The city council had four members, but because four was an unlucky number, it was usually referred to as three members and one officiant: the mayor. It was that extra member of the council that Philip clerked for. The council members were technically equal, but the mayor represented the city of Light’s Hollow as a whole, rather than any individual faction. Philip was expected to be mayor some day, not just because he was the mayor’s clerk, but also because he was the mayor’s son.
Light’s Hollow had never been a particularly political town. Philip had read a number of his father’s books which described how governance and commerce were handled in the wider world. He often wondered what it would be like to have to keep track of so many things. In other cities there were elaborate voting systems designed to balance a variety of interests, long-standing coalitions of aligned interests, and different governmental bodies split out for different tasks, sometimes acting in opposition to each other. In Light’s Hollow there was only the city council, with four members who made every decision worth making.
This wasn’t to say Light’s Hollow was completely devoid of politics. There were, after all, eleven thousand people, most with their own opinions about how the city should be run. During open sessions, the city council had to hear the complaints and requests of the most opinionated citizens, and of the four members, only the chief glimwarden, whose position wasn’t elected, was truly insulated from the ravages of public backlash. Any proposed change to taxes, fees, licenses, or laws was hotly debated. For all that, there were no real political parties and the elections were few and far between.
This week’s session was closed to the public, which meant that only the council members and their aides were present. They gathered together in a large meeting room that looked out on the Chancellor’s Lantern, at the heart of Light’s Hollow. The lantern was the oldest building in the city, built of worn gray bricks that had been pulled up from the land itself rather than pressed from clay like most of the shops and houses around it used. Before the meeting started, Philip Phandrum took a moment to look at the white light perched on top of the lantern, a reassuring reminder that the hava was still burning brightly within. He had lived his whole life within the invisible light the lantern cast, protected and safe. He had paid enough attention to his elders to know that the world outside was hostile. He held little fear for the outside world, only a practical appreciation for the pleasures of not being eaten alive.
He turned back to the meeting room and the notepad in front of him when Samuel Seaborn came in through the thick double doors. The chief glimwarden’s armor was visibly stained with thick black gore. He strode to his seat with purpose and sat down without saying a word. Unlike the other council members, he never brought any aides with him, nor did he take any notes. If it had been anyone else, Philip would have taken this for showmanship, meant to impress upon others just how stoic and strong he was. Glimwarden Samuel Seaborn wasn’t just pretending to hold the council as at arm’s length though, he was being true to himself. He had the position on the council for reasons of seniority, and would doubtless have handed the duty off to someone else if he had been one to shirk his responsibilities. In Philip’s opinion, that sense of duty was one of the most useful levers by which the chief glimwarden could be moved.
“Are we starting?” Samuel asked a few moments after he sat down. His voice was low and gravelly, like Philip imagined a bear would sound if you woke it from hibernation. Samuel was almost always the last to arrive and usually the first to leave. He sat through the meetings like he had somewhere else to be.
“I suppose so,” said Mayor Phandrum, Philip’s father. They had the same pale blue eyes and angular features. Philip was proud to look like his father, and he knew that if he was ever called to take over the position, the physical similarity would be an important asset for the election. The mayor had often remarked in private, when he was simply a father, that people cared more about the person than the policies. You could talk all day about crop yields and tax rates, but when it came to a vote, the masses would go with the man they trusted. It was a naive view of politics expressed in an empty platitude, in Philip’s opinion, but the senior Phandrum was given to those. Philip tried not to hold that against his father. At any rate, Philip had seen the currency in their resemblance and had worked to enhance it; they shared a tailor and a barber, and though Philip was only sixteen, he had often heard people remark on how adult he looked. He was his father’s aide and took the official minutes from the council meeting, which was a small duty that nonetheless kept him in the public eye. Philip was undeniably being groomed for a position of power, which, in Light’s Hollow, meant one of the four seats at the city council.
