briefing

“Maybe this is the building?” Calum grasped the faded scrap of paper tighter in his fingers, taking care not to smudge the black pen that the address to the meeting place was written on. Looking up to the sky with the sun beginning its downward descent, the building towering in front of him read DEPARTMENT OF EARTHEN AFFAIRS in white bold font against the tinted windows. “You know, because he couldn’t ever bother to give me any actual instructions.”

“Are you trying to look crazy?” A cynical Chinese-appearing Mithrae brushed past his shoulder and stood at his side on the sidewalk, clothed in a purple jacket and tattered jeans. “I mean, you’re talking to only yourself here, unless you’ve got some sort of an invisible friend.”

Calum averted his gaze from the building’s garden-covered roof, handing the paper to the girl who’d interrupted him. “Hey, I’ve seen you in school before. You’re in my Earthen studies class. Am I in the right place?”

“10821 Sanktajn Way? Yes, this would be it.” She returned the crumpled scrap back to him and continued approaching the doors, soon followed by Calum. “Why do you ask?”

He pushed past the revolving doors, allowing her to get in before cutting off the next person behind them. “Some official-looking guy woke me up in the middle of the night a few days ago and vaguely baited me into working for him. Something about a prophecy. You?”

“Same deal.” She shrugged her shoulders, immediately turning right and pressing the elevator button. “You’re probably Camael-athaelus, aren’t you? My name’s Hayle. I got taken by Allaketo at around the same time. Not in the same batch of otherlings, though…” Her voice drifted off as the elevator doors opened and she entered, pulling Calum in after her. “All the other Mithrae were in my group, though. There were a few Mithral, too. They’re doing something else for the old man, though. Did you leave anybody behind?”

“Another otherling.” Calum scratched his neck, trying to hide his nervousness. “A really pretty galaxy named Ophelia. I was never attracted to women, though, so we just stayed friends until the end. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her, though. I hope she’s doing okay.”

“Me too. I left behind my vessel’s cousin. Her name was… something like a May? I’m not sure. I escaped and found the family that my vessel hailed from. That old man exorcised me in the middle of the night while I was sleeping, so I just woke up in the middle of the forest by the traditional summoning gate without a warning.”

The figure who had accosted Calum a few days prior was waiting at the entrance when the elevator door finally opened, this time clothed in a white uniform with the nametag Akov resting smugly on his chest. “There you two are. I was just beginning to wonder where you were. Have you seen any of the others?”

“How would Calum know any of the others?” She rounded the corner, Calum and Akov accompanying her close behind. “Camael’s only ever seen me, and we met just a few minutes ago. The others weren’t in the same wave of otherlings. Didn’t you do any research into our circumstances?” She promptly threw herself onto a bean bag, disregarding the two others who took proper seats on the floor. “They’d recognize him, though. He’s pretty notorious for stealing a skyskipper and setting part of the palace on fire. Not that you’d know anything about that.”

Calum rolled his eyes as a few more Mithrae slinked into the room, silent with pale and guilty faces as they took their places on the floor. “Can you please give us the shortest lecture as possible? Because I could be spending this time with my family right now, and I’d really like to catch up with my sisters.”

“Patience, Calum.” Akov stretched his hand out, smothering Calum’s face for a few awkward seconds before he retracted it. “Now we may begin. Children-”

“I’m an adult,” one of the latecomers blurted, raising his hand. “Not a child.”

Anyways, We’re all gathered here because all of us, with the exception of me, have been used by Allaketo against our wills to wreak havoc on Zorphia. Not much due to his failure to actually mobilize a campaign, but it’s something. I do not hold any of that against you unless you genuinely wanted to help that bastard because you agreed with what he believed in. In that case, you might as well exit this building now and go possess some poor sap of a human now, because I won’t have this mission bogged down by any betrayals.” He pointed a bony finger at the door, setting it down when nobody took him up on the offer and just stared at the finger. “Very well, then. We are gathered here today because Allaketo, during the war, secretly adopted the current head of administration of the Labs of Soona Bris under the pretense that he would exchange any future birthrights his biological children might have held in order to buy immortality. Granted, Allaketo is now too dead for anybody to resurrect him, and his soul is currently going through the deepest class of the purgatory cleansings, but his son Anders still lives and is- yes, Calum?”

Calum set his waving arm down. “Can you cut to the chase?”

Akov waved him off. “I can’t skip vital information. Sorry. But anyways, Anders is alive, albeit not heir and king of Zorphia because Queen Emma regained her throne. Thanks to an early warning from the Mithral, we’ve identified him as the Wickedness that the Skribrulajxo in the Capital’s archives mentions. Being that Soona Brisian records identify him as engaged and the Skribrulajxo calls for Wickedness to be married to Innocence, we have to act quickly.”

Calum raised his hand again, not waving it this time to Hayle’s relief. “Forgive me for seeming a bit off, but how do you know for sure that Anders is this… Wickedness? How do you know for sure that any of this is legitimate? You could be setting demonic forces on an innocent person, and that’s a pretty severe crime.”

“Because I’m an adult and I know what I’m doing, Calum. Do you want to return to having a human vessel and being stuck on Zorphia for the rest of your life? Because I can arrange that.” Akov took a deep breath, resettling himself in his seat. “Also, the Mithral are more adept at telling lies from reality than us, and their warnings have never failed anybody.”

“What about the time that the dam broke? No Mithral warned us of the houses that were about to be destroyed.”

“That was false information from a rogue Mithral exploiting our trust. That doesn’t count.”

He slouched over. “That’s not a valid excuse for interfering in somebody’s marriage, though, and that spiel wasn’t much of an explanation.”

“Shut up, Calum, and stay that way until we meet here early tomorrow morning. You’re all dismissed.” Akov passed a hand over the group, and all but Calum and Hayle left his presence. Turning to address them, he spoke, “As to your doubt, Calum, Miranda prayed to a proxy for the Mithral king yesterday asking for protection for her unborn child. The Skribrulajxo mentions that there will be a child mercilessly sacrificed. Do you want that?”

“No, sir… why didn’t you tell the rest of them any of this?”

“Because I can easily convince them to do what I want, Calum. You, however, seem to be a little more… obstinate. Go home and rest on it and come back in the morning. You too, Hayle.”

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