As the dust slowly cleared, all that was left of the cave was a pile of rubble extending towards the settlement. Standing up, Mason went over the Claridee and helped her to her feet. Looking at her face, he pushed her tangled hair aside and embraced her. He wished that moment could last forever, but knew more work lay ahead of them.
"We'd better check on the settlement," declared Counselor Janice brushing herself off.
“Yes,” agreed Counselor Anklin, “but keep a lookout for Glorine because she could still be dangerous.”
The four of them climbed over the debris from the cave until they had a clear view of the settlement. The air was still hazy with dust from the cave collapse, but the settlement itself was undamaged. However, a large group of people led by Glorine and Betrine were marching towards the cave.
“Well this isn’t good,” observed Mason dryly as Claridee rolled her eyes at him.
“Wait for me here,” ordered Counselor Anklin. He looked over at Counselor Janice. “If you see Glorine starting to concentrate, try to interrupt her.”
Counselor Anklin climbed down to the edge of the settlement and waited. The sight of him caused excited whispers to go through the crowd as they came to a halt, but Glorine and Betrine continued on and stopped about ten feet away from him.
“Where is Counselor Proust?” demanded Glorine angrily.
“Unfortunately, he was in the cave when it collapsed,” answered Counselor Anklin.
“You killed him!” cried Betrine, pointing an accusatory finger as angry murmurs rippled through the crowd.
“No, it was his attack on us that caused the cave to collapse,” he replied in a calm, steady voice. “We tried to get him to leave with us, but he refused.”
“Liar!” shouted Glorine, taking a step forward as if she intended to strike him. Betrine grabbed her arm and whispered something. Glorine smiled and her brows furrowed in concentration.
Suddenly Glorine yelled out in pain as small bursts of electricity materialized around her. The crowd surged backwards and Betrine instinctively stepped back. “Don’t hurt her,” she pleaded.
Counselor Anklin studied Betrine for a moment before calling out. “That’s enough Janice.”
The electrical activity stopped and Glorine gingerly rubbed her arms.
Counselor Anklin stared at them in silence. When he resumed speaking, Mason could see that he was fighting to keep his temper in check. “Let’s try and keep this on a less confrontational basis, shall we?” He took a deep breath. “I’m not lying to you. It was never our intention to hurt anyone, only to protect Myscreth from a misguided attempt to save it.”
He looked past the two women and addressed the crowd. “Our fight was never with you. We know that you were simply obeying the orders of Counselor Proust and those he called Counselors. You have nothing to fear from us and are free to return to your homes.”
Betrine looked down, an expression of uncertainty on her face. However, Glorine immediately spun around to face the crowd. “Don’t listen to him!” she cried. “Isn’t he the one who brought outsiders to rule over us?”
Angry shouts could be heard from some in the crowd.
“Everyone come out,” ordered Counselor Anklin.
Mason and the two women climbed down. Mason helped Claridee as she worked her way down behind him. He couldn’t help but feel self-conscious as the crowd silently watched them.
The gravel crunched under their feet as they made their way to Counselor Anklin. When they reached him, he gave a quick nod and turned back to the crowd.
He pointed at Mason and Counselor Janice. “Look at these people. They gave up everything they knew to come here and serve the people of Myscreth. Can anyone tell me a single thing they’ve done to harm our people?”
As he waited, a burly young man worked his way to the front of the crowd and spoke out in a voice that was just short of a yell. “Counselor Proust told us that they kept needed supplies and equipment from us so we’d be dependent on them!”
Others in the crowd nodded in agreement as the man spoke.
Counselor Anklin fixed his eyes on the man and took a step forward. While his demeanor appeared calm, Mason saw his hands clench.
“I will not allow the sacrifice of the men and women who have died in our ruined cities to be so dishonored.”
As he continued, anger was now evident in his voice. “How dare anyone think that the Council would withhold equipment which was purchased at such a high cost? Proust gave you what you wanted, but at a steep price: your sense of decency. He gave you what he took from a defenseless people and you thanked him for it.” He paused, glaring at the crowd as he continued. “It that’s what you consider regaining Myscreth’s former glory, then I want no part of it.” Mason could see he was breathing heavy as he stared grimly at the crowd.
