Day 83, Year 1643, Age of the Monkey Ascendant.
The night passed into morning, and still no sign of Sirin appeared. Vistri woke, and looked around the house for his mother, certain that she must have arrived at some point during the night. But the house was dreadfully silent.
"Still no Sirin?" Korren said, poking his head out of his room.
Vistri shook his head. "I don't like this. She would have sent word if she were going to be gone."
"We should go look for her."
"No," Vistri said, shaking his head. "I will go look for her. You stay here, and try to keep out of trouble while I'm gone, alright?"
"Aww," Korren said. "But I could help!"
Vistri smirked and looked at him skeptically. "You're old enough to be left alone here for a little while without burning down the house or anything, right? And if anyone comes and tries to rob us, you'll need to be ready to kick them in the face."
"I can do that!"
Before leaving, Vistri grabbed a blue hooded cloak and pulled it over his head. It would not fool anyone under close scrutiny, but at least it would keep passersby from readily recognizing him as a mutant. Good enough.
He knew that his mother had said she was going to the palace, so he set off there first to start his search. He wasn't even certain that they would let him in. Sirin was the head of a high-ranking noble family, whereas Vistri was just a mutant with no real status as a person. By all rights, he should be the heir of Antaves and second only to Sirin in the family. But there was that damned third eye, the shame he could never escape, standing in the way of that.
Vistri passed along through the bright streets of Til'raine. He didn't leave the Antaves Estate frequently, and it took him a while to locate the palace, especially as he did not wish to chance stopping and asking for directions. His sandals clattered against the white stones that paved the streets of the city as he walked briskly from one point to another. Fortunately, there were numerous signs arching over the street corners, carved in stone or wrought in metal, helping guide his way to where he needed to be.
As he came into sight of the palace, he looked up, even pulling his hood back a little and risking being seen to get a better look at it. He had never been to the palace before, and it was a breathtaking marvel of Til'dari craftsmanship. It was golden and white, built of magic and put together in physically impossible ways. Some of its towers floated in the air, with no base, unconnected to the rest of the palace, merely tapering to a point at the bottom instead. The gracefully curving lines of the main building seemed to have been more sung into existence rather than built, in a way seeming almost alive.
After some moments, he stopped staring and pulled his hood close over his face again, aware of what he must look like gaping at the palace like that. Like someone who certainly shouldn't be allowed into the palace, that's for sure.
There were two guards at the gates of the palace, donned up in ceremonial armor meant to impress more than be functional. It looked as though it were made of gold inlaid with alabaster, though Vistri knew it couldn't be real gold. Well, perhaps it was real, but it couldn't be natural. It would be far too heavy. At best, it was likely wrought with magic in some way.
"Halt," said the guard on the right. "State your name and business in the palace."
"I am looking for Sirin Tialith Antaves," Vistri said. "Is she inside?"
The guards glanced at one another, and the one on the left turned to him and said, "We have no knowledge of anyone by that name currently being within the palace. Move along, now."
"Sorry for bothering you," Vistri said politely. "May the sun shine upon your duties." He gave a short bow to them and turned away.
Had she left the palace and gone, or been taken, somewhere else? Or were they lying to him? He could not be certain. There was nothing deceptive in their tone, but he could not see their faces or eyes through their helmets.
Distressed, Vistri circled the golden fence that surrounded the palace grounds, trying to pretend as though he were just going for a casual stroll along the street there. There was a wide green park inside the fence, with small trees here and there. Toward the back, there were gardens, with flowers strung up on trellises, larger trees, bushes, and hedges. If he were to try to sneak into the palace, he thought, that would be a good place to start.
But... sneak into the palace? He couldn't be certain that she was even in there, and if she were, where he might be able to find her, even if he could get inside in the first place. Nonetheless, he found himself climbing over the fence and slipping into the gardens, regardless.
There was no one back here to see him, and they'd probably realize he didn't belong here if they spotted him anyway. He pulled back his cloak and peered at the palace, squinting and staring intently, as if in hopes that his third eye might pick up something that the other two could not see. But there was nothing. Silently he cursed himself for his foolishness. Even if there were anything to see, the palace was no doubt warded against any sort of external divination magic anyway.