“I hereby call to order this closed session of the city council of Light’s Hollow,” said the mayor. He gave his gavel a perfunctory tap that echoed around the room. Philip suspected that was his father’s favorite part of the job. “The first order of business is the matter of fishing quotas,” said the mayor, looking down at his notes. His father didn’t need the notes; the day before the weekly council meetings was spent reviewing the agenda and trying to find the lay of the land, an exercise that Philip had been involved in every week for the past two years.
“We should skip ahead,” said Sam. “We can talk about quotas in the open session, if we really have to. The closed session needs to be for things that aren’t public. What are we doing about the eighth lantern?”
Linda Linwell had raised the topic of the eighth lantern two weeks ago. It wasn’t a new item that was added to the agenda, but instead an offhand comment during one of the open sessions when a tenant farmer was complaining about the allocation of land and the burdens of working rented land. Linda had said, “Well perhaps when we construct the eighth lantern you might be able to find some land of your own.” That had caused some murmuring among those present. More questions were immediately posed on the matter, sidetracking the farmer’s question about remediation. The city council hadn’t discussed a potential eighth lantern in the slightest, of course, and the mayor said as much in a more diplomatic way, but the match had been struck and the kindling had caught fire. Now it was only a question of whether the fire would start up in earnest or peter out.
“I’ve made my feelings on the matter clear,” said Linda. “Land is the most valuable asset in Light’s Hollow. The lanterns are what allow land to be farmed on, what allow a place for houses and businesses, what gives us space to breathe, live, and play. Every problem this city has relates back to a lack of space. There have been five deaths from the darklings in the past year, all healthy people struck down in their prime because they felt compelled to take risks and go beyond the safety of the lanterns. The marked increase in crime, the unrest among the tenant farmers, the overfishing of the lakes, all can be attributed to a simple lack of land. It is our duty to rectify that.”
Sam leaned forward and laid his hands on the table in front of him. For a moment Philip thought that the chief glimwarden would dismantle the argument piece by piece. Overfishing had been a problem since time immemorial, there was nothing recent about it, so there was no reason to expect that adding another lantern would correct it. There wasn’t really unrest among the tenant farmers, at least not that Philip could see, there had only been a single complaint at the earlier city council meeting, and that was a question of Carter Colsum’s greed. If the new land was auctioned off as it had been in times past, there was no reason to think that Colsum wouldn’t end up with the bulk of it. That left the increase in crime and the question of those who had died to the darklings, both of which were too complex to be simple evidence in favor of adding more land. Samuel Seaborn could have brought up any of those points, but then he wouldn’t have been Samuel Seaborn.
“That’s trumpery,” was his simple reply. “You want to line your own pockets.”
“I’ve spoken at length about the conflicts of interest inherent in my position,” said Linda. “The point stands. People need room to breathe and grow, and with every new member of the community, we require more land, not only for farming, but so that people can find some quietude away from each other. Land leads the way to peace and prosperity.”
“And how much will the engineers demand from Light’s Hollow in order to have that lantern built?” asked Samuel. His voice was a low growl. “How many glimwardens will die defending that structure while it’s built, or gathering the required hava? We’d have to be lucky to escape without injury.”
The mayor tapped his gavel once. “Control your tone,” he said to the chief glimwarden. “You have two good points. The first is that there is a cost associated with the building a new lantern. It is our duty as city council to make a careful consideration of how the wealth of our citizens is spent. While Glimwarden Seaborn’s comment wasn’t courteously phrased, we must still have an answer. At the same time, Glimwarden Seaborn has a legitimate concern about the strain that an eighth lantern would place upon the glimwardens, both during the lantern’s construction and in terms of ongoing costs. We should not be discussing whether to build the lantern or not, we should be discussing the merits, risks, and costs instead, before we arrive at the question of whether or not to do it. Speak about the problem first before seeking a solution.”
