A/N: Have been theorycrafting about a new story for a few days now, finally sat down to get some written. The more you review, the faster the chapters will come and the better they'll be ;D

"This is an outrage."

"We cannot let this foolishness persist without action."

"They have been allowed too much for too long; it is imperative that we –"

"Order, order." The cloaked figures quickly fell into silence as the gavel pounded three times. There were fifteen of them, sitting in a semicircle around the giant metal throne. The room itself was plain as could be, intentionally so as to keep the minds of all those present on the discussion at hand. There were no portraits of nobility, no brightly colored walls, no fancy furniture. The room was a sea of beige; starting with the walls, to the light wood used to fashion the rather plain chairs and railings, to the near-skin-color of the cloaks – long and large enough to cover the entire body save for the arms and face, the latter mostly covered by a hood and the resulting shadow. The only things that stood out in the room were the ones that did require constant attention – the plain gray steel throne and a single figure in a crimson cloak that sat upon it, the Magistrate. "One at a time. Rise, Councilor Jackson."

Jackson, a small man of no more than five feet, stood. "Yes, Magistrate." He sat on the far right of the first row, giving him rank of Fourth-Seat. He was 'tied' for influence with the man on the far left, Councilor Morhill, below the two Third-Seats, two further Second-Seats, and finally, the Primus, Councilor Matthews. The other eight were located a step above the other row, physically further from the decision-making and with significantly lower influence.

"Speak. What is the cause for such an uproar within my city and my Council? Choose your words carefully."

Jackson did not need a reminder. The entire council (save for, perhaps, the newer non-seats) knew the Magistrate was a man of few words, and expected the same of his Council. It was preferred that one spend some time mulling over what they had to say, or they might not speak again for some time. He was silent for seven seconds, and then spoke. "The raids, my lord. They have become more frequent and more aggressive. The people are starting to get anxious and worried about their families."

"What are the losses?"

"Three farms were razed last week - two in Sector IV, one in Sector VII. All of the families are accounted for."

"Glad to hear. I see no problems. You may sit," the crimson hood nodded.

"Permission to speak, Magistrate!" A voice from one of the Second-Seats was heard. The voice was low and stern, like that of a man who had seen his share in life, but not old enough to retire from his duties.

"Granted. Rise and speak, Councilor Johann."

The Councilor stood, and immediately began. "My lord, we cannot continue to do nothing. The people are not blind, they see the militia not cracking down on the raiders! They've seen what the damn Shapers can do – flying rocks, breath of fire… I've heard people tell horror stories of what the shamans were capable of doing – what will happen if we let that get close to our walls?!"

"Are you surprised at the Shapers' actions Councilor? We came to this island – their island - from the Mainland, asked for their aid to build this settlement, then some years later turned around and exiled them into the forests? Seems a bit rude on our part, don't you think?"

"But we cannot sit here and do nothing!" Johann raised his voice.

The Magistrate chuckled. "And what would you have me do, Councilor? Problems are many and easy to name, but solutions are few and difficult."

Johann took a deep breath. "I propose an extermination campaign."

"You wish to eliminate the Shapers? You propose genocide to me as casually as a stroll in the park to your wife, Councilor. Tell me, have you ever held a weapon in your hands?"

"No."

"Right. Have you seen with your own eyes, not stories from some farmers, what the Shapers are capable of?"

Johann broke a sweat. He was clearly not gaining favor with the Magistrate at this point. "No."

"Last question, how many unique Shaping abilities is our enemy known to possess?"

"My lord, I don't understand how-"

"'No'? That's what I thought. Now consider your own proposition. You wish to attack a people that are known to be inherently dangerous, yet you not only have no combat experience yourself, you do not have the faintest idea of what the enemy is capable of." The Magistrate's voice was cold and ruthless. "You disappoint me. You disappoint the Empire. Sit." He focused his attention back to the others in the room. "That is enough for today. We will meet again in two weeks. I will see you then." The beige-cloaked began to rise and shuffle towards the exit at the back. "Councilor Matthews, Councilor Morhill, please stay. We have matters to discuss."