Vistri pulled his cloak back over his face and headed up toward the main building. This could potentially get him into a lot of trouble. He should just give up and go home. Maybe she would be back in a few days. She probably just got hung up with some sort of palace business. Whatever it was that she did here, exactly. Misgivings aside, however, he did not turn back.
Working his way through the garden, he spotted several animals on the way, but no other people. There were birds and butterflies all over, squirrels scurrying about the ground, and he even spotted a doe grazing peacefully in the distance. Around one corner he came upon a tiny plaza, tucked away between hedges, with a large fountain in the center. It was a large, delicate structure made of alabaster, with water spurting up and trickling down from a dozen places. Staring at the fountain, it took a moment for him to notice a woman seated on a bench across from him, and jumped in surprise when he spotted her.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to startle you." She was a lovely young woman in a pale yellow skin-tight suit, her blonde hair falling about her shoulders in tight little curls.
"I didn't see you there," Vistri stammered. "Sorry, I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"No, it's quite alright," she said, laughing lightly. "Not many people come out here these days. But I like it. It's calm, and soothing." She cocked her head, looking over at him. "I don't think I've seen you around the palace grounds before, have I? Who might you be?"
"No, you probably haven't," he replied. "My name is Vistri Lenoreth Antaves."
"Oh," she said. "Oh, an Antaves." She stood up and gave a formal bow to him. "My apologies for seeming so familiar with you, milord."
Vistri blinked for a moment. This was not the sort of treatment he was used to receiving. "Be at ease, my dear," he told her. "The sun shines upon our meeting. I would have thought that a lady of your grace and beauty would surely be a princess. Might I know your name?"
She laughed softly. "Me, a princess? Well, my name is Farilda Karine, if it pleases you, milord." No third name. She was houseless, then. Probably a servant at the palace.
"It pleases me," Vistri replied. "Perhaps you can help me, Farilda. I came to the palace looking for my mother, but I've been told she isn't present. Do you know, by chance, where I might be able to find Sirin Tialith Antaves?"
"They told you the Lady Antaves is not at the palace?" Farilda said, looking confused. "How strange. I brought her breakfast just this morning, and heard no mention of her going anywhere. In fact, I believe she was complaining about being kept here."
Vistri's heart leaped. "She's being kept here?"
"Probably tied up in politics, I suppose," Farilda said. "No one would dare hold the head of such a powerful house against her will!"
"Would you take me to her, if you have a moment?" Vistri asked.
"Of course, milord," she said, bowing again. "Come right this way, then, if it pleases you."
Vistri nodded and followed along after her, trying to keep up his flimsy guise of being an important nobleman with every right to be here. Farilda brought him in a back entrance to the palace connecting to the gardens, and led him down the corridor. He resisted the urge to stop and stare at everything along the way. That would surely blow his cover and draw suspicion.
They came upon a young man carrying a net, and he said, "Pardon me, sir. Sorry to bother you, but did you see any animals in the palace?"
"No, I have not," Vistri replied. "Why, is there one on the loose?"
"The perimeter sensors said that one slipped inside from the gardens," he said. "But I haven't seen anything. Might've been one of the squirrels, sneaking in and hiding somewhere. Again, sorry to be a bother. May the sun always shine upon you." The boy scrambled off to continue his search.
Vistri absently wondered if the "animal" that had been detected was him. He continued after Farilda, making their way through the palace and up two flights of spiral stairs.
"Here is your mother's room, milord," Farilda said, stopping at one of the doors and giving a bow. "Please call for me if you require anything further."
"My thanks," Vistri said. "May the sun shine upon you."
Farilda seemed a little surprised to be given such courtesy, and bowed again as she turned to head away. Vistri touched the edge of the door lightly, and it slid open at his command. The room was very nicely furnished, although it seemed a little small to be spending a lot of time in.
His mother was pacing about the room when he came in, and looked startled to see him. "Vistri? Is that you? What are you doing here? You shouldn't have come here."
Vistri pulled back his hood and said, "I was worried about you, mother. What's going on?"