Gregor, the fourth member of the council, coughed into his hand and cleared his throat, readying himself to speak. He was the oldest person sitting at the table, with hair that was nearly pure white. He had been slipping for the past two years, speaking less than he had before and not adding much to the conversation. His grandchildren were his aides; they said little at the council meetings, which only served to call attention to his deteriorating condition. Philip wasn’t quite sure why the other council members hadn’t taken any action to remove him, but it was possible that they all really believed that it was better to wait another year for the next election. Philip knew that his father had spoken to Gregor in private, but the old man had shrugged off the suggestion of an early retirement.
“Eight is unlucky,” Gregor said. “One is fine, that’s the number of unity. Three is good, the trinity of the natural rulers. Four is three and one, a trinity and a unity, just like this council, so long as the parts are three and one it’s no problem. Six is the hexagon, the number by which we divide the working classes. Seven is just six and one again, the hexity and unity bound together, one surrounding the other, our current configuration. Two and five are the ones left out. It was during those times that Light’s Hollow lay unstable, when the greatest tragedies of our city occurred. Famine, drought, war, executions with blood running red down the streets. Those numbers, two and five, have always been portentous, to be avoided if at all possible. Eight is worse than them though. We cannot have eight, not as our foundation. Doom would follow.”
The room was silent for a long moment following this.
“Gregor, do you mean that we should build an eighth and ninth lantern concurrently?” asked the mayor. This was the first time during the meeting that Philip was in disagreement with his father. There was no sense in listening to the senseless. Gregor Golland had been a pillar of the community for a long time, but when a pillar began to rot out, only a fool kept it around out of sentimentality.
“An eighth lantern will cost lives,” said Sam, barreling right on ahead. “We need more glimwardens in advance of the lantern being built. That means we need a greater share of the hearts we bring in. I’ve talked about that time and again, I know where everyone stands on the matter. If this council won’t increase the warden’s share, we’ll be stretched too thin.”
“Do you know where I stand?” asked Linda. She steepled her fingers. “If we were to agree to an eighth, I would be willing to make concessions. I fully admit that we would need another glimwarden to keep the extra lantern fed —”
“One glimwarden?” asked Sam. “That’s the paltry offer? We have twenty men and women for seven lanterns right now and that’s barely enough to keep us stable when one of us takes an injury.”
“There are another hundred men and women in the reserve,” she said. “Not equipped or trained as well as you and yours, not as full of the bind, but capable all the same, should the need arise.” She held up a hand to halt his objections. “But if we were to agree on three glimwardens, raised up to power through a portion of the city’s share of the hearts, I would need concessions in turn, like some say in who is to be selected for the honor.”
“Eight is unlucky,” Gregor repeated, slipping his words in.
“Absolutely not,” said Sam, not missing a beat. “No one knows the battle against the darklings like those who are already fighting it. I won’t take on someone who’s a burden because you crave power.”
“The glimwarden have long had a stranglehold on who joins their ranks,” said Linda with a frown. The language was harsher than she normally used.
“I will remind the two councilors that we have not yet decided to build an eighth lantern,” said the mayor. “By the time the next closed session comes around, I would like some reports on likely costs so we can make our decision. Perhaps the matter can be conducted another day, or given some time to explore —”
“We could have a competition,” said Philip. He wasn’t supposed to speak at the meetings unless spoken to, but his suggestion wasn’t immediately put down, in part because it begged for questions to follow.
“I won’t sully the name of the glimwardens with a game,” said Sam with his arms crossed in front of him.
“Not a game,” said Philip. Sam was the one to convince, the one most likely to use the power to say no. “You said that you don’t want to take on someone who’s a burden, right? You don’t want Councilor Linwell to have the power to put whoever she wants in the new position.” He turned to Linda. “And you don’t want the new glimwardens, whose power will be provided in part by the city’s share of the hearts, to be the beneficiaries of nepotism, bribery, or something else untoward.” He turned back to Sam. “Not that they would be, of course.”
