The Meaning of Power (short story)
Title: The Meaning of Power
The Faendryl called Yardie garnered his reputation by using his inquisitive nature to glean information. He never shied away from conversations, probing potential adversaries for intelligence, and befriending those who would probably kill him had they known the truth of his intentions. However, it was during these moments where he showed the most restraint. Tight-lipped and meek, his demeanor seemed regarded by most as that of a mercurial coward, an inquisitive funster worthy of deep conversation since he posed no visible or formidable threat. He played this game masterfully, a maestro of subdued cunning that most simply took for granted.
Lately, Yardie’s degree of caution waned into something unfamiliar to him. Admittedly, he felt secure in his recent company, and the budding relationship between him and Meliyara the Spellbinder lifted some of those safeguards. For instance, after an afternoon swim (that ended strangely when they perceived another in the room), Meliyara convinced him to thwart arch wights for a bounty. Warnings of those beings from his peers notwithstanding, Yardie possessed an uncanny fear of the undead. Even his enlistment into the Order of Voln did very little to steel his resolve against the accursed incorporeal. That successful bounty peeled another layer of timidity, though he still panicked after the reality settled in. But he carelessly cast aside those concerns, loosening his reserve to newfound confidence emerging from a reacquaintance with many of the Faendryl amongst Wehnimer’s Landing and the Enclave.
So, it may have come as a surprise to those who knew him when he agreed to Marijka’s suggestion of attending the Fireside Chat in Silverwood Manor. That day’s host was none other than Imperatrix Lylia Rashere, renowned sorceress and former Mayor of the Landing. His fear of sorcery, demons, and the undead would have shied him away from Lylia, and the Igaesha reading did little to assuage his terrors. But there he was, seated next to Meliyara, making conversations with Ysharra, Xylador, and others from the Enclave, unperturbed by any dangers of discovery and revelation. Yardie was singularly at ease. Then Imperatrix Lylia Rashere entered, and whatever swagger he had developed withered into the frail, nervous, erratic rogue known to most around the Landing. Graceful, noble, elegant, all these traits exuded through Lylia’s entrance, from the raised chin that added height to her taller than average stature, to the grey eyes darkened by velvety kohl that hinted little regard to emotion. Her auburn hair twisted into the knot made way for the angular features of her face. A patrician through and through, she showcased the exemplary parts of Faendryl: mature but youthful, noble but alluring. It was easy to see how many throughout the Landing had a crush on Lylia Rashere. In addition, her words commanded attention, as they masterfully infused oration with charisma and logic. The last time Yardie had heard her speak, he went from a staunch Mayor Leafiara supporter to a somewhat converted believer in the Imperatrix, all in one night. Truly, it took a different type of power, an intellectual yet bewitching charisma to sway the masses as she did.
Looking around the room, Yardie saw proud Faendryl faces, gravitating towards her every word. He witnessed curious minds enthralled by the way she spoke, combined with the heft of meaning. He espied the face of Meliyara, who he knew hung on the idea of the limitations (or lack thereof) in regard to knowledge and power.
And for Yardie? He noticed a serious conflict when it came to the desire of magic and power. In fact, he still lacked a definition of what power meant.
“Power, simply put, is the capacity to effect change,” Lylia answered aloud for the audience, seemingly pulling the question out of the rogue’s head. With that answer, he focused on her words further, and grew sickened by his own paradox. Yardie was not magic-born, but he thrived on the power of augmentative spells. He avoided casters, yet romantically fell for one. He feared sorcery and yet willingly gave his attention towards one that harnessed varying degrees of control. His past experiences made him shun the truth; he depended on magic as much as he hated to admit it.
But the issue lay in the extent of power. How far was too far?
A voice from the crowd shared the same sentiment. Wolfloner, the Human assassin and Yardie’s mentor, challenged the extent of Lylia’s words. Of course, it was cordial and polite, but he hinted at the abuse of power and one's desire to become more. As Lylia explored the different schools of magic and even those imbued into weaponry, the Tehir interjected. Their presences represented two desirable directions for young Yardie: the personification of Faendryl pride and prowess in Lylia or the comforting shadow that challenged the thirst for knowledge in Wolfloner. Yardie glanced between Lylia and Wolfloner, staring at the two different paths before him.