Sirin sighed. "Oh, just politics. I fear I have been dreadfully lax in ensuring that you know how the games of politics work, but given your status, I did not see it as a particularly pressing need. They are attempting to strip my house from me, but without any real evidence of wrongdoing, they will not succeed. But they have decided to keep me here while they are 'investigating' the matter."
"What wrongdoing could you have possibly done to warrant such a thing?" Vistri wondered.
"You, my dear son," Sirin said. "They do not appreciate me keeping mutants at my house, but there is no law which states that I cannot do so should I so choose."
"So why are they keeping you here?"
"They're trying to dig up something that they can throw at me that might actually stick," Sirin said, sighing and shaking her head. "Even if they have to fabricate something. They can't legally hold me here, but politically it would look bad on me were I to simply slip out of the palace in the midst of this mess, much as I would like to."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Vistri asked.
Sirin shook her head. "No, and I fear your presence here will only exacerbate matters."
"I shouldn't have left Korren alone, either," Vistri said shamefully. "But I didn't know why you hadn't come home and was worried something might have happened to you."
"Oh, Vistri," Sirin said, smiling faintly at him. "It's alright. I understand." She turned away and looked out the window. "But for your own safety, you should probably go back home. I'm sure you can Korren can take care of yourselves for a few days until I get this all sorted out. Don't worry about me, I can handle things here."
Before Vistri could say anything in acquiescence or protest, the door whooshed open and someone else entered the room. Vistri reflexively turned to see another woman in a green and blue outfit. She glanced aside at Vistri, eyes widening a little, and said, "Ah. My apologies, Sirin. I was unaware that you had company."
"Risha," Sirin said coolly, not even affording her the courtesy of a formal greeting. "Why are you here?"
"I came to bring you to the meeting chamber," Risha replied, equally coolly.
"You could have sent a servant to do that."
"Obviously," Risha said, snorting softly. "I did wish to speak with you briefly first. In private. But I doubt you would listen to what I have to say regardless, especially as you've brought that thing here."
"Say what you meant to, regardless," Sirin said, not looking at Vistri.
"Far be it from me to implore you to see reason in this matter," Risha said. "Or to think that you might actually seek to help erase these stains upon our people." She shook her head. "The council is waiting for you. Oh, and... bring that thing, too."
"I do not need to follow your orders, Risha," Sirin replied. "But since you requested it so politely, I will comply with your wishes, of course."
Risha smirked. "I know you intended to bring it along regardless, or you wouldn't have brought it in here. But mark my words, this will backfire on you. Once they see the true horror of what they are up against, they will surely see reason as well. Come."
She turned and strode out of the room, and Sirin followed after her. Vistri, rather confused but staying quiet for the moment, fell in line behind his mother. Risha led them swiftly through the palace corridors and up a lift, eventually coming to a wide chamber high in the palace, overlooking the city through numerous windows. Sunlight streamed in through skylights in the ceiling. Several other men and women were seated about the room, sipping at tea, chatting quietly amongst themselves, or gazing out the windows. They all went quiet and turned to look at the new arrivals. Vistri shifted uncomfortably with so many eyes upon him and nowhere to hide.
"Council of Til'raine," Risha spoke, her voice ringing across the hall. "I, Risha Vitali Maranos, have brought before you again, the Lady Antaves, in order to discuss a most important issue regarding the future of our world. See here this creature that she has brought to display before you. See, with your own eyes, the horror that awaits us should we be complacent in stomping out the mutant menace! The Lady Antaves will no doubt attempt to sway you with arguments on this creature's humanity, but I implore you, do not be fooled. This being is a monster, an abomination, an affront to all that we stand for. This cannot be allowed to continue unchecked!"
A man across the hall, old enough that he looked old, said, "Lady Maranos, are you done yet?"
"Yes, Lord Dalamir. I have said my piece."
"Then be seated and be silent," he said, turning to Sirin and Vistri. Risha, chagrined, took a seat off to the side. "I, Deshar Kiras Dalamir, Head of the Council of Til'raine, address those who have come before the hall. May the sun shine brightly upon us this day as we bring to light the path that may lead us forth from the darkness."
