Vignette inspired by: Henry Rollins: America Is Not Designed to Be a Nation of Healthy People, L.A. Weekly, May 23, 2017
“How many people are likely to die if we shut down San’cane now, Misch?” Representative Paury asked. She cast a look down the length of the table at the woman with opalescent eyes scanning the tablet computer hovering in the air a few inches over the surface of the table.
“Our best estimate is roughly 3,200,000,” Misch replied. She tapped the screen and eased out a labored breath. “But that’s a conservative guess. This substitute magic system might shut down sooner than we think.”
A man with platinum hair arranged in a business cut over a lightly wrinkled face interlaced his fingers on the table surface. “That’s why we need to initiate the transition as soon as mystically possible, get back to using Nuan’cane.”
“Rubare, most of the citizens in your district can easily afford the new runes and sigils required to use Nuan’cane.” Paury pulled off her glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose. “If you represented people from less wealthy districts, or if you even took the time to learn about people outside of your borders, you would have a firm understanding of just how hard pressed other people are to afford basic health blessings let alone brand new sigils and runes for the same magic system they bought runes and sigils for several years ago.”
An orb of ivory light sparked into existence over the middle of the table, flaring with a glaring, hot pulse that cut off Paury’s next words.
The male with a thick froth of chestnut brown curls streaked with brown-blond pulsing through every strand leaned forward in his high-backed leather executive chair, easing his elbows onto the edge of the table as he curled his fingers into loose fists. “We absolutely cannot afford to get sidetracked digging up old wounds.” He traded a glance between Representatives Rubare and Paury. “Ones that are highly unlikely to be resolved before the end of our current crisis. Now, our best guess puts us at approximately two and a half years before we burn out San’cane. When that happens, all mystically fortified structures in Rallenthou will start to essentially collapse in on themselves. All spells, charms, and blessings will fail; cities lose power; aeromobiles will fall out of the sky; and there will be a massive general panic throughout the entire country.”
“Dominici, Dr. Worth and her team of mysicians informed me that even if we use the entirety of our reserves to pay for the runes and sigils we need manufactured by Centurion Industries, it still won’t be enough to afford all the mystical materials we need to make sure every citizen can go back to using Nuan’cane.” Misch paused and held the man’s gaze. “People are very likely going to die even if we are ahead of that two and a half years deadline.”
Rubare held up a hand, holding back the possibilities inherent in the woman’s words. “Can’t we, I don’t know, set up a payment plan or something for those who can’t afford the new materials?”
Paury opened her mouth to fire off a heated response, stopped when she allowed herself to process his words. Lips pressed closed. She blinked and tried again. “That’s actually not a bad idea.” She turned to Rubare. “I guess I was wrong in thinking you’d lost your heart to a curse.”
The man scoffed, waggled a finger at her. “Don’t think too highly of me, Ariana, payment plans come with taxes.”
“Wait, why would we need to dip into our reserves?” Dominici tapped and swiped at the tablet floating in front of him. Eyes scrolled back and forth. Eyes stopped. “Oh. We spent a great deal of our resources researching a cure for Nuan’cane.” He eased back in his chair, elbows perched on the rests at his side. “Sorry. Seems as though I missed a lot while I was campaigning in Hiwatha. Still catching up.”
Misch glanced up from her tablet. “We also have to think about the fact that while there are more affordable alternatives to Nuan’cane runes and sigils, they might not be fully compatible. And unfortunately, there’s no way to determine the level of compatibility until spells or rituals are attempted, which could end in a disaster.”
“Such as Nuan’cane becoming re-infected,” Rubare pointed out. “I’ve also heard rumblings of the League of Falanfae selling purposefully corrupted sigils in their continued efforts to wipe out all magic in existence.”
“I hate to heap more bad news on a plate that’s already full, but there’s something else we need to discuss.” The other four Representatives looked down to the end of the table at the woman who had been silent up until now. Her form was concealed within a thick haze of emerald green mist and golden motes that undulated and swirled about her, leaving only her face visible.
“What is it, Kampartinia?” Misch asked.
A hand extended from the hanging haze, an hourglass appearing levitating over her palm. Rich golden sands trickled from the nearly-empty top half to collect on the bottom, particles sparkling and glowing as they caught the light. “Rallenthou’s one-thousand years are almost up. The goddess Cascankari will demand her payment of 1,008 souls for allowing our country use of the Ajin’n Causeway during the Reigning Conflicts.”
The four Representatives held a collective breath, none of them moving or blinking for a handful of seconds.
Dominici was the first to speak up. “As dire as that news is, I’m guessing you have a plan formulating, something that will be of great benefit to us all I hope.”