"What of the power of manipulation,” inquired Wolfloner. “Acting behind the scenes to bring a plan to fruition? As Mayor, you must have had some experience in that."
Xylador interjected, his words shielding the sorceress like an aspiring Palestra would in battle. "That would be the power that was just mentioned. Words carry the power of manipulation and of motivation. Depending on the sharpness of one's tongue, you can make empires fall with it."
Yardie finally entered the conversation, despite the nervous beads of sweat. “Words are just scratching the surface of politics,” he said. “There are deeper means to gain what one desires.”
Even as he mouthed his comment, that idea had been his reality. Words. Magic. They were all effective means of affecting change. But, in Yardie’s life, the biggest power grab that sealed any resistance had always been intimidation. The power to move someone into complete capitulation. He knew that feeling all too well. Even now, far away from his would-be pursuers, he felt the pull of unseen eyes upon him. Meliyara did not notice the rise and fall of Yardie’s chest, the blanched state of his face, the nervous twitching of his fingers.
That only intensified when the Imperatrix showed a display of her power.
Holding out her hand, she focused on a center point and willed particles into her hand. A single midnight petal blossomed, then another and another until there was a rosebud on display, sprinkled with specs of colorless pollen. The bud grew until a singular black essence rose lay on the palm of her hand. Stunningly, Lylia brought the rose to her lips and chewed on the oily flower, then swallowed it, much to Yardie's horror. Petrified, he sat and watched, reduced to a helpless, sad state.
“It is ill-advised to focus on uneasiness when those utilizing the ability can see your actions with you seeing them,” said Xylador, always finding the warrior philosophy in just about anything. “Giving them all tactical advantages in terms of environment and demeanors.”
But his words were too far removed, too far gone, as Yardie stared into Lylia’s glossy, black eyes. As the sorceress placed a fingertip below one eye and nodded at Xylador, Yardie felt the familiar pull of dread, and drowned into his own memories.
The mines before him rejected the light of the moon and embraced the darkness of the caverns. Night fell, leaving a fragmented number of workers below. As such, the mines seemed a place where others gathered undisturbed and unsolicited, where movement beyond the scheming of the Faendryl occurred. Unfortunately, for one young Faendryl, he appeared at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Surrounded by at least six individuals, the young Faendryl prostrated himself before the lead Faendryl, a hooded robed female whose steely gaze exuded malice. Tools lay to either side of his hands. He whimpered, shriveling upon the cold floor. The two men flanking him and the three around him looked at the broken worker, some with pity, others with contempt. But for the hooded female, the curious smirk belied the venom in her gaze. Fighting through his own fears, the young worker brushed aside his hair, his violet eyes never leaving the ground. “Let me go home! Please, I heard nothing! I swear!”
“Lies! Kill him, Niadriel,” sneered one on the right side as he spat upon the vulnerable worker, his spear at the ready. “He knows too much.”
“Agreed,” mouthed the other as his chain armor rustled, his low gravelly voice echoed through the depths of the cave. “He’s alone in the mines. We have plenty of ways to make it appear as sabotage.” The voice inflected a bit of worry. “We have come this far. If the others were to discover our plans. If the Palestra---”
“---the Palestra know nothing, and I intend to keep it that way,” said Niadriel, her velvety voice a contrast to those darkened eyes that unleashed power through her terrible gaze. “Everything shall proceed as planned.” Stepping closer to the worker, she never yielded her dominance over him. “You understand the severity of that which you have stumbled upon, my young Agrestis? Deny all you want, but I’m afraid we can not let you return to your humble abode. I present to you two options. You can either die a most gruesome death, where I will have your spirit fed to one of my demons, or you can come with us, leaving behind your family but ensuring their survival.”
For the young worker, the fear of death and demons shook his core. “Please! Let me live!”
A swift kick to his ribs sapped all the air from his chest, and he curled into a ball. “Quiet!” sneered the spear-wielding warrior. No sounds came from the other female Faendryl, garbed in simpler, drab robes marked with a black serpent. The stabbing pain from a cracked rib paled in comparison to the swirling, pounding dread that raced his heart. He felt it would give at any moment.
