see you but I can hear you just fine.” I grump in the direction the voice came from.
“Quit with the roleplay!” The Librarian’s voice scolds. “It’s amusing, but I worked really hard setting up this backstory for you guys, and I don’t want you to ruin it with your chatter. Just be quiet and let the story play out.”
I fall silent and watch as the ‘guard’ looks around the balcony. His long ebony braid of hair flicks as he spins on his heel to face me again. His eyes slide right over me like I’m not even there, and he heads back inside calling “Prince Delphin!” I dodge out of his way, not wanting him to walk through me again.
“If we follow him,” I ask the Librarian, watching as the guard enters the building behind us. “Will we run into your bookshelves?”
“Of course not!” The Librarian says, making a sound I interpret as a snort. “What do you think I am, an amateur? Even if you try to not follow him, the illusion will actually force you to. It’s not a pleasant experience, so I suggest you get moving.”
I hurry inside the main building and watch as the guard turns a corner.
“Ages ago,” A slightly tinny version of the Librarian’s voice begins a narrative, as I hurry after the guard. “So long in fact, that the history has lost its place in time, there once lived a –”
“Wait a second, what does “lost its place in time” even mean?” Cuts in Briareth.
“It means they used a different time system. They measured things based on Y.A.T.S., the Years After Transferal System. Not the Heronmal Years System.” The Librarian’s regular voice comes back and sounds dangerously annoyed. “The two aren’t compatible, and there were a lot of years lost between the switch, so we have no clue exactly when things happened. Now no more interruptions, I’ll answer questions after the recording is finished playing.”
“There once lived an Elf Prince named Delphin.” The tinny voice continues “He was a clever young man of 23, considered an adult by his culture, and everyone believed that, once his ailing father died, he would make a great king.”
“These were days of peace and light, for both dwarves and elves. However, light cannot exist without shadow. Things weren’t perfect for either kingdom. Populations were growing despite attempted restrictions. Resources were being stretched thin. Piracy and highway robbery was on the rise. The people of both kingdoms were unsatisfied.”
The narration paused. The guard I was following suddenly stopped in front of an elaborate door. After knocking gently, he poked his head inside and called “Prince Delphin?”
“Yes?” Answered a smooth, light voice. “Is it time for the meeting with the Ambassador and Lords already?”
“It starts in ten minutes, Your Highness. Your father says he’ll be there as well.”
“What?!” There is the sound of something falling over from inside the room. The guard swings the door open a little further, and I can see a brown haired, green eyed elf scrambling to grasp sheets of parchment and restack a small pile of books in a messy sitting room. “But the King hasn’t attended any meeting in months, not even my birthday dinner!” He protests.
“Well, today he said he felt well enough to. I think he may have heard rumors of your proposal, Highness, and wants to be there for your first major presentation.”
The elf Prince pales. “Oh Biscuits. Like I need another reason to be nervous.”
“You’ll do fine.” The guard goes into the room, and I follow. It’s a cozy, slightly austere, little study room. The floor is well carpeted, and the shelves are full of books. From the number of chairs around, it is clearly designed to hold more than just one person. It isn’t the style of the rooms in the Elvish castle, nor is it like any Dwarvish design I’ve seen. I stop studying the room as the guard offers “Would you like me to help pick up your papers, Highness?”
“Yes, yes,” the prince grabs a few more papers off the floor, and then hesitates. “Tell me the truth, Sir Tethli. Do you think I should just scrap this proposal?”
“After all the hard work you’ve put into making it, Highness? Of course not! Besides, everyone already knows that you’re planning to propose something radical. If you show up to the meeting with nothing, they’ll be disappointed.”
“Of course.” The prince sighs, resuming stacking papers. “I can’t afford to disappoint them again. As always, your wisdom is much appreciated.”
Once they’re finished, they hurry off, and I follow. The narration begins again once we reach the Chamber of Lords, where the Prince’s Presentation will happen.
“It’s not that this presentation was the Prince’s first, but it was the first one where he’d come up with the idea behind it all by himself.” The room grayed out, the people moving twice as fast as normal, and their talking regulated to a background murmur. Once the prince stood up, it slowed down a little, and although I couldn’t hear him, I could see him gesturing grandly. The audience looked enraptured.