Kampartinia swiveled her attention to him. “People are likely to die as we transition from the new magic system to the old one, people who were born on Rallenthou soil and are considered acceptable for the debt.”
The remaining Representatives batted glances back and forth, each of them willing the others to break the silence first and speak into existence the idea buzzing in the core of their brains and burning at the tip of their tongues.
Misch was the one to say it: “You want us to purposefully allow people to die to pay a thousand-year-old debt.”
“Yes,” Kampartinia replied without hesitation, burnished hazel eyes steady and unblinking.
Rubare rubbed a hand over his mouth. “I don’t suppose Centurion Industries can manifest 1,008 souls and add it to our final bill.”
The others looked over at him with expressions wrung dry of all traces of humor.
“I apologize.” Hands lifted. “I often resort to humor in response to such situations.” He closed his eyes and gave his head a slight shake, swallowing the lump in his throat. “We knew we’d have to make choices like this when we accepted our positions as Representatives on the Quintessence Quorum, so we don’t have the right to balk at a decision such as this.” He turned to the others. “How do we willingly allow 1,008 people, possibly more, to die in a way that historians will look back on us and agree we made the best decision possible under our circumstances?”
Paury looked at the images of her district’s citizens floating across her inactive tablet screen. “Not in any way we’ll be proud of.”
“We can use people on death row,” Rubare suggested. “I know some will complain it’s a violation of the prisoners’ civil rights, but we can offer them compensation.”
“Not with the money we need to pay for runes and sigils I pray.” Misch’s eyes glimmered in the overhead lights as she spoke. “Maybe we can see if a few High Mysicians can create golems and switch them out with the real prisoners. It’s far from ethical, but I think we can all agree it’s among the least damning of options.”
Paury shook her head. “We should at least be willing to do that ourselves; no need to drag others down into the tar pit.”
Dominici furrowed his brow. “I highly doubt anyone at this table, other than Kampartinia, perhaps, has the medical sorcery training necessary to create fully functional golems that are exactly identical to their flesh-and-blood archetypes, down to their blood type and DNA. I know I lack the finesse required to wield such intricate magics.”
Kampartinia allowed the hourglass to shimmer out of sight. “Much like the more dangerous circuits of Nuan’cane are sealed from public channeling, the true difficulty tier of medica magicka has been twisted to keep it out of the hands and mouths of the unwary.”
Silence descended, settled and steeped deep in the throats of everyone at the table. Paury was the first to speak up. “Now that we know it’s possible, are we still willing to go through with this, to sacrifice convicted criminals on death row?” She upturned an empty palm. “Even if it turns out some of them are innocent?”
Everyone except for Kampartinia lowered their eyes to the table. Dominici batted out a series of blinks. Rubare tugged at the sleeves of his dress shirt underneath his ivory suit jacket striped with alternating stripes of azure and gold. Paury adjusted her glasses, squinting behind her lenses. Misch divided a glance between her fellow Representatives.
“I can’t conceive of any other viable alternative,” Rubare confessed. “At least not with the timetable we have.”
Misch leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest. “So we use a combination of convicts and marginalized citizens to balance the scales.”
“We can encase any souls that transition from now until Cascankari’s arrival in a Flux, much like we did with Nuan’cane when it first became infected,” Rubare said. “Of course, that means they don’t ascend to the Eicher Fields or descend to Tytyr, but some might feel the sacrifice is worth it for the good of their country.”
“If they knew the sacrifice they were making,” Paury scratched at her forehead with a grimace wrested from the corners of her eyes and mouth. “I’m guessing we avoid any level of disclosure about why we’re willingly allowing people to die. Asking for someone’s life is one thing, but these are souls we’re talking about.”
Dominici reached over and put his hand over hers, squeezing it. “We’re either responsible for the sacrifice of 1,008 souls or every soul in Rallenthou. I’m sure Cascankari won’t take kindly be being denied her rightful due.”
The woman’s jaw flexed as she gnashed down on the bitterness thickening inside her mouth. “It’s not about the numbers, Victor.” She slowly pulled her hand away. “It’s not about the damn numbers.”
“What guarantee do we have that this will be enough?” Kampartinia asked.
“What guarantee do we have that it won’t be too much?” Rubare looked down the table at her. “It already feels like it’s too much. Entirely too much.”
“That’s undoubtedly true, but can you think of anyone better equipped to decide this?” Paury asked him. “Left in the hands of others, the situation might be much, much worse.”
Rubare wiped his hands on his slacks. “Sometimes I wish I’d listened when my father suggested I become a stock magus.”
“Stock magus or Representative,” Kampartinia said, “the bruising wheel of circumstance spares a care for no one.”