Niadrel raised a hand, and the warrior ceased his attack. Suddenly, the sorceress’ eyes softened from the dark orbs into silver ones. Approaching the meek worker, she crouched down, canting her head, studying his features. The blue-black hair parted to a white streak that extended down the middle of his hair and left wisps of them over his panicked face. Niadriel brought her face to meet his, taking in the violet eyes, flaring nose, and sharp features that contrasted a young, weak, frail individual. “My child,” she whispered tenderly. “What is your name?”
With his eyes darting, he dug for the words as fear engulfed his thoughts. “N...Niadrel, my na---”
Immediately the pain returned, and the softened gazed now returned to a hardened, evil, sinister look as she poured power into the fallen individual. She scowled at him, her voice raising in volume and virulence. “You dare refer to me by name? You dare to be that familiar?” She shook her head, more power pouring through her gaze.
The worker, the Agrestis, fought through the consciousness, his fears sending his cardiovascular system into overdrive. His lungs seized. His heart thumped at a frantic pace. Blood slid down his cheek as the state of terror threatened to take his life. The worker's eyes rolled in the back of his head and his face slammed against the floor at her feet.
“I no longer care for your name,” Niadriel said, brushing the streaked hair covering the worker’s face with her boot. “It is insignificant, as are you. My child, you are merely a pet. You are…” she paused, studying the contrast between the dark hair and the white streak that parted it. The animal dawned upon her. “You are a helpless, hopeless skunk, who will serve me on my quest, who, like the others, will answer to my beck and call. You will comply with my every command, or everything that you know and love will disappear.”
Grovelling, the Agrestis nodded through the pain. “Yes...yes, N…” he stopped, dreading the return of the Evil Eye.
“You will address me as Madame Niadriel. Now and always. Madame Niadriel.” Her eyes darkened into black pools that emitted torment. Straining against the anguish of the spell, the worker let out a pained scream.
“No! Eyes don’t steal souls!”
Yardie returned to the present to find that he was not the only rogue who expressed dread from Lylia’s illusion. Juspera, the rogue that inadvertently saved Yardie’s life, apparently had her own mental lapse and voiced that reality, drawing attention to her and, thankfully, away from the Faendryl rogue. Unnoticed by the people sitting next to him, Yardie was in a very bad way.
As the others attended to Juspera’s unique outburst, suddenly, Yardie felt a tap on the shoulder. “You are troubled?” It was Wolfloner, who noticed his student’s unfavorable condition. Yardie nodded, whispering, “Sorcery makes me quite...uneasy.”
Wolfloner gestured at his student, and a Wall of Force surrounded Yardie. Feeling a bit more secure, blanketed in someone else’s power, Yardie could only mouth a soundless “thank you” to his teacher. As said power washed over him, he listened to the rest of the discussion, temporarily calmed, but shaken by the past that haunted him.
As the night stretched over the Landing, Yardie entered House Paupers with a cloud of confusion raining over his head. Faendryl had regarded him as their own, without judgment or distinction. He was not sure whether it was Zolis the Warlord or Thrassus the Wizard, but one had stated, “You are Faendryl, thus you are more.” It had a profound effect on his shaky confidence. They encouraged him to seek out power, to find his demons and to crush them. And, up until now, he had done just that. He was stronger than before, scared but assertive in battle, and growing more practiced in his skills.
Power was addictive, as Madame Lylia stated. However, he questioned the limits to that power, as Wolfloner warned. “Depends on if you wield the power, or the power wields you.” Yardie had a solution to his confusion; he needed alcohol and a good cigar.
As he approached the counter and poured himself some whiskey, he noticed a sheet of parchment, stained in blood and held down by a dagger. He noticed his name written on the parchment. Yardie sat on a stool, removed the dagger, and opened the note, reading the contents that were written in Faendryl. It took a slow, almost infantile pace of reading, but the words finally formulated a coherent sentence.
Hello “Yardie”. I trust that your afternoon rendezvous went “swimmingly‘?
The rogue, whose skin was the color of the darkest of coal, now blanched as if inflicted with the plague. The parchment between his fingers crinkled, giving way to hands rustling with seismic tremors. The footprints. The quiet steps as he and Meliyara swam in the pool surfaced from memory. They had questioned the noise and the sight but found no answer. Violet eyes widened in terror as the first sentence revealed the startling truth: Yardie was being watched, his safety compromised, his past assailants inching closer to the veil of secrecy. Swallowing the burning bile that threatened to escape his agape mouth, the rogue continued his meticulous reading, the Faendryl words slowly manifesting with meaning.
