The splendor of Brise had never completely worn off for Vellius. He had been in the upper city for years, and it still glittered right up to the stark walls that rose between districts. There was still reason to stop on balconies like this one and look out over the clean tiles of the roofs and smooth stone of the streets, watching feathered things go about their business in the air. Creatures that would have been lost to the world if not for the sanctuary of the mountains.
It was not in his power to linger, though. The city outside still had to be managed. Vellius remembered his oath. Take the power, minimize the suffering of others. This was not to say that with power came the experience required for logistics, economics and strategy. Those Vellius had to learn from his Master.
It was not entirely clear who the Master was in the city. He had a home, really more like a palace (but weren’t they all up here?), and was clearly some sort of mage, but Vellius’ master was no researcher. He was more like…an economist. A strategist? A municipal planner? The old man did all these things, though Vellius would be first to admit he was, perhaps, not that old. Only a bit of grey. Ageless in the time that Vellius had known him. Five years and the man hadn’t shrunk a bit with the rigors of his age. Bravery did not come hand in hand with the thought of asking his Master his age, so Vellius let well enough alone. Vellius worked diligently. He learned magic, he learned civics. What else was there in the world that could help the people below? Who else was there? If Vellius was ever uncertain, The Master always had a plan.
So Vellius offered his folder of notes on the lower district wordlessly. The important parts were circled, but as his master took it, Vellius had the sudden suspicion that he read everything anyway. Somehow.
“Not good. Are the statistics accurate?” the master asked, dropping the papers on his desk and glaring down at them as though they had offended.
“There is a Researcher in the district, he checked the levels himself. All accurate, to within five points, as always.”
“So even on generous assessment, Periad is at thirty percent. They’ll last three weeks if Vale doesn’t maintain its current output. Where did it all go?”
“Agents suspect Aniconist activity. Most of the material was reclaimed, actually, but it doesn’t matter. Stockpiles are insufficient across the entire district. If I had to guess, they’re in the bureaucracy. We didn’t even notice the shortages because records have been altered back to the beginning of last year. Rast only figured it out when they cross-checked with their own supply. These people are going to starve, Master.”
“They are not. We didn’t design this system to fail. This is just one of the fail-safes giving us a bit of trouble, there’s no systemic failure. When under-vale is finished, we can recoup these.”
“There’s no time. With the population increase-”
“The population is in flux. There are checks in place.”
“…checks on the population?” Vellius hesitated. That’s strange. Other than space, disease and food, the population had seen steady growth for all five years that he had access to records. He gave the benefit of the doubt, though. “Intentional ones?”
“Not if we had our way. The cults seem to be grinding through converts briskly enough. The Aniconists will surely raze something this week. We can’t keep a lid on it all. Strife brings things under control long before we hit any sort of population cap.” the Master explained. It was an upsetting explanation. In theory, Vellius knew better than to ask.
But he still asked. He remembered his oath.
“We can’t ignore problems just because it creates convenient caps on our other problems.”
“Alternatives, Vel?” The master used his name. Vellius had his attention, and was suddenly terrified.
“If we fix the cults and-…”
“It comes down to seeing how many we can save with the resources we have. We could divert everything from under-vale to hunting down Idols. We tried that ages ago. They can’t be eliminated. They’re endemic.”
“Why? Have we researched why?”
The Master’s hands lowered to his desk, leaning forward to stare, not at the papers this time, but at the wall. Unable to see his face, Vellius could only imagine the glower he was giving it. “That’s enough for now, Vellius. Be back here tomorrow morning.”
Vellius bowed. “Yes, Master Mintay.”