"As I believe has now been confirmed by Findamancy, Dirtamancer Ivan and his cohort have fled the Magic Kingdom...?" said the Headmaster to the seven casters seated at the semicircular table around him. He left a hanging interrogative inflection on this statement of fact, and waited for a nod of acknowledgement from Buck before continuing.
The seated casters were more than Qualified. These were all masters who informally represented the barbarian casters of their disciplines. And those disciplines Mattered.
Roger Victor Clarence was one such. But he did not consider them peers. Even surrounded by casters, he was alone here, cut off from his own people like a stray unit in the wasteland, or the sole survivor of a battle at sea.
Here he stood in a hole in the ground, mouth-talking to ears, instead of strumming on strings. With each passing minute, he was missing a subjective hour of discussion. Worse, he had only himself to blame for it. He'd pushed to take this role as mouthpiece for the Temple at the trial, to guide the verdict to the Minds' desired ends.
And now the whole matter was about to be mooted.
A dribble of pre-digested thought reached him from the Minds: Projection (second degree): Hat Magician McCoy is eager to challenge. She will relate our early awareness of the escape to the mass collide-o-scope and raise the the issue of censure. Recommendation: Lead with that topic. Disarm with humor. Affect: relaxed and jolly.
Their ends had shifted. The trial was effectively over. Those Who Matter were about to strike a new deal, whether they knew it or not. The Croakamancer's fate was about to be settled, along with other, more important matters.
Jolly. He flashed around a smile, tried for some awkwardness of manner and a little tonal warmth.
"I realize the, ah, Titans never gave most of us the clarity of mind to so much as find a latrine at this time of night, but—oh, and believe me, that goes for Thinkamancers as well—but that is our reason for calling this quorum immediately." A few of the seated casters awarded him a polite chuckle. He let his smile settle on the disapproving, sour face of Hatfield "MC Hattie" McCoy, and said, "But we do understand that the immediacy itself is a problem, for some of you..."
Hattie scowled. "Y'all been spyin and worse, Rog."
Heads that nodded at that: Buck Nugget and Skeeve Memebag. Folded arms: Abner Malady. Looking interested: Marilyn Dipstych and Annie Oakleaf. Looking away: Mike Robe, sent Roger to the Minds, in a tiny blip of impression-compression that was at least as much Lookamancy as Thinkamancy.
"Again, we haven't, but..." he broadened his smile and held up one hand, as Hattie turned her head away in disgust, "let's not run straight into that, ah, rhetorical pit-trap again. How about we approach it from a different angle this time, everyone?"
He looked around the table, seeking encouragement and connection. "Let's hypothetically assume the Eyemancers are guilty of every terrible secret power we've been accused of. But let's also assume the same of Charlescomm, and of Wanda Firebaugh as well."
"We need to strike a new bargain. And you know what I mean," said Roger, ratcheting up the confidence in his tone. "We do have our differences. But we all need the same result here."
"Which is?" challenged Buck, with a fist clenched on the tabletop.
"The status quo," said Marilyn Dipstych, in a tone heavy with sarcasm. She scratched the tabletop with a fingernail and sighed ironically. "The status Arkin' quo."
Confirm but recast that statement in positive terms, sent the Minds.
"Peace and stability in the Magic Kingdom," replied Roger, with a nod and a half-wink to the Dittomancer. She meant that the recent battle posed a threat to the conventional power balance their disciplines enjoyed. She liked to think she was above it all, so she said it that way. "Public trials are not going to settle matters, I'm afraid. I'm hoping we can all see that now."
Buck Nugget threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. "Not without a verdict, you squawk-blocker. We coulda been done with it by now 'fit wuddint fer you."
Nods of agreement: Abner, Hattie, Skeve, Mike, Roger blipped. He smiled and bowed his head.
"Guilty, certainly," he said. "That is to say, I'm guilty of delaying matters. And Lady Firebaugh is likely guilty as well." There was some surprise, at that sudden admission. He was seen as the defendant's greatest advocate on the council.
Roger turned to his left to address her. Janis Atlantis had not responded to his call, but she had sent Annie in her place without explanation. The Minds hadn't sent him any insights about why. It was awkward, because he did not even know how much Annie might know about their plans for the spell.
Evade, recontextualize, the Minds sent now.
"None of the above, not even the 'what'," Roger joked. "But all of that should be up for discussion and consideration within the broader context. When we offered our protection to the forces of Gobwin Knob, the Eyemancers did not, ah, fully anticipate the hazards. We didn't expect Charlie to attack the Magic Kingdom. With these Titanic OP accessories—"
"He didn't attack!" MC Hattie interjected. Buck motioned at her to keep order.
"It's worthy of debate, Hattie. It's been at the center of the Croakamancer's trial. But maybe another time, when we've had more sleep. My point is that we need to establish the safety and security of the Magic Kingdom at all costs."
"Not," said Abner Malady, through his beaked mask, "at all costs."
Roger gave the Healomancer a chastened look. "Apologies for the overstatement, Abner" he said. "We need to ensure the prosperity of free casters, as well. But some price must be paid, and it begins with the censure of Charlescomm."
Censuring Charlie's side would make it Bad Behavior for any free caster to work for him. It was something the Minds had often tried to insert into the discussion, even knowing they'd never achieve it. Tonight, they stood a very good chance.
Hattie gasped and rolled her eyes. "Git off it, Rog. We have Charlie's deposition. Charlescomm was defendin' itself."
"Charlescomm," said Roger, raising his voice and addressing the seven of them at once, "is harboring Ivan Poe and Claud Gauntlet. Both casters have exceeded the limits of their disciplines by a thousand hexes. And we have proof. Allow me to share."---
The degree of deception in the proposal was nothing extraordinary, not for the Minds. But it did seem especially elegant in craft.
For example, Ivan and Claud were not in Charlescomm; they were under the layer of supposedly impermeable dirtament called "bedrock." Roger was careful to present Bonnie's testimony about Ivan and Claud to imply that Charlescomm was where they must have escaped to.
Scrying over the entire island, of course, was something the Minds regularly did, in defiance of conventional agreement. And this was now at issue. Since casting the mass collide-o-scope that ended the Battle for Portal Park, they were facing new suspicions and accusations, from everyone.
Everyone had no idea.
The Signamancers thought that the Minds were automagically bound by the grand bargain. And they were. But a State 7 trance-fusion allowed certain violations of that agreement, without penalty. It was Decided to be something Signamancers should not know.
The Dirtamancers believed bedrock was impermeable, even to Lookamancy. And it was. But a State 6 trance-fusion allowed observation right through it. It was Decided to be something Dirtamancers should not know.
There were dozens of such secrets. Many of them touched on aspects of magic that other disciplines held most sacred. When a Thinkamancer discovered one, then they had to be made to Think Alike, or cast out of the discipline entirely.
Paramount of all their secrets: the Great Minds could rule the Magic Kingdom if they wished to. A State 7 could be used to cut threads at a distance. But the Minds were not monsters. They were custodians of magic in all its diverse forms. They protected the freedom of even their rival disciplines to cast.
Tonight, they would simplify. They would talce some of those bets back.
In the morning, the trial of Gobwin Knob commanders on charges of waging war in the Magic Kingdom would be suspended. In its place would be a short hearing to rule the Arkentools "OP," a heretical class of magic universally shunned and forbidden by all free casters.After that, both Charlescomm and Gobwin Knob would be censured, and their portals sealed. Lady Firebaugh could be tried and executed in the afternoon.