No one from the crowd dared meet his gaze. Most were looking at the ground in shame, and some in the crowd wept.
The silence was broken when a woman near the front of the crowd pointed at Glorine and Betrine and yelled. “It’s not our fault; Proust and those with him deceived us!”
Angry cries arose from the crowd and some began moving towards the two women. Glorine and Betrine stepped back, their eyes wide with fear. Seeing how quickly the crowd had turned on them put a lump in Mason’s throat. Counselor Anklin boldly walked forward and stood between the women and the mob.
“Don’t take your anger out these two,” shouted Counselor Anklin. “They are even greater victims of Proust than you are. Because of him, they must now face the consequences of their actions.”
The people stopped advancing and Counselor Anklin continued speaking, no longer needing to shout to be heard.
“I ask that all of you return to your quarters and start packing any possessions you have. Arrangements will be made to have transports come within the next few days to return all of you to your homes.”
No one moved at first, but finally a few people began to walk away and the rest soon followed their lead.
“Thank you,” declared Betrine in a low voice.
Glorine was more direct. “What is going to happen to us?” she asked, her demeanor far meeker than it had been earlier.
Counselor Anklin looked down. “You’ll have to be judged for what you’ve done, but all extenuating circumstances will be considered. I can’t promise anything beyond that.”
The two women nodded.
“Glorine, you’ll have to be blindfolded to prevent you from using your abilities.”
“And what about me?” asked Betrine.
Counselor Anklin shook his head. “Since you haven’t learned to use your abilities yet, there’s no need for you to be blindfolded,” he answered. “You can help Glorine find her way around.”
Mason saw Claridee hand Counselor Janice her pack. Counselor Janice rummaged through it and finally pulled out some bandages. She began wrapping them over Glorine's eyes. When she'd finished, Counselor Anklin signaled for Claridee to come over.
“Do we have to do this?”
“I’m afraid so,” he replied solemnly.
All around them, the settlement was now filled with activity. Mason saw people carrying equipment and crates up to some of the larger buildings. A brave few began taking items from Proust's quarters. Some returned to watch what was happening with Glorine and Betrine and there was a smattering of applause when Glorine was blindfolded.
Counselor Anklin gave them a sharp look. “This isn’t something to celebrate,” he told them gruffly. There were calls of “sorry” and a few people bowed shallowly before hurrying off.
“Maybe it would be best if we got them inside,” suggested Counselor Janice.
“I think you’re right,” responded Counselor Anklin. “We’ll take them to their quarters.”
Betrine took Glorine’s hand and slowly led her to their shared bedroom and helped her sit on her bed. Once the two Trainees and Counselors were in the room, Counselor Janice locked the bedroom door.
"You'll be safe here while we fetch Nornol, Thurold, and Klarth," explained Counselor Anklin.
"Thank you," answered Glorine in a soft voice. Mason couldn't help but feel sorry for the two women.
Counselor Anklin stared at the wall and a bright purple doorway appeared. The four of them emerged from the doorway on a hill in the middle of a small valley. It was noticeably lighter and warmer than it had been in Antlorn.
“Thurold and the others should be around here somewhere,” explained Counselor Anklin. “Before sending him here I told him to find the others and wait for us.”
It didn’t take long to find them. In a small hollow, Nornol, Thurold, and Klarth sat on Nornol’s mattress while the guards stood nearby talking among themselves.
Counselor Anklin called down to the group. “This is Counselor Anklin.”
All seven men looked up in surprise at the sound of his voice.
“What is it you want Anklin?” cried Klarth, jumping to his feet.
“We’ve come to take you back to the settlement. If you wish to return, you’ll have to do as I say.”
“I’ll never obey you!” shouted Klarth.
“And what about the rest of you?” Counselor Anklin asked in a no-nonsense tone. “Do you wish to stay here with Klarth?”
One of the guards got up and walked over to Klarth, towering over the smaller man. “I think you should reconsider,” he growled. Klarth nodded weakly.
“I think we’re all in agreement now,” bellowed the guard.