“The Prince proposed that, to halt the piracy and robbery that hobbled both trade routes and merchants, and squandered precious goods, the Elves should create a large force of guards that would patrol the trade routes and protect caravans. They could have outposts less than a day’s journey from each other, so the caravans would always have somewhere safe to rest. These guards would be regulated similarly to the small group who worked in the castle, but on a much larger scale, with one person in control of each camp, reporting to a superior in charge of their region, who reported to the king. Nothing like this had ever been proposed before in the long years the Elves and Dwarves had spent in this land, because there had never been a reason for longstanding groups of soldiers before.
“After some debating, and arguing over minute details, the king declared the proposal a law, and nobody voiced any discontent. The Dwarven Ambassador even commented that he would bring this up with his monarch and suggest to mirror it in dwarven territories, so that both sides of the border would be safeguarded for trading caravans.”
I watch as the King smiles at his son, and the dwarf sitting next to him busily scribbles notes on a piece of parchment. Then the scene blurs into a colorful swirl again.
“Time passes,” The Librarian’s tinny voice continues with the narration. “The King dies, and the Prince takes his fathers position.” Before me zips an image of the Prince in funeral white, tears streaming down his face, and then him at a coronation, gravely accepting a crown. “The law appears to be successful. Crime rates aren’t just down along the trade route, they go down countrywide. However, this doesn’t solve all the problems. Populations continue to grow despite government attempts to keep them down. Resources become even more strained than they had been. People are upset again. And then thievery starts to rise once more. Prisons are overpopulated with people who need to feed their families.” I don’t need the image of the prison, I can guess what they look like, but the image swims in front of my face despite that. “Towns compete with each other to attract merchants and farmers.” I watch as people in a tiny village cheer a merchant’s cart passing by. “Tensions begin to rise between elves and dwarves. Foreign Exchange programs end.” A brief image of a dwarf levitating his bags as he walks away from a school, flashes through my vision.
“Both races see the other side of the border as greener, a land of plenty compared to their starving territory. Then disaster hits, a disease wipes out almost all wheat crops less than a month before harvest time. Elves and dwarves face a winter of starvation. On the border towns that grew on the outposts of the guarded trade routes, elven guards and villagers get together, and raid the dwarven side, slaughtering anyone they can and robbing the town of anything edible.“
I stare at a small burning village, bright red and orange flames consuming my vision, screams echoing through the illusion. The Librarian adds on. “This does not go unnoticed.” The scene fades to black.
“Wait wait, hold up a second.” Briareth’s voice cuts in again. I jump. I’d forgotten he and Faladel were experiencing this with me.
“Elves started the war?” Briareth continues, incredulous. “You’re telling us we’re basically responsible for this massive loss of life that’s been going on for thousands and thousands of years?”
“I never said that.” The Librarian snaps, not pleased with another interruption. “Elves created armies, but dwarves copied them. One side may have attacked first, but it could also be true that earlier skirmishes were just unnoticed. I blame rising populations and the disease that wiped out the crops, not anyone or any race. You aren’t looking for a who-dun-it competition, you’re looking for a solution, right?”
“Yes.” Briareth mumbles.
“Then let me finish my story!” The Librarian exclaims. Suddenly, the black is gone, and before me is an old king on a throne.
“Delphin had grown old. Had watched his other friends die before him, and had already borne an heir. But, he had one last decision to make as king. What to do about the famine that was approaching, and the oncoming war. On the other side of the border, the dwarven king, slightly younger than Delphin, was forced to make a similar choice.” My vision split in two, and a dwarven king in a not very different throne room considered a report. “Each,” The tinny voice continues, “chose to save their people the best way they knew how. To conquer new land and gain more resources. The elf King, at the advice of the Lords, lied and said the dwarves attacked first. The dwarf King, instead of trying to reason with him or deny his claims, declared that they would fight back. Both raised new armies, paid them in food, and prepared to fight.”