"May the sun shine upon us, Lord Dalamir," Sirin said, bowing gracefully to him. "And I bid you thanks for your welcome."
"And I see that you have brought a guest to our proceedings," he went on. "Might the council know the name of this visitor who comes before us?"
Vistri said, "I am Vistri Lenoreth Antaves. May the sun shine upon you always, Lord Dalamir." Mimicking his mother, he bowed to the man as well.
There were rumblings around the room, as people gasped and murmured amongst themselves. One of them spoke up and said, "What has this council come to that we allow animals to speak in the hall?"
"Silence," Lord Dalamir snapped. "There will be order in this hall."
The council members quieted down again reluctantly, reducing their words to fervent whispers in the background. Although some of them were looking at him in disgust, Vistri noticed that this was far from universal. Either some were better at hiding it than others, or not everyone here agreed with the common treatment of mutants. Some, at least, looked more curious than anything else, while others appeared like they might actually be genuinely sympathetic.
"The Council of Til'raine welcomes you to the hall, Vistri Lenoreth Antaves," Lord Dalamir said.
There was a smattering of voices at this. Someone said, more quietly this time, "He walks and talks, wears clothing, has a name. Does he think he's a real person?"
Vistri ignored the comments and said, "I am honored to be here."
Another man across the hall whispered, "A trained monkey, nothing more."
A woman next to him hissed back, "Will you shut up already? You're embarrassing me."
Lord Dalamir turned to the gathered men and women and said, "I realize that you all have comments that you wish to share, but if you will wait your turns you may speak your minds in due order. Now, let us attend to the business at hand. I realize that some of you have been attempting to bring about censure of the Lady Antaves and her house. Do not believe that anyone here is fooled by the accusations of wrongdoing that you may have contrived. We all know the real reasons behind these intentions, and that will be how they will be addressed. The question stands before the hall: What place do mutants have in Til'dari society?"
People stood one by one and addressed the hall. "They do not have a place in society, Lord Dalamir. They are not true people. They are animals, monstrosities that should not be allowed to live."
"They are an offense to everything the Til'dari stand for. They should never have been born."
"They are unfortunate souls, and we should care for them and protect them, not shun them."
"They are fascinating and should be studied, preferably in a controlled environment."
"They're just people. Why would we ever consider them otherwise?"
"They should be separated from the rest of society so that we do not need to be exposed to any diseases that they might have."
"Exile them. Send them off into space with the El'dari."
"Every life is precious. Theirs is no less so."
"I say put them to work. They're smart enough to be trained. Let them do the jobs that are too dangerous or messy for, you know, real people to be having to stoop to."
"Animals. Kill them all. And remove this one from the hall. It is an eyesore."
"I ask the hall," Lord Dalamir said. "Do we kill animals simply for existing? If they are to be considered animals, should they not be treated as such?"
The man who had called Vistri a trained monkey stood up and said, "But we do not allow animals to roam freely through the streets. We keep them in preserves, in zoos, in homes as pets."
The woman next to him stood and added, "Don't we? No one tells the birds and bees where they may fly. No one cages cats and keeps them from going outside."
He looked at her for a moment and said, "I withdraw my comment." They both sat back down again.
"If the consensus of the hall be that mutants are animals," Lord Dalamir said, "then I put this question to the hall: What wrongdoing has Sirin Tialith Antaves therefore committed?"
"She harbors savage beasts in her home!" cried one of the council members.
"I believe that more than one person in this room keeps pets," Lord Dalamir pointed out. "And that many of the pets which are kept are of the larger and more exotic variety. Am I correct? Will you not also give censure to those who keep lions?"
Another woman stood up and said, "I say, if she wants to create a zoo, let her. Who are we to tell her otherwise? Let her take in all the strays if she wants. Send them to her, so she can clean them up and keep them off the streets."
"So be it, then," said another man. "But if these creatures she keeps hurt anyone or cause any trouble of any sort, I say she be held responsible for their actions, just as you would if one of your lions got loose and mauled someone."