“Of course,” said Sam. Philip could tell that the man’s pride had been wounded, which was exactly the idea. Hitting a man’s pride was a dangerous thing, but Philip hoped that in this case it would provide some motivation.
“If you owned a shop and were thinking of taking on a new worker, you get to know them first, and you do a trial if you could,” said Philip. “All I’m suggesting is that Light’s Hollow might benefit from something similar. If you set the criteria that are important to you in a glimwarden, then you can evaluate all the candidates on that basis. It will be more fair to them and more likely to get a good result.”
Sam Seaborn grunted.
“Well I think it’s a marvelous idea,” said Linda, which was such a disastrous thing to say that Philip wondered whether it was calculated as such. But no, Linda had always been easier to read than she thought she was. This was true excitement at the prospect of interfering with the glimwardens.
“I’ll think about it,” said Sam, to Philip’s surprise.
“We can schedule a private meeting in my chambers,” said the mayor. “I agree that a spectacle would be unbecoming, but my aide’s idea had some merit to it, by my estimation.”
Philip kept himself from smiling.
The ink had barely dried on the meeting minutes when Philip set out for the edge of the city. His father would need help, Philip was certain of that. Over the course of the next few days a number of conversations would take place between the mayor and the other members of the council. Linwell and Seaborn hated each other and rarely spoke outside the meetings, which meant that any actual agreement would have to be mediated by the mayor, especially given the recent decline of Golland, who had shouldered some of the burden of peacemaking in the past.
The founders of Light’s Hollow had structured their city council to favor the status quo. A tied vote always broke in favor of inaction and Philip suspected that the entire reason to have four sitting members instead of three was to ensure that deadlocks were common. The founders might have believed that deadlock was a valuable tool to ensure a conservative approach to governance, but it was difficult to know as they hadn’t left much in the way of explanation. This system of voting had two common outcomes, the first of which was three people teaming up to push through some change over the objections of the fourth, and the second of which was a dissenter trying to convince a single one of the other members. Linwell needed to secure the votes of Philip’s father and Gregor Golland if she wanted her eighth lantern, while Seaborn only needed to convince one of them. This had been their pattern for going on three years now, with the outcome most often being decided in Linwell’s favor. Philip knew that his father leaned toward the building of an eighth lantern, even with all the controversy it would surely bring. That left Gregor Golland, whose mental health was obviously poor. It was entirely possible that Golland would have to be replaced, which would mean a new election ahead of time and all the headaches that would come with that, especially with the question of the eighth lantern hanging in the air.
Philip’s father would need help, but that had to come later. Today was the day for radio.
City hall was next to the central lantern of Light’s Hollow, with the white light of the Chancellor shining on top of it. The Chancellor’s color was supposed to be gray, but the engineers had long ago given it up as nearly impossible with the chemicals that they had access to. The same was true of Rogue’s Lantern, whose light was supposed to be a dark brown but instead shone almost orange instead. It was that lantern that Philip headed towards, taking the miles slowly and trying to put his thoughts in order.
Taking over Light’s Hollow would be easy enough. He had been born into a position that removed much of the work that would otherwise be involved with that. At the age of sixteen, Philip was better suited to become the next mayor than anyone else in Light’s Hollow. Mayor of Light’s Hollow was currently as high as a citizen could climb, offering the maximal amount of authority over other citizens. Philip’s rule wouldn’t be absolute at first, but that could certainly change. The founders had laid down an ironclad, unchangeable document, a set of laws that was to guide the town through the ages. That document was only as powerful as people allowed it to be, and only as ironclad as anyone cared to enforce. Becoming the dictator of Light’s Hollow would take a few years from the time Philip assumed the mayorship, perhaps less depending on whether useful allies could be easily maneuvered into the remaining council positions.
