It was raining. We’d caught up to the storm.
Water splashed as my feet crashed through a puddle. The mask shielded my face from the rain but my hair and body were soaked. Ben and Elenor weren’t faring any better. After the incident with the statues, we had lost a lot of time and felt the need to push through the storm instead of waiting for it to pass.
Ben estimated Jerome and Sally would be reaching Bendeck soon, assuming they went over the road – which was unlikely. This meant they were probably already inside.
I ran a hand through my hair and a drop of water formed on my forehead. It trickled down my nose and onto my lips. The trail of water was uncomfortable. I lowered my head, took off my mask, and rubbed my face with my wet hands.
Gray eyes stared back at me. My reflection rippled as water droplets dripped from the sides of my head and fell into the puddle. My face was distorted but my gray eyes stared back at me, unwavering.
I kept the mask off.
Elenor tapped her baton on a puddle but there was no splash. Instead, the water trembled, and only rippled from the raindrops. I walked a little faster because I’d fallen behind. Ben wiped the water off his face and shielded his eyes with his hands as he peered into the distance.
“I can see it,” he said, his voice loud enough to cut through the din of heavy rainfall.
I squinted but I couldn’t see anything except for grey skies, muddy fields, and rain. I didn’t feel the need to use The Tempest, despite the appropriate weather. Instead, I followed Ben’s lead.
We took shelter under a gnarled tree, which stood alone in an empty field. On the horizon, a mountain jutted out of the ground like a tooth.
“That’s Bendeck?” I asked.
“What do you see?” asked Elenor.
“It’s called the Hill,” said Ben. “It’s the most important place in all of Fore.”
“I’m guessing it’s where the Headers live?” I said.
“That’s right. All the big shots. Heads of all the major families, military generals, landlords, and of course, politicians.”
Politicians, I thought to myself. I’d always found this world’s political situation odd. Despite having a strict social hierarchy, it would sometimes feel like a liberal democracy from Earth. Even if the electorate was skewed, it was still a somewhat democratic setup.
They probably didn’t let Cheeks or Collars run for office, which was why there could be a bunch of career politicians inside the tiny Header community. The parties themselves seemed more inclusive, or at least the Side Party did. They seemed to let Cheeks and Collars manage things to a certain extent. Then again, perhaps the other parties wouldn’t organize a rally like Gecko did in Chart.
“But that’s not why it’s the most important place in Fore,” continued Ben.
“There’s something more important than Headers?” I chuckled, dryly.
“Look.” He pointed to the Hill.
I squinted and noticed something strange. The mountain was unnaturally symmetrical, it must have been carved by people. Like any normal mountain, it became thinner at higher altitudes. However, the peak was different, it was bigger than the tip of the mountain.
There was something on the peak. A building of some sort. A palace, perhaps?
“That,” said Ben. “Is the Senate.”
The Senate. That must be the parliament the parties wanted to control.
“That’s where all the bigshots are?” I asked.
“Yep, all the representatives from the cities, foreign dignitaries, and the Official himself, have offices inside the Senate.”
“Why is it on top of the mount- the Hill?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Doesn’t that make it easier to attack?”
Ben chuckled, then he giggled, and then he broke down into laughter. I was surprised, Ben wasn’t the kind to laugh so hard he wouldn’t reply to a question.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Attack the Hill?” he said, still fighting his laughter. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
I frowned. “Why? Project Poppy said they were starting a war, didn’t they? If someone with long distance burnt magic showed up, they could attack the Senate from a lower point on the Hill. Hell, they could blow up the tiny base of the building and send it falling.”
Ben started laughing again. I felt a strong urge to punch him but I couldn’t muster the energy. The air was humid and walking through the rain had drained me.
Elenor put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t mind him.” She poked Ben with her baton.
“Ouch!” he cried. He rubbed his arm, barely managing to stifle his laughter. “What was that for?”
“Don’t laugh at her just because she doesn’t know how big the Hill is.”
I squinted at the mountain city. Now that I thought about it, it was probably huge up close. The space between the Senate and the rest of the Header’s district was substantial, too.
Still, Ben’s reaction was a little extreme. My knowledge of magic was limited, but all the burnt magic I’d seen so far was incredibly powerful. Maybe there were some limits I didn’t know about, perhaps no magic could work outside a certain distance, but I felt like magic in this world couldn’t have those kinds of universal rules.
After all, magic came from books. Books were too different, too diverse for limits like distance or power to apply the same way to every magic.
“That’s not it,” said Ben as he glared at Elenor. “It’s nor its height that stops people from attacking it, nobody has ever even tried to attack the Senate.”
“Why not? That would be the fastest way to bring down the government. If that’s what Project Poppy wants to do, they must have tried to attack the Senate,” I asked.