“And fight they did.” Battlefields long forgotten flash through my vision. Faceless corpses with bloody armor, arrows and spears sticking out of them at deadly angles litter the ground. I don’t move, don’t dare take a step in any direction for fear of trampling on the dead. The scenes are so realistic, the smell of rot setting in makes me want to puke. “For the next few hundred years,” The voice continues, undaunted by the gruesomeness of what it is describing, “little changed. That first winter was harsh on both sides, but the winters afterward were better. War thinned the population as a whole. It gave the people a place to direct their anger. There were less farmers, but less mouths to feed as well.
“At one point, the elves discover the secret for immortality. Over the next couple hundred years, all the elves accept immortality. They no longer die from old age, and their population starts slowly growing again.
“Around a thousand years later, the dwarves face internal chaos after the church overthrows the government. Any true history of the war is lost on their side, as the church declares it a holy war, saying there is no way the two races can ever make peace. However, while the new dwarven leadership tries to solidify their hold over the empire, the elves gain ground using the expertise of their generals with hundreds of years of experience.
“Around this time, the dwarven church also eradicates any magic that they don’t control. All knowledge of magic use is restricted to clerics of the church.” I frown, surprised. Dwarves once had magic outside of the church? I think back, and remember the image of the student being kicked out of the school and floating his bags off the property. I suppose it makes sense… But why would the church ban it? The only conclusion I can reach is to further solidify their hold. But that obviously didn’t work that well, since they’re no longer in power. The tinny version of the Librarian’s voice doesn’t comment on the reason why though, just continuing with his tale.
“Eventually, control reverts to a noble house that claimed to be related to the old king, but the war is already enshrined in dwarf history as religious in nature, and magic recoined as sorcery as the church explores its possibilities.” Here the scene settles on a small dark room, with nearly twenty dwarves in habits taking notes as they observe one of their number casting a spell. “Possibly because of the desperation felt by their limited lifespans, the dwarves manage to come up with many more non-magical inventions than the elves during this time period. They advance on the war front, and eventually-” The scene switches to a burning city, the same city that I’d looked out over from a balcony earlier in this vision. Before I can try to figure out anything else though, it blurs into colorful streaks. “-they conquer the capital city in elven territory. The elves are sent into chaos for the next couple hundred years, as all of their Ancients– and with them most of the stockpiled knowledge of history, strategy, and culture for the elves–are killed off. Luckily for the elves, their royalty and a few top commanders had been visiting the warfront, so the chain of command is still intact, if just barely.” The tinny voice says, an emotionless constant amidst all the shifting, spinning colors. “The elves still haven’t fully recovered from this blow, only rebuilding their capital 659 years ago. They lost a lot of land and morale before and during the time spent rebuilding. On top of that, their King also suffered, and later died from an assassination because he was so unpopular for letting the capital burn. His family was voted out, the Mithrandirs came to power, and their dynasty has lasted till the present day.” A picture of the royal family, Faladel’s family, hesitates in my field of vision, and then streaks off to join the mass of color circling me.
“In the meantime,” The tinny version of the Librarian’s voice continues, “The dwarves continued moving their armies forward both physically and technologically. Without magic, they learned to use coal and steam to power devices and heat homes, while elves still used the more traditional wood and magic. With the dwarves new sources of power came new weapons. The elves responded to this by weaponizing their magic, training mages how to fight, and requiring a certain amount to be in the army constantly, even going so far as to pay for the training directly if the mages promised to fight for ten years afterwards.” An image of a row of elves in blue cloaks kneeling before Faladel’s father, flickers into view temporarily, and then fades to become the symbol of the church as the tinny voice continues with its tale.
“Here the dwarven church found a new way to become important again. It was simple enough, just produce battle sorcerers to counteract the elven mages. The church began specially training sorcerers to counteract battle magic, but the process was slow, and made difficult because they shunned any outside influences. This helped them keep their monopoly on magic, but limited how many sorcerers they could train and their ability to keep up with elven innovations in magic use. But after realizing how much power a successful sorcerer veteran could wield politically, dwarven nobility rushed to establish ties between themselves and the church to train their offspring.”