But what would the point be? There was nothing that Philip particularly wanted to accomplish with political power like that. The problem of taking power was an interesting one, but the end result — actually ruling — was not. He might take the opportunity to write up a better founding document that had none of the problems or loopholes that the existing one had, but he didn’t actually need any amount of power just to write something like that. Again, it was the problem that interested him, not the solution. The problem could be worked out on paper, or perhaps theorized about with a few close friends, if Philip had any of those. There just wasn’t much pleasure to be had from replacing a fairly competent document with a masterful one.
What Philip wanted was a challenge. If it was the problems that interested him, then it seemed like the solution was to go find more and better problems to put his mind to. To some extent this could be accomplished by simply creating the problems himself, but he knew that there would be something false in that, and it would be not only morally wrong but politically dangerous as well. Unfortunately, it seemed the Light’s Hollow would never be so interesting as Philip wanted it to be.
Philip arrived at the Rogue’s Lantern and the buildings that surrounded it, then continued down the road that went to the edge of the lantern’s light. The white marble bollards that marked the edge of safe territory were already visible. If Linwell got her way, those bollards would be moved back and new ones would be quarried and finished as more land fell under the dominion of man, taken from the darklings. It was a happy thought for most people, but Philip had seen nothing to suggest that the addition of another lantern would substantially change anything.
When Philip heard the distant bells marking two o’clock, he hurried forward, not wanting to be late.
Philip strode right past the bollards, walking another twenty feet onto soft grass before he knelt down to fiddle with the radio. So far as Philip was aware, the radio had first been invented to measure the strength of the lanterns. The engineers still used something similar, not much more than a row of tiny bulbs with miniature filaments that lit up to show how intensely the lanterns were emitting. If you translated it to sound, you would hear the persistent hiss of the lantern, which is why it was necessary to go beyond the bollards in order to have a clear conversation with anyone outside Light’s Hollow, though static still plagued the transmissions between towns.
Philip began unfolding his antenna, keeping one eye on the open field around him, looking for darklings. The bollards marked a cutoff, but it was really a slope. Past experience had shown that few darklings would approach this close. Philip wouldn’t have wanted to spend the night so far from the lanterns, but for a brief portion of the afternoon it was perfectly acceptable. Still, it wouldn’t do to suffer an unlucky death when there was so much left of his life. He finished setting up the antenna, then connected a wire from the battery to the radio proper. Static immediately began flowing from the speakers, but it was quiet enough to talk over.
“Wind’s Voice to all who would listen,” Philip spoke into the microphone with a thunk and click of its button.
There was only static from the other end for a moment. ‘All who would listen’ was really only a matter of courtesy. The number of radios was quite small, they could only be effectively used outside the lanterns’ full protection, and he was speaking on a specific frequency at a specific time. Talking to someone over radio required arrangements ahead of time, either through caravan mail service or through prior radio conversations. It wasn’t the sort of thing that anyone would just randomly listen in on. There would only be one person who would receive his message.
“Legal Multiplier receiving,” came a voice from the other end. “How was your meeting?”
“I offered a suggestion that was well received,” he replied. “Linwell likes it, and I think that Seaborn is going to come on board in the near future. It’s a stepping stone that people will remember, so long as it goes well, but I think it will play well with the public even if the measurable outcomes are poor. How are things going on your end?”
Philip didn’t know the name of the woman he was communicating with. The fact that it was a woman was obvious from the voice, but aside from the call-sign of Legal Multiplier, Philip knew practically nothing about her. She was full of interesting information, but very little of that information was personal in nature. She lived in the city of Gossom. It was some thirty miles away, with only three lanterns, but Gossom had significantly more trade than Light’s Hollow, which meant that Legal tended to know more about the wider world. Philip suspected that she had other radio partners as well, but she’d never admitted to it. For the most part, she was an ideal conversational partner; she listened well and spoke intelligently, and because she was so far away, there was practically no risk of any information shared with her leaking back to Light’s Hollow. Philip never told her anything too sensitive, just in case.