Counselor Anklin smiled, hollering down. “Nornol and Thurold, lie face down on the ground and don’t move! We’re coming down!”
The two men immediately complied. Reaching the group, Counselor Janice immediately began bandaging the eyes of Nornol and Thurold. As she finished each one, Claridee concentrated on the bandages and modified them so they couldn’t be removed.
On the side of a large boulder, Counselor Anklin opened a doorway. Once the purple light had stopped flashing, he looked over at the guards.
“When you get back head to your quarters and start packing any belongings you have.” Counselor Anklin told them. “Transports will be arriving within the next few days to return you to your homes.” Counselor Anklin gestured towards the doorway. “Go on through.”
The four men didn’t move. “How do we know you won’t send us someplace worse?” one of them asked.
Counselor Anklin looked over at Counselor Janice and sighed.
“I’ll go first,” offered Claridee with a shrug as she walked over and vanished into the light.
The guards looked at each other sheepishly and followed.
Mason and Counselor Janice led the blindfolded men through the doorway followed by Counselor Anklin and Klarth. The group emerged on the valley floor not far from the settlement.
Claridee stood there waiting and Mason could see the guards hurrying towards the settlement.
“They couldn’t get away fast enough,” observed Claridee shaking her head.
“Unfortunately, the fear of the Council that Proust instilled in them will take time to overcome,” answered Counselor Janice.
“You’ll pay for this, all of you,” grumbled Klarth as he and the others were led to Glorine and Betrine’s quarters.
Knocking on the bedroom door Counselor Janice called out in a loud voice. “There’s no need to be alarmed. It’s Counselor Janice.”
Betrine unlocked the door and let them in. Mason saw Glorine as they’d left her, sitting on the edge of the beds, her shoulders hunched. The three men were marched in, their footsteps echoing in the small room. Counselor Anklin had Klarth lead the two blindfolded men to the other bed.
Once everyone was seated, Counselor Anklin addressed them.
“We’re now returning to Bendroff where you will be held accountable for your actions. All your needs will be provided for, but the blindfolds will not be removed.”
Counselor Anklin turned to the wall, which was soon enveloped in a blaze of purple light. Betrine took Glorine’s arm and led her into the doorway followed by Counselor Anklin. Claridee and Counselor Janice stood on either side of the other blindfolded prisoners guiding them into the doorway. Mason stood at the end of the line right behind Klarth. As Klarth stepped into the doorway, Mason took a quick glance around the now empty room, and followed.
It was dark when they arrived on Bendroff’s landing field and they led the group of prisoners to the transport hanger. The workers that were in the hanger stopped what they were doing and stared at the group.
“These are the individuals that Proust has trained in violation of our laws,” announced Counselor Anklin. “The Council will decide what consequences they must face.” He pointed at one of the workers. “Veroline, please summon guards to take the prisoners to their quarters.”
“Yes, Counselor Anklin.” She gave a small bow before running off to the elevator.
Counselor Anklin turned to Mason and Claridee. “Go arrange to have transports sent to Antlorn first thing in the morning. Let them know they will be taking people to multiple locations.”
By the time they returned, Counselor Anklin was already addressing a group of guards.
“… to their quarters. I want a guard outside their doors at all times and no one other than members of the Council are allowed to see them,” he directed.
“Understood, Counselor Anklin,” replied one of the guards, who appeared to be in charge.
As the guards led the five prisoners away, Mason could hear the sound of sobs coming from Glorine and Betrine. He thought he’d be elated when Proust was defeated, but instead felt empty. He looked at Claridee and the two Counselors and sensed that they felt the same.
“Are we going to retrieve Tranlee and Darnia now?” asked Counselor Janice.
“No, they’re safe where they are,” Counselor Anklin replied, exhaustion evident in his voice. “I think all of us have seen enough misery over the past few days. I think we could all use a good night’s rest.”
As he finished speaking, he turned and slowly walked away.
- Parker T. Allan
An engineer who enjoys writing something other than technical reports. Writing let's me share all the ideas floating around my mind. I hope my writing jump starts your imagination as so many books have done for me.
If you enjoy physics, check out https://physicswithcats.com/ for some fun stories which explain various physics topics.