“By this time, however, the dwarven sorcery and elvish magic had changed so much that they weren’t even compatible in most cases.” What looked like a blackboard halted in front of me, and an animated figure sprung to life upon it. “Almost everyone could use the elvish version of magic, its power came from a wellspring within the person, and so was natural to use.” The Librarian continued, and blue lines grew from where the blackboard person’s heart would be, spreading to the fingers and materializing as a spell. “The elves focused on improving wellspring efficiency and figuring out new ways to use the wellspring. Dwarven sorcery, however, had developed a more powerful technique, and had abandoned the inner wellspring as they couldn’t figure out ways to improve upon it. Using outside sources of power, typically blood, wasn’t the most ethical method, but it was faster and could easily be scaled to create more powerful spells.” The blue lines erased themselves, and a corpse appeared near the blackboard figure. It shed more of the blue lines, which formed a larger version of the same spell. A bunch of red lines, presumably enemy magic, attempted to attack the drawing of a person, and the blue lines formed a large shield protecting him and the corpse. “One dwarf sorcerer with medium proficiency and ten sacrifices of his size or larger, could easily hold off spells from seven skilled elven mages.” The voice concludes, and the drawings and the blackboard swirl away and join the shifting mass of color.
“Not everybody could control such power, since taking power from outside the body destabilizes many spells and carries a higher risk of power rejection. However, the church didn’t have the resources to train entire battalions of sorcerers, this wasn’t seen as a hindrance at first. The nobles started arranging marriages with sorcery compatibility in mind, and quickly grew to become the singular supplier of sorcerer candidates. Because of this, many major noble houses have close ties with the church.” An image of a dwarf in fancy clothes shaking hands with a dwarf in the robes of a high priest fills my field of vision, and I watch as they sit down to a meal together. My stomach rumbles, and I briefly wonder how long we’ve been in here exactly, watching all these scenes play out.
“As an added bonus, with the sorcerers from the church saving all these lives on the battlefield, more and more common dwarves began to pay attention to the church and its teachings. This, combined with support from the nobility, caused the church to gain significant political power over the masses.” The image of the nobles eating with the high priest fade, and in their place appears the symbols of the different political factions. The Star of Seven for the Church; the Unending Eyes for the House of Yamat, the most powerful of the noble houses; and the Crown over Crossed Spears, the familiar symbol of the Royal family and Army. “This makes the Church, the Nobility, and the dwarven Royalty the factions you will have to work with to create peace. Balderk Ungart can probably give you his own information on the current political status of the different noble houses and members of the royal family.”
The tinny record of the Librarian’s voice fades as it finishes, and so do the symbols. I blink, and suddenly we are seated again. My legs are stiff, and ache when I stand up. “You do know–” I start to say, and then stop as my vision fades to black spots around the corners. “Woah!” I exclaim as the world spins a little and then settles and my vision returns to normal.
“Careful!” The Librarian exclaims, reaching out a hand to steady me. “Coming back from the illusions can be quite disorienting. Your actual body hasn’t moved, eaten or drunk anything in hours. Don’t try to move around too fast, or you might fall over.”
“I’m fine.” I mutter. And I am. Well, I am now. “You do know,” I restart, frowning at the Librarian, “That I was a simple soldier? I know very little about politics.”
“They already know some things, you already know some things.” The Librarian shrugs. “When you put your information together, you’ll have plenty to work with. Besides Balderk Ungart, you probably know more than you think. After all, you were the one who found out about the Scourger.”
“That was simply luck!” I protest.
“Which you’ll definitely need plenty of to finish this quest.” The Librarian replies stubbornly. He turns away from me, helping Briareth and Faladel to their feet. “Now,” He continues, “who’d like refreshments? I have water, tea, juice, maybe a bit of milk left, along with plenty of sandwiches.” I open my mouth to ask for beer, but before a syllable comes out he adds on. “Sorry, no alcohol Balderk Ungart, I’m underage.” I blink, stunned, but Briareth beats me to asking about it.
“How are you underage? You’re over 500 years old right?”
“In game yes, out of game no. I can’t explain any better than that.” The Librarian says and claps his hands together. “So what will it be? Juice? Water?”