Ben shook their head. “It’s not just the government up there. The opposition sits there too. Then again, Project Poppy didn’t care about the official opposition in the Senate before Gecko Ross took over the Side Party. Still, they’d never dare attack the Senate directly.”
I frowned. I still didn’t get it. On Earth, attacking the parliament was the way most revolutionaries and dictators tried to take over the government. From Fawkes to Napoleon, if they didn’t try to blow up the parliament, they at least threatened to do so.
“First,” continued Ben. “There’s the fact that only Headers can get into the Hill, and no Header is about to take down the government. Gecko Ross was a special case, an outlier. I haven’t heard of any other Header willing to oppose the government in any way, beyond tiny disagreements of course. And trying to hit the Senate from the Cheeks or Collars districts on the ground is impossible.”
I guess there weren’t any long distance magics that could hit that far.
“Second, there’s a magical shield around the Hill, and another shield around the Senate. No bombs, arrows, or rocks could ever get through.”
“Hey, that sounds like people have tried to throw stuff at them!” I remarked.
“No, the government boasts about the impenetrable Senate all the time. They like to show off.”
“Ever think it was a ploy to stop you from trying?”
How could he be so sure?
“The third and most important reason is: not only do Inline and the Fore Armed Forces have their headquarters there, which means its full of the most powerful magicians in the world, the Official himself is there too.”
“So?” I asked. The Official was like their president. So what if he was in there? If anything, that should make it more enticing. You could take out the president, the parliament, and the heads of the army and secret police, all in one go!
Ben blinked. He opened his mouth then closed it. “So?” he repeated. “So? What do you mean, so? He’s the Official. The Official!”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Just because he’s the most powerful person in the country doesn’t mean he’s the strongest person too. He’s a politician, not a soldier.”
Ben shook his head. “I really want to laugh right now, I really do. But I can’t. Goddess, this is tough. Don’t tell me you two don’t know about the Official? Every kid in Fore grows up hearing stories about him. That’s the way it’s always been.”
I furrowed my brows. That’s the way it’s always been?
“The Broken Witch doesn’t like history lessons,” said Elenor. “She says they’re boring.”
“She must have been shy, considering how prominently she features in those history lessons,” said Ben. “Did you ever ask her about the Official? Or about Fore? This country, and how it came to be the way that it is?”
“No,” said Elenor. “Never crossed my mind.”
Ben cursed. “Fine then, it’s time for some education. Listen up, kids.”
“Elenor, hit him with your baton again,” I said.
“Don’t! Okay look, I’ll make it simple. Who founded Fore, around one thousand, six hundred, and sixty-six years ago?”
“I don’t know,” said Elenor.
“Me neither,” I said.
“It was the Official, the Official!”
“So the first Official made the country,” I said.
“No, I mean yes. But that’s not the point!”
“Then what is it? You said you’d make it simple!”
Ben grit his teeth. “I am! Damn it, why don’t you understand.”
“Why don’t you make it easier to understand?”
Ben yelled, “One thousand, six hundred and sixty-six years ago, the Official made the country of Fore. And that Official, the first Official, the only Official, is the same man who sits on top of that mountain, the one we call the Hill, inside the building on the peak, the Senate. Does that make sense? Is that easy enough to follow?”
He breathed heavily. The rain continued to pour.
“Oh…” I said.
Elenor stood silently, leaning against the tree trunk.
“He’s been alive for almost two thousand years. He’s run the country forever. He carved out its boundaries through war and conquest way before any of his opponents were born. The only people who would ever dare to attack him directly would be the President of Clef or the Goddess herself! Gecko Ross, Project Poppy, all they’ve ever tried to do was threaten the system enough for the Official to grant them some concessions. That’s it. That’s all anyone has ever tried to do.
So now do you get why I was laughing at you? Why the idea of attacking the Senate is the dumbest, most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard? I’ve grown up hearing stories about the Official and how he can make his enemies explode at a glance, flip continents with his fingers, and make the world spin on a whim.
They say he was blessed by the Goddess Bit herself, and became her champion. They say he owns one of the most powerful books in all Illustair: one of the six Wonders that are the origin of all magic in the world. They say he killed the Epilian God Static. Think about it: he killed a god.
The Front Party has never lost an election. That isn’t because they’re the most popular nor because the Headers’ votes are worth more than the Cheeks’, it’s because the Official runs the Front Party, and nobody wants to make him angry.
Bit may be our goddess, but I’ve never met a person who venerates her more than they do the Official.
Most people love him. The rest respect him. All of them fear him. He hasn’t shown himself to the world in centuries but nobody has forgotten him. We can’t. Even now, nobody says his name lightly. They always praise him the way I just did, make sure his name hasn’t been uttered in vain.
He’s the king who isn’t a king. The immortal who isn’t immortal. The god who isn’t a god. He’s the most powerful man in the world.
Suigon Flecht, the Official of Fore.”
- Nobody Knows Me
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