“Do you have an up-to-date map of the region?” asked Legal with the persistent hiss of static behind her.
“Not with me,” said Philip. The button made a deep thunking sound as he pressed it.
“Well, there was a town called Langust about fifty miles away, radial thirty-two from Gossom,” said Legal. “The operative word there is was. Only one lantern, but it had made it through the early years. The caravan came in three days ago with six oxen hauling a traveling lantern and what was left of the town huddled around it. There were about three hundred survivors and we had a mad scramble to find temporary housing for all of them. Their total mortality rate, including both the initial collapse and their journey over here, was seventy percent. They had ten glimwardens when they left and only two when they got here. I don’t know how eager any of them are to move, but it’s likely that Light’s Hollow is going to get some of the overflow with the next caravan we send over.”
Philip mulled that over. “Any word on the cause of failure?” he asked with a click of the switch.
“The lantern went out,” said Legal. She had a soothing voice, but Philip could feel her numb horror, which she was trying to cover up by sounding clinical. Philip enjoyed insights like that, because it meant that he was coming to know her. “It happened at two in the morning and wasn’t noticed right away. Their alarm system hadn’t been tested in a long time and failed for some reason, but they never managed to investigate that because all their engineers were woken up and put to work getting the lantern shining again. The darklings had killed a few dozen people before the town started to wake up. Everyone moved to a fortified position in the center of their settlement after that, with more deaths along the way. The glimwardens formed a defensive perimeter against the darklings, trying to buy the engineers time with the lantern, but here the story starts to diverge depending on who’s doing the telling. The traveling lantern was brought out at some point and filled with what was left of the heart from the lantern. At some other point, either before or after that, some of the hearts were consumed to make more glimwardens. Most of the new wardens died in the fighting. Three days after the lantern went out, they decided that they needed to leave if they wanted any hope of survival.”
“They should have been able to use the traveling lantern indefinitely,” said Philip. He was lost in thought, trying to imagine what it had been like. Legal hadn’t described the loud conversations that the people of Langust must have had with each other, but that was all that Philip could focus on. The decision to use the traveling lantern would have been a difficult one, but cannibalizing a portion of the hava to make new wardens … who had decided on that? How had they been chosen?
“They couldn’t have used the traveling lantern indefinitely,” said Legal. “Perhaps their glimwardens could have harvested enough hearts on a consistent basis to keep it going, but eventually they would have run out of food. I agree that they could have had more time, if they’d wanted it, but the problem with the main lantern appeared to be intractable. It’s unclear how much they had stored in their granary. Either way, after a full day had passed the darklings were tearing into houses and ripping up crops on the outskirts. Perhaps they could have gotten the lantern working again, given a week or two, but they would have been close to starving by that point. They would only have reclaimed a destroyed town. Come winter, most of them would have starved.”
“Better for them to go early than late,” said Philip with a nod. He looked out at the green grass and swaying trees beyond them. It was peaceful here, but the darklings were always laying in wait. “So how did the rest of them die?”
“You caught that, did you?” asked Legal. “Langust started with a thousand and ended with three hundred. Their stories don’t account for it. We think that perhaps there was some infighting, but it would have to have been ferocious to leave so many dead. There’s something that they’re hiding. We’ll get to the truth soon enough, but no one here wants to interrogate people who have lost so much so recently.”
“Your people would prefer being polite to being secure,” replied Philip. He shook his head.
“A strong argument,” said Legal. “But it would mark you as callous, even if you’re right.”
“I would be careful of my phrasing,” said Philip. “I’m always careful with my phrasing.”
“Am I the only one you’re not cautious with?” asked Legal.
“You, and my father,” Philip replied.
“That’s not true,” said Legal. “You only pretend to be honest with him. You’ve said as much, I read between the lines. For all I know, you’re only pretending with me as well. Turning those gears while pretending you care.”