After we all choose drinks and sandwiches– I apparently wasn’t the only one who got hungry –the Librarian has us re-roll the dice for another persuasion check. “This one,” He tells us as he calculates our modifiers. “is for bonus information.” I’d rolled a twelve, Briareth and Faladel both got sixteens. I thought we might have to roll again because of the tie, but the Librarian glances at the numbers and declares. “Faladel Mithrindir, the ban on you speaking is temporarily lifted. You have one question. Go.”
Faladel doesn’t even hesitate, like he’d hoped this was coming. “You implied earlier when Briareth interrupted that you had a solution- a way to end this war -in mind when you gave us all the information. What would be your first step in this path to ending this war, besides obviously making your way to the capital?”
The Librarian’s eyebrows lift. “Interesting question. Why not ask directly for the plan I had in mind?” Faladel blinks at him silently, and then acts like he’s answering the question, but doesn’t let any sound out. I snort at his pettiness, and the Librarian rolls his eyes. “You can talk.” He allows.
“I guessed that you wouldn’t answer it if I asked directly, and since I didn’t want to waste my one question, I decided it would be better to beat around the bush and try to figure out what you had in mind from there.”
“Well, it works.” The Librarian shrugs, his cloak rustling against his chair. “I’d first talk to the King, and then to the Prince. The King probably won’t agree to peace, he’s in a position of power with the Scourger after all. The Prince, though, might feel differently depending on what you have on offer. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his father, and he’d make a powerful ally if you can get him on your side.”
“Question!” Briareth breaks in, raising his hand like he’s in school.
“Yes?” The Librarian answers, glancing his direction.
“Do we also get to ask for hints, or will it just be Faladel who gets to ask them?”
“Faladel had the better modifier, so the highest score. He is the only one who gets to ask a question.”
“Drat.” Briareth mutters.
“Why, what were you–” Faladel starts, but the librarian immediately shuts him up.
“Hush, you are back to the no talking rule again.” Faladel’s jaw drops in protest. The Librarian grins, revealing carefully sharpened teeth that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Only the creep factor of those teeth stops me from snorting again at the amount of pettiness in that smile.
“You all can stay as long as you want,” The Librarian continues. “As long as you follow my rules. I’d suggest at least staying the night, as it’s currently dark out.”
“Wait…” Briareth hesitates. “How long exactly were we in that vision of yours?”
“I’d estimate over twelve hours,” The Librarian replies calmly, “but I don’t like clocks, so I can’t tell you exactly how long. Shall I go prepare beds for you three?”
Faladel, Briareth and I exchange glances. “Yes, please!” Briareth accepts for the group. Once the Librarian leaves, Faladel lets out a long breath. “So, what do you guys think?”
“About which part?” I ask him.
“Well, any of it really, but specifically I was looking for suggestions on how to best make peace.”
“I think” Briareth chimes in, “that the librarian will have you keep up the whole no-talking thing the entire time we’re here.”
“Off topic, but apt.” Faladel agrees, sighing. “That will be quite aggravating.”
“Also,” Briareth pipes up again. “I think that if there’s three main powers, we should try to make two join us to overrule the last one.”
“We should also try to follow the Librarian’s suggestion.” I add in, “He was right about the king and prince not being on the best terms. I don’t know what caused it, but the leader of the Prince’s Private Guard is always out of sorts with the army Generals. I overheard some of the Lieutenants gossiping about it.”
“Your Prince has his own guard?” Faladel asks, confused.
“You sure overhear a lot of things.” Briareth comments, “Didn’t you overhear about the Scourger’s existence as well?”
I ignore Briareth, and focus on Faladel. “There was an assassination attempt a while back.” I explain, “It took out the prince’s sister. After that, they upped security. Not quite sure why he got his own guard, or why they didn’t merge the two groups, but he ended up with a very small private army. That’s probably why the Librarian wants him on our side. You know, in case things go sour.”
“Which is rather likely.” Briareth adds on. “We should have a plan for that.”
“Plans in the morning. We can each brainstorm tonight.” Faladel replies, as the Librarian arrives back and proceeds to guide us to our rooms.