I must commend you on thwarting my efforts to erase you from the face of Elanthia. Who knew that a coward afeared of his own shadow would put up such a valiant effort? It would seem that time and experience does indeed alter our drives, strengthen our resolve, and grant us newfound perspective. Time, however, cannot undo our past transgressions. You, “Yardie”, are the final blemish to a compromising failure, whose very presence serves as a constant reminder of our monumental collapse on that fateful day. I trust that you have remained silent on these affairs, for accountability would bestow upon you the same punishment as the rest of us. The question, Agrestis, is how long will you maintain this charade before you are discovered? How long can you dance in darkness before the dawn of truth exposes you?
Word on Madame Rashere’s Fireside sermon spreads quickly. I, for the most part, agree with the Imperatrix: Power is truly the ability to affect change. But I wish to provide my own addendum as to what I believe power truly is:
Power is the ability to instill fear in the heart of one without ever raising a fist. Without ever lifting a finger.
Power is the threat of the weapon, not the weapon itself. It is the dread that comes with impending death whilst the blade hovers inches from your neck.
Power is words unraveling the house of cards you have built, the foundation crumbling under the weight of truth.
Power is the eye that watches unseen. It is the voice that echoes inside your head to remind you of one simple truth: we know who you are.
You are powerless, “Yardie.” We know your crimes in New Ta’Faendryl. We know of Niadriel. And we will have satisfaction for your abandonment, through your death, or through your exposure. Your friends will turn away from you. You have no family, no home. You will remain the frightened, helpless skunk whose curiosity led to his undoing. This is your fate. The sword hangs over your fragile neck, set to fall upon you. All you can do now, is wonder when.
We’ll be seeing you, “Yardie”. Pleasant dreams.
It took deep concentration, and several re-readings, but Yardie grasped at the Faendryl meaning behind the text, a truth that left him insecure of his safety. In a vain attempt to ease his nerves, Yardie’s attention returned to the red blotches covering the parchment. Blood. Biting the bottom of his lip, Yardie once again studied the words, his hands still trembling. The author of the letter crafted his or her words with fastidious care. He focused on the words on the second to last paragraph.
“You have no family, no home.”
A long exhale escaped from quivering lips. Yardie gave up the idea of going back to New Ta’Faendryl; the nefarious under-dwellings there would cause an “accident” to fall upon him, or possibly frame him for “crimes against the Patriarch.” But he had hoped the remnants of a family held intact. Now he knew it was not so.
A flash of rage swelled, only to immediately dissipate into a disturbing calm, a Faendryl calm. The letter had spoken truth; Yardie was powerless, crippled by the fear of discovery, paralyzed by the basilisk-like eyes from individuals that weaved a web of paranoia. The letter set the stage for an eventual duel of words or actions. Unless he responded, Yardie would either die or be exposed. Both meant dire consequences.
“How does one who is powerless acquire power?” Yardie whispered to no one as he folded the parchment, his back pressed against the wood of the counter, the sound of thunder rumbling through the skies. He never had power to begin with: not with magic, not as Agrestis. The only way he amassed anything was through subtle infiltration, stealing or, if the occasion called for it, killing.
Yardie nodded slowly, the gears of intelligence crafting a plan.
He knew what needed to be done.
[House Paupers - After Midnight]
Iskandr Tamarack, the Legionnaire from Vaalor, and Draelor the Aelotoi entered the House Paupers. As rangers, there was no telling what they did for leisure. Had they returned from Reim? Or were they back from a fishing trip? As Iskandr’s samoyed and Draelor’s mountain wolf padded to the Commons area, the sound of their canine whines alerted the two rangers to a possible concern. The two hurried to Commons and stopped, perplexed by the sight before them.
Their friend, Yardie the Faendryl, sat on a stool, his right hand gripping the neck of a bottle of whiskey. A sea of empty bottles dispersed at his moccasined feet. His glazed stare shifted towards the pair, his sclera streaked with red, lightning like veins. An overpowering stench of whiskey permeated the air around them.
“Brothers,” Yardie grunted, after another chug from his bottle, his left hand brushing against the samoyed’s soft fur. “It is time I told you the truth about everything.”