Philip looked at the speaker and frowned. “I apologize if I’ve given you the impression that I’m insincere,” said Philip. For a long moment the sound of the button clicking down echoed in his ears. Legal was supposed to be an ally, someone he could bank on if he ever wanted to venture away from Light’s Hollow. Gossom would just be a stop-over, but it would be better if he had a contact there.
“I’m sorry,” Legal replied. “I’ve had a lot to do here with the refugees coming in. I should probably end our conversation here so I don’t say something foolish.” There was a long pause from the radio. “I’ll talk to you again next week, same time?”
“That sounds good,” replied Philip. He tried to keep the strain from his voice. “Wind’s Voice out.” He shut off the radio before waiting for a response.
People liked Philip. He kept a neat appearance and carried himself like an adult. He was intelligent and, more importantly, diligent. He was always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need, and he took it upon himself to offer aid even when it wasn’t requested. While he had thought about how this behavior would reflect on him and help or hinder his chances to fulfill his desires, and while he had come to the conclusion that helping people was to his benefit, he didn’t think that it would be fair to say that he was kind and helpful only because he thought there was something in it for him. No one had ever levied that accusation against him, but he worried that someday they would, and there would be no way to prove otherwise.
Philip didn’t like people. He didn’t hate people, not as a general rule, but he just didn’t feel the warm glow of affection that others claimed to. There had been a time when he’d thought that everyone else was like him. It was conceivable that no one felt a warm glow of affection towards others, that it was all just a pile of motivated lies meant to deceive others. After all, Philip faked his way through plenty of conversations, giving practiced smiles when social conventions dictated that this was necessary, so why shouldn’t it be the case that everyone else was engaging in mere signaling as well? This theory didn’t hold up under scrutiny though. For one thing, many people were terrible liars. To suppose that there were faking their interactions was to suppose that they were competent liars, or that they were good at one sort of lie but bad at others, or that their transparent lies were just another, more complex form of signaling something. But if that were true, then it meant that Philip knew even less about other people than he thought he did. He had reverted back to a simpler hypothesis; he was unique in some regard, at least among the population of Light’s Hollow. Social interaction did not come naturally to him, so he studied it, and in studying it, became better at it than anyone else seemed to be.
That was why he spent so long in confusion over Legal Multiplier’s rebuff. They had known each other for months now. She was aware of the sort of person he was. She was of a cynical disposition herself, always ready to take the dim view of people or to pick apart their motivations in gory detail. Philip didn’t believe that she was like him, but she was the closest that he had found thus far. He had said nothing that was too far outside the norms of their relationship though. Perhaps she was right that she was under some strain from the refugees, but it seemed likely that instead of the strain causing her discomfort with him, it instead served to expose some underlying problem with their relationship.
If it had been a windy day, Philip might not have seen the darkling. Since the grass and the leaves weren’t rustling, its movements betrayed it. It was black as jet, the color of a night without stars, and what passed for its head was turned towards Philip.
Philip didn’t blink. It was unusual for the darklings to come so close to the border, but the border wouldn’t have been where it was if darklings coming this close was unheard of. Philip felt no fear at its presence; it was a good hundred yards away from him, and it cost the darklings something to come even that close. He didn’t think about the darklings often. They were a feature of the landscape, a constraint that organized society operated under, the same as the need for drinking water and adequate food. There were lanterns to keep them at bay and glimwardens to keep the lanterns fed, which resulted in two of the largest grips on political power.
Soon, if Philip got his way, people would be competing for the right to one of those grips. Most wouldn’t be motivated by politics, they would seek personal pride, material wealth, or social standing. Yet political power was there for the taking as well, if anyone wanted it. Philip watched the darkling with unblinking eyes as he idly touched the knobs of his radio. There was going to be a competition for the new glimwardens. He could enter it himself. Philip mulled over the merits of the idea as the darkling turned away to disappear back into the woods.