The folds of Cornelius Templeton’s flowing epitoga rustled softly as he hurried to the Council chamber. Supreme Chancellor Alveris had convened an emergency session to address the strange rumors that had been trickling into the capital city of Algaman these past few months . . . frightening rumors, disturbing rumors, rumors of a projectile plummeting from the heavens and crashing into the peaceful farmlands in the western fringes of the country. As if that wasn’t a strange enough phenomenon in itself, further reports had come in of frightening occurrences in the general vicinity of the impact zone — mysterious disappearances and sightings of unnatural monsters — all of which served to terrify the good citizens of Narod Rada. The High Council had sent out a party to investigate these claims within 2 days after the first reports reached them, but it had been 3 weeks since anything had been heard of them, and the people were growing more and more uneasy as the rumors reaching the capital became more frequent. Something had to be done.
Knowing he was late, Councilor Templeton tried to slip quietly into the room without attracting attention, just as Councilor Boyle was standing up to address the body. Boyle’s abnormally large eyes bulged even further than normal from their sockets as he spoke, as if by so doing he was trying to add emphasis to his words. Councilor Templeton found himself involuntarily agreeing with his daughter, Gladys, that at such times Councilor Boyle did indeed remarkably resemble a large bull-frog. He immediately dismissed the thought as disrespectful of the councilor’s position and instead attuned his ears to hear what Boyle was saying.
“It has been three weeks since we last heard any report from the investigation unit,” Boyle declared, eyes bulging. “At a good pace, it is only a week’s journey to the outlying farmlands where the crater is alleged to be. Giving them the same time frame to return hither, the entire trip should only have taken two weeks.”
“Perhaps they encountered delays along the way,” Councilor Keldin spoke up. “A bridge may have been out, or they may have encountered bad weather which slowed their pace. There are many possible explanations for why they have not yet returned.”
“Even so, such difficulties would have delayed them a day or two, at best. They should have returned. Something has gone wrong,” Boyle insisted.
“The people are growing restless,” Storrsen chimed in. “They wonder why the Council does nothing.”
“Do the people not know that we have sent a company to investigate the crisis already?” Templeton spoke up.
Supreme Chancellor Alveris folded his fingers together and pursed his lips. “No,” he stated. “They do not. I thought it best to send trusted emissaries to ascertain the truth of these rumors secretly, before making our concern public, lest they prove false and only serve to stir up the people unnecessarily.”
“Do you believe these reports to be false, then?” Templeton asked, almost incredulously.
Alveris shook his head, the black and white locks of his shoulder-length hair mingling for an instant, before settling down to opposite sides of his face. “I had hoped they might prove thus,” he confessed. “But there can no longer be any doubt as to their veracity.”
“We must send out another force to investigate and meet this threat,” Boyle stated vehemently. “And they must be the very best our land has to offer. We must seek the assistance of the best warriors that can be found, whether they be of our own people or not. We must send delegations to the Elves of the North and the Dwarfs of the East and the Etelä of the South. We must send out a proclamation throughout the land that we are seeking skilled mercenaries to find and apprehend this unknown peril that lurks in the western lands.”
“But to do so would be to admit weakness and our own insufficiency!” Keldin exclaimed. “The people will lose faith in us! If they see their government groveling for aid, they will think we are incapable of handling the situation ourselves. They will think we cannot keep things under control, and it will undermine our authority. The people will succumb to fear, and it will lead to chaos and anarchy.”
“Now is not the time to be concerned with our pride,” Alveris said softly. “If this crisis is not resolved soon, no one will dare to venture into the Western Lands near the impact zone. We will lose our primary farmland, and most of the year’s crops. The people will starve. There WILL BE no people to lose or hold faith in us.”
Silence hung heavy in the air as the Council digested the Chancellor’s words.
“I suppose that settles it, then,” Keldin sighed heavily.
- * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Hear ye, hear ye!” the town crier called the attention of the people in the streets. “The High Council has issued a decree summoning all the bravest and truest of heart and noblest of skill in the arts of war to partake of an epic quest, journeying into the lands of the West to seek out and put an end to an unknown menace which threatens the good people of that region. For any who would dare to undertake such an endeavour, let it be known that the peril shall be great and the journey taxing, and the nature of the enemy to be faced unknown. Further be aware that the reward offered shall not be diminutive. But the Council seeks not the aid of common vagabonds; only those whose hearts are noble and whose skill is great are requested to enter into this quest. The faint of heart need not apply. All those who deem themselves worthy of the task shall appear before the Council at high noon five days hence.”