"Agreed," said another.
Sirin looked around the hall in some puzzlement and said, "What, you would wish for me to set up a shelter for mutants now?"
"That would appear to be the general consensus," Lord Dalamir said. "With proper training and care," he added, turning to the council, "these beings can be more like young Vistri here. Calm, obedient, and not a danger to anyone. They may even be able to find some purpose in society, as some of you have suggested. Either way, I see no reason to bring censure against the House Antaves at this point in time."
The council members rumbled a little at this, but brought no further arguments to the floor at the moment. Off to the side, Vistri could see Risha was fuming and grating her teeth silently.
"If there is no further business before the hall this morning, then this session is adjoined," Lord Dalamir said, pausing for a few moments to look around the room to see if anyone else would hurriedly speak up, but no one did. "May the sun shine upon you all on this day."
The council members, some of them still muttering a little disgruntedly, began trickling out of the hall and heading toward the lifts to the lower levels. Sirin murmured to Vistri, "Well, that went better than I had expected."
Lord Dalamir approached the two of them and said quietly, "Lady Antaves, a word with you in private if you will."
"Of course, Lord Dalamir," Sirin said, nodding to him. She gestured to Vistri to come with them, and followed the council head into an office off to the side of the meeting hall.
Once they were securely inside, Lord Dalamir said, "I apologize for not being able to have been present yesterday. Matters beyond my control demanded my attention elsewhere."
"I would not seek to blame you for your absense, Lord Dalamir," Sirin said. "Though I do have to wonder a bit at your unexpected support. Not, mind you, that I am unappreciative, far from it. I just have to wonder, to what do I owe the courtesy of your support in this matter?"
"You would not believe that I am merely interested in the humane treatment of all beings?" Lord Dalamir said, grinning crookedly and chuckling a little. "No, I'll admit, I have a somewhat more personal stake in the matter, and that is what I wished to speak with you about."
"You have a mutant family member?" Sirin said, raising an eyebrow.
Lord Dalamir nodded. "Exactly. I... You are a brave woman, Sirin, to embrace and acknowledge your son as your own flesh and blood, and damn the consequences, but in my position, I cannot afford such a thing. My great-grandson, merely a newborn babe, a beautiful child... with a beautiful pair of tiny blue wings. I could not bear to see him destroyed merely for being who and what he is, but I cannot allow it to be known that he is of my own blood. His mother died in giving birth to him. The wings were too much for her to handle, and there were other complications."
"I am sorry," Sirin said. "I understand. You wish me to look after him, Lord Dalamir?"
"Yes," he said, nodding. "If you would. Perhaps on my death bed I will be able to acknowledge him fully as a member of House Dalamir." He sighed. "But if you are to be caring for my own blood, then please, call me Deshar."
"I will make certain that any mutant that comes to me or is brought to me will be kept safe and be given opportunities for learning," Sirin said. "Thank you for this, Deshar. May the sun ever smile upon you."
As Sirin and Vistri headed out of the palace, they were stopped by a young woman in a yellow work outfit. Vistri recognized her as Farilda. "You!" she exclaimed.
After his rather public appearance before the council, he hadn't seen any real point in concealing what he was at the moment. "Farilda?" he said.
"I can't believe this," she said. "There you had me tricked into thinking you were a real person, someone of importance! But you're not. You're just a mutant!"
"No." She shook her head. "Don't even speak to me. I may be houseless, but at least I'm a person and not a monster."
Sirin said, "Please, young woman, calm down. Your name is Farilda, I take it?"
"Yes, milady," Farilda said, bowing to Sirin sheepishly.
"Why is it that you speak to my only son in this manner? Did he cause some hurt to you that I am unaware of?"
"No, milady. He only wished to be escorted into the palace so that he might find you." She shook her head. "I apologize for causing distress before the eyes of one of my betters. But if it is all the same to milady Antaves, I do not wish to be around these monsters or those who pander to them further, given the choice in the matter. May I take your leave, milady?"
"You may go, Farilda," Sirin said.
Farilda bowed to her, but did not say the slightest thing about the sun as she scurried off again quickly.