Marissa finished the high note. It wasn’t supposed to be sharp or a tremolo, but sometimes life was like that. You tried as hard as you could and it just ended up as offkey warbling. Everyone else in the Opera house would clap and encourage her, compliment her on her ‘avant garde’ take on the piece. All of them too polite, bribed or blackmailed to say anything ill about her awful performances. The funniest part is that none of the customers would speak out either. Enough of Diyall’s influential figures had spoken publicly about how Marissa was the ‘new face of Opera’ and that her performances were ‘reinventing it as an artform,’ that everyone else was too afraid of public mockery to state the obvious. That she was an a pretender without any real talent.
Maybe she should have been more bothered by being a fraud, but growing up in a brothel burned that out of you fairly quickly. The men and women that hired her never wanted to hear the truth. Some of them wanted to hear that she was working to save up money for tuition to Lyles Hall. Others wanted to to hear that she was working because she loved the job and that all she could think about was sex. Still others wanted to hear that she was a noble whose house had fallen upon hard times and that she was working to raise funds for her brother who was seeking out the hidden family fortune. All of them wanted to hear that they were the best she had ever encountered at pleasing her. Her face wrinkled, well except for that one guy who wanted her to berate him about how tiny and ineffectual he was the entire time. He was a bit of a strange one.
What people wanted was a story, and that’s all public discourse really was. Finding out what the people wanted to hear and feeding it to them. The nobles wanted to peer down her blouse, so they would happily agree that she was a prodigy given the right prompting from Anne. It really opened your eyes and at the same time made you a little worried.
In her, the rich and powerful all looked at a circle before proudly and publicly declaring her a square. Marissa couldn’t help but wonder where else that held true. The same people who lauded her ‘achievements’ decided much of the tax and domestic policy for the Empire. What policies and proposals did they reject out of hand because they didn’t fit the collective perception of what was acceptable? Before Anne discovered her and made Marissa an opera singer, she had never wondered too much. The powerful had graphs and charts backed by the most learned minds at Lyles Hall. They were serious men and women whose very bearing whispered we have spent a lot of time studying this so you should listen to what we have to say. She didn’t blink when they dismissed the revolutionaries and reformers as wild-eyed dreamers without a shred of sense.
Today, she wasn’t so sure. True, some of the proposed reforms were absolutely insane. For example, the aurists wanted all gold removed from the economy and exchanges to instead be based on barter. According to them, this would stop the rich and powerful from just accumulating vaults full of gold, but Marissa knew that gold would soon be replaced by something else. Be it gems, artwork, letters of credit backed by farmland, or something she couldn’t even imagine, the wealthy would always find a way to stockpile more wealth. That said, she had met the serious men and women of the Empire’s civil service and Lyles Hall, and had noticed three things when they tried to talk about the Empire’s economy: first, that they were staring at her tits the entire time they tried to impress her with their intelligence; second that they generally dismissed their rivals and detractors out of hand without actually addressing the merits of the other’s arguments; and third, none of them were nearly as smart as they thought they were. Instead, they just formed cliques that agreed with each other while sniping at others, like schoolchildren in a lunchroom. They convinced themselves that their clique was the only one that had the answers and demonized the others to the point that they simply didn’t listen.
A knock at the door focused her. Marissa answered the door where a hooded man handed her a letter from Anne. She read it slowly twice before rolling her eyes. Once again, the smart and powerful had overplayed their hands. Even geniuses couldn’t see every angle of every problem, and their most glaring weakness was that they were convinced of their own genius. They looked at the world through telescopes, able to make out details that Marissa couldn’t even think of, but at the same time missing everything outside the narrow magnified circle of their focus. Quickly, she wrote an addendum on the status of political affairs in the capital. Given what was about to happen, the leaders at the front would need a full picture of the Empire if they were to avoid making the disaster any worse. All that was left was to hope that things weren’t too late. She handed the missive back to the hooded man who nodded and disappeared into the night.
Outside her room at the opera house, the orchestra was practicing. Their music swelled and the tempo increased, swiftly working towards a finale. On the road to the Dakhmar Marsh, a hooded man rode through the night as if lives depended upon it, his poor horse frothing from exertion. Deep in the marsh, soldiers ran whestones over blades and polished their armor. Their brutal campaign against the lizard person guerillas was about to come to an end. Finally, their backs were against the wall and the crusaders had found their ancestral sites. No longer could the lizard people strike and retreat into the murk of the swamp. Now they would have to stand and fight against the more numerous and better armed soldiers of the Church.
Somewhere amidst them, High Priest Balthus Aster slept fitfully.