Fates Be Damned - [Part 2]
By R. K. MacPherson
Two days later, in the great hall known as the Forge of Fate, the Castanic clan gathered, along with a number of interested outsiders, including Havelock and Zulfikar. Some came to learn the truth of Balder's death, others to choose a course. For all their fiery independence and deep-rooted mistrust, Havelock mused, Castanics are at their best together. Not that they'd ever admit it.
On the dais, the triumviri argued loudly about what to do. Several priests added their loud suggestions while the praetors howled for mobilization and preemptive strikes against those who were surely going to move against them. The mystics from the Primal Circle stood across from the priests, sneering and jeering in pointed, colorful terms.
"Enough!" One woman's voice cut through the din. "Accusations gain us nothing. It is time to make a choice." Severina, primus of the triumvirate, cast her stern gaze across her people. "We played a role in Balder's death, and the scars seared into our flesh mark us."
"We were used!" A mystic barked. "Why should we bear the blame? The gods have brought us nothing but grief! I say we turn our backs on them!"
"Lok was deceived," a praetor countered. "Even so, he is hunted. We can't wait for the Humans or Baraka to make their choice. We must strike first. Initiative will save us."
Zosimus, Severina's chief rival, spoke up. "Deva Victrix is a haven for commerce and crafts. It's not a fortress like Kaiator. Our enemies will crush this city like a ripe melon. The High Elves must be frothing at the chance to fight us here."
"Then we fight them there!" The praetor, Prinasus, snarled, stomping the ground with his great axe. A chorus of approving cheers clashed with opposing shouts.
"We're not ready!" A voice cried out.
"Neither are they," Prinasus countered. "It's an even chance. We fight here-and win-or we die here!"
"Or we leave!"
Calastra's voice shattered the din. Havelock stared down at her, astonished. Only by augmenting her voice with magic could she drown out ten thousand others.
The crowd parted as the little sorcerer walked forward. More than a few eyes narrowed suspiciously, but her stride was bold as she stepped onto the dais.
"Balder's death changes everything! The priests know it, the mystics know it. We all feel the truth of it in our bones."
Zosimus and Severina whispered to each other. Miriya, the third triumvir, stood apart, carefully considering Calastra.
"We cannot fight all of the races. If we've learned anything from the Devas, it's that one race stands little chance alone." Calastra continued.
"You think we're afraid?" Prinasus snorted. "Blast and damnation! We're not cowards!"
Calastra smiled wanly. "Your courage is boundless, but our strength could not suffice. There's no dross in our bones, but we must be cunning now, not brash."
Severina stepped forward and spoke directly to Calastra. She didn't shout, but the hall was so quiet that her words carried well. "And where would we go? Deva Victrix has been our home for three generations. Again, we must start anew?"
"If needs be, yes. We will leave Shara forever. Arun is an open frontier. If we leave the Popori unmolested, I doubt they'll raise arms against us."
"What of the Humans?" Zosimus sneered. "Do you think they'll mind us carving a new home among them?"
"I will speak to that," Miriya said loudly. "The Humans have migrated to Arun, but they're yet unorganized. If we moved quickly, without drawing attention to ourselves, we could make our way through their lands."
"We're going to flee? Without even a token battle for respect?" The praetor howled, inciting the other praetors to roar their disapproval.
"There's no respect to be had in pointless death," Severina asserted. "Whatever happens, our clan must survive. Think with your mind, praetor, not your stones! If we die in a futile fight for respect, who will sing our songs? Who will wear our jewels? Who will lament us?"
The silence grew heavy. Expressions tightened and postures tensed. Standing among the crowd, Havelock felt the momentous nature of the moment. Whatever the choice, history was being made here. Calastra made her way back to him, a wry look on her face.
"You spoke well," Havelock murmured. "Wisely, even."
Calastra snorted. "Selfishly, perhaps. I resent taking orders. I'd make a terrible soldier."
The triumvirate stood together, conversing in undertones. The praetors, priests, and mystics looked on, silently. The whole of clan Castanic held its collective breath as factors, opinions, prejudices, hopes, and fears all danced around the tipping point-then came down.
Zosimus spoke first. "Gather what you can. We're leaving Deva Victrix. If our enemies come, let them find nothing but our footprints."
Miriya stepped forward. "Our clan has never feared to chart its own course. Right or wrong, a terrible deed is committed, and our blood links us to it. The dangers we face are great-but we face them as one. We stand alone, together!"
Finally Severina spoke. "We will scatter to the winds until we can safely come together in Arun. We will weather this storm, survive this challenge, forge our own destiny, and fates be damned!"
Ten thousand voices rose up as one. "Fates be damned!"