Morhill waited until the room was empty. "Yes, my lord?"

"What did you think of Johann's performance today?" asked the crimson cloak with a smile tugging at his lips.

"His idea of extermination was truly laughable for the precise reasons you outlined. It is foolish to attack an enemy one knows nothing about," Morhill smiled back.

"I heard you made contact with one of the raiders?"

"Yes, my lord. He is a rather interesting man. His letter spoke of a better time, when his people and ours lived in peace and harmony, before we started the aggression and the raids. I understand our fathers didn't hold them in the highest regard, but…" Morhill paused, "claiming we started the aggression seems a bit out of line to me." The Councilor cocked an eyebrow, with an expression not unlike that of a child looking to a parent to disprove some ridiculous statement.

"Pay that no attention," The Magistrate smiled. "Did the letter say anything else?"

"He also asked if there was a way to negotiate peace between us, to stop the needless bloodshed. If I may, Magistrate, regardless of whatever he may believe about who started what – please do consider. We are still on our way to self-sufficiency with minimal aid from the capital. Full-scale war will not be good, for the economy or the morale of the people."

The Magister's smile disappeared. "You do not believe we can win a war against primitive savages, Councilor?"

"I have no doubts of our eventual victory, my lord. But at what price?"

The smile returned to the Magister's lips. "You are a good man, Councilor. You think of the well-being of the people, and are cautious to support the state all the while. Perhaps you will sit in the Prime or Magister seat one day – maybe even the Senate in the capital. When all this is over, I'll write a letter of recommendation – a Senator who thinks of the people more than of his wallet would be a welcome change for that place. But for now, I'll consider your offer and have a letter ready for you in two nights. You are dismissed."

Morhill didn't even try to hide his joy over the Magister's words, and hurried off before the latter changed his mind. The Primus took a deep sigh as the door closed behind Morhill. "That was a close one. Do you think he's suspecting anything?"

The mouth beneath the crimson cloak smiled yet again, as if that was his default reaction to everything in the world. "I doubt it. The one who is in authority is the one who tells the rabble what is true and what isn't. This is why authority has power. If the people think for themselves too much, the man who thinks is in power becomes weaker than those he thinks he controls."

"And why is that?" Matthews seemed genuinely surprised.

"Power over people is dependent on the amount of control the leader has over them. If the people are quietly brooding dissonance, then his power is only an illusion. He expects obedience and support, but at the crucial moment when he needs it the most, they turn against him. Right now, they still serve the Empire. Since I am the Empire's representative here, then I am in command by association. As long as the people are content, they have no reason to rebel. Should they become unhappy, they are encouraged to speak to the authorities, and their concerns are dealt with here." The Magistrate leaned back in his throne. "Besides, put yourself in the shoes of the ordinary man. Even if Morhill somehow found out about the truth, the fact remains that we can make sure everyone finds out he cooperated with the savages. Whom do you believe? The bloodthirsty, primitive aggressors that captured, cursed, and brainwashed a loyal Councilor, or the Magistrate they all love that's been in charge for the past fifty years?"

The Councilor snickered. "I take it you asked me to stay for reasons other than political chit-chat?"

The face in the read cloak frowned. He didn't enjoy Matthews' s tendency to change topics in the blink of an eye. Or not getting answers to his questions. Especially when it was an amusing thought. Especially when all of that happened at once. "Yes. Any news to report from the laboratory?"

Matthews frowned. "We've run into a few pitfalls, I'm afraid. The one subject we've had the most success with was found dead three days ago. We haven't yet figured out if it was a dosage or compatibility issue, but we are working on it."

The Magistrate was not pleased. "The Project has been running for fifty years now, and we're back to square one?"

The Primus shrugged. "Essentially. We are also running out of subjects. Any way you can help with that, my lord?"

Last Edited: Nov. 13, 2012 - Minor details, wording, manner of speech here and there