Pensieve Marla 1

FOUND IN THE MINISTRY OF IMAGE SECRET ARCHIVES IN XANDRAR

The memory begins backstage, with a slim gnomish woman peering out from behind the curtains at the amphitheater/meeting room packed to the gills with people. Most of them wear neutral brown uniforms with prominent butter-yellow highlights and prominent M.o.P. logos on their breasts; a disproportionately high number of them are halflings. The steady susurrus of chatter filters up past the empty stage, only slightly blunted by the thick, black stage curtains.

It’s not enough to stop someone from calling out, “Marla!” from further backstage. The gnome swings to face, her elegantly coiffed purple fall of hair swaying about an aristocratic face as she squeals, “Ilshana, darling!”

The ex-fashionista hops off her stool and patters over to leap into the arms of a bookish-looking witch, hugging her tightly before hopping back down. “I haven’t seen you in forever! Matters are FAR too busy. We must get together with Silvia after this and catch up, we simply must!”

The frail, bright-eyed woman still has a robe and labcoat on, her dark hair a sensible cut with a wild streak of lavender erupting from her temple. “You’ve got that right, Marla. I love the experiments, and hate the administration, but running the M.A.S. takes up all my time. I haven’t even had a day off.in months.” She huffs. “I only got away because Silvia insisted I teleport over here to hear her announcement.”

“Darling, you ported all the way from Sharn? You continually amaze me.”

Ilshana blushes and waves it off with a roll of her eyes. “Well, Silvia said it was important.”

“I’m simply lucky I was in town on M.o.I. business,” Marla chortles, her voice well-practiced for fancy dinners and private soirees. “Come on, she’s just about to start.”

Ilshana joins Marla watching out the front of the stage. The scientist utters a low whistle. “Wow. This is the Ministry of Peace?”

“All the higher-ups,” Marla confirms liltingly. “As well as a quite a few from the Arcane Congress and some from your own Ministry of Arcane Sciences.” She coughs, leveling a mild glare at a table toward the front. “Although I’m sure I’ve not the slightest why there’s a gaggle of dark elves seated so prominently.”

“Marla, the term is ‘drow’,” the robed witch sniffs. Her voice settles into a characteristic Lecture Mode, her eyelids fluttering half-open as if she’s reading verbatim from a textbook. “Dark elf implies they are an inferior variant of an elf, whereas drow is an independent name unassociated with elven attributes. It’s true they were both created during the Age of Giants by using a common goblin stock, but the two strains of Forced Evolution Voodoo resulted in superficially similar but completely independent species, incapable of cross-breeding and utilizing completely different home enviro—-“

Marla reaches into a sleeve and produces a small, crystalline orb clutched at the end of a cherry wood wand. With a wave and a hook, she pronounces, “Silencio,” and Ilshana falls silent, her mouth still flapping for a few seconds before she realizes and scowls down at the plunette.

“You asked me to tell you when you were rambling, darling. Well, you were rambling.” She offers another wry smile and waves her orb again. “Finite.”

Ilshana grimaces and mutters, “Sorry.”

“To answer your question, darling, the - drow - are, from what I hear, working on some truly horrid spell research. Something called ‘balefire’.”

Ilshana glares incredulously at the elegant gnome. “Marla!” She scrabbles at her robes for a moment, pulling out a wand and waving it in a complicated pattern. “Muffliato,,” she incants, the chatter of the crowd immediately dying down to an indistinct buzz. “You’re one of my best friends, and I know you know I’m involved in some… pretty rough research at M.A.S.” She narrows her eyes, waggling a finger at the plunette’s nose. “And I know for a fact, that you’ve got a certain book of soul magic under lock and key in your Xandrar hub. With a secure reading chamber attached. None of us are innocent.”

“Ilshana, darling, you’re one of my best friends,” the gnome replies. “We’re both swallowing our discontent, but at least I know our motives are pure; the work must be done, and we can make sure it’s done safely. The drow seems to have no sense of ethics, no matter what Silvia tries to insist, and I’m… I’m afraid dear Silvia might be influenced by them. Oh!” She gasps, watching the aforementioned short woman with the waterfall of pastel pink hair making her way onto the stage, the harsh lights illuminating her beige M.o.P. uniform with significantly higher proportions of peaceful yellow in it. “They’re starting!”
Finite.” The background buzz changes back to the chatter of a crowd just in time for it to die down as Silvia takes the stage.

“Um, hello, everyone,” the woman’s voice is halting and timid, her charisma far more suited to comforting small animals and children than it is to speaking on stage. Nonetheless, the crowd listens with rapt attention. “Thank you all for coming. Some of you journeyed a, uh, l-long way. I promise it’ll be worth it!”

She fidgets for a second, shrinking in on herself under the lights and eyes, but she rallies and clutches her fists. “We’ve all been helping as much as we can, and thank you so, SO much for all your hard work. The Dragon War is far from over, though, a-and I’m afraid I have to ask you for more work. This might be the toughest thing we’ll ever do in the Ministry of Peace.” Her left hand drifts unconsciously toward the Dragonmark of Handling gracing the back of her right hand.

Far from intimidated, most of the room leans forward eagerly. Silvia waves a hand at the back of the room, and whoever it is starts of a Silent Image Projector, displaying a spell diagram and a strange, coppery statue beside it, top-heavy and studded with dragonshards.

Ilshana gasps, watching the screen. “The—the Mammon Machine Project! But—- Kaius ended that, he said it was sealed! How—-“

Silvia continues excitedly, “With this, we can heal entire battlefields of soldiers’ wounds, all at once. We can cure entire cities!”

“It’s called… a megaspell.”

Ilshana stumbles back, turning away. Marla pulls out her orb and incants, “Muffliato. Darling, what’s wrong? You’ve gone white as a ghost. I’d think this was a good thing!”

The archmage clutches at her mouth as if she’s going to puke. “At first, but—- don’t you see, Marla? It’s not just Cure spells that can be affixed to that matrix. It’ll work with destructive spells, too. And—- and as soon as someone outside the M.o.P. catches on to that…”

Marla’s jaw drops, her pupils shrinking in shock at the implications. “Um. The war is going to get a lot messier.”

Ilshana can’t manage anything more than a nod.

Marla looks back out at the stage, where Silvia is going through some technical details. One of the drow is visible backstage, looking on with undisguised glee.

“It’s at times like this that I wish the six of us were still gallivanting around, blasting ancient evils as the Materials of Harmony,” Marla murmurs weakly.

“If only things were still so simple,” Ilshana moans, going from looking early-middle-aged to impossibly worn and tired in a matter of seconds.

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Pensieve Marla 1

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