“You think we can trust them?” asks someone, presumably the master of the tower.
“They need us,” says the man near the window, turning to face the other. You recognize him from old drawings, Abu Hassan Ibn Hadad al-Sarabi, First of the Magi. “They can do nothing without our machines and by the time the ritual is completed, these things will be under our absolute control.”
“I worry still,” says the master of the tower. “It all seems to have come too easy.”
“It’s easy because we’re holding all the cards,” says Abu Hassan with a wave of dismissal. “Don’t forget that the Qantari came to us. I will admit that the depth of their knowledge took me by surprise, but without our technology that knowledge was useless. They had no choice but to cooperate with us.”
“They worship these things as gods. Did you know that?” the magus asks quietly.
“They are savages, brother. What they do not understand, they ascribe to magic and gods.” The First of the Magi turns back to the window.
“But do you not find their offer curious, their appeal to us to enslave their gods? I still feel we’re missing something,” says the magus.
“You worry about the wards and I’ll worry about the Qantari. As long as the wards hold, nothing else matters.”
“They will hold,” promises the magus. The recording ends.
“I told you,” says the unseen other, the master of the tower.
“You also told me that the wards would hold,” snaps the First of the Magi. “What happened?”
“I do not know,” comes the tired reply. “I have gone back to the problem a dozen times... They should have worked.”
“Should that be my answer to the Emperor when his army is incinerated, when cities are turned to craters? That the wards should have worked?”
“I made some improvements,” says the magus. A trembling hand proffers a scroll to Abu Hassan. “These have been reconfigured. These wards will hold.”
“Are we going to shut it down?” asks the magus after a pause.
“Not yet,” says the First of the Magi. “It is our greatest triumph, and I will not let fear of the unknown force my hand. We are still in control, brother.”
“Are we?” asks the magus pointedly.
“You speak of Balzaar? He has spirit, true, but what did you expect? Must a man not break a horse before he rides? When Balzaar has submitted to my will, the rest will follow.”
“Is the situation as bad as that?” asks the magus.
“Worse,” says the First of the Magi. “We lost two more. Now we are three against four.”
“I have more news,” says the magus. “The Qantari fleet has been spotted off the coast.”
“We can deal with the Qantari,” comes the reply, and you can hear a trace of Abu Hassan’s old arrogance. “It’s Balzaar and his ilk that I worry about. The more powerful he grows, the more the savages worship him. At this point, they are eager to die at his command.”
In the pause that follows you imagine the magus biting down the urge to say “I told you so” once more. “What are we going to do?”
“With Agathoth’s help, we will win this war. He will give us the knowledge we need and he is ready to build engines of war unlike anything this world has seen,” says the First of the Magi.
“Do you trust him?” asks the magus.
Abu Hassan shakes his head. “You questioned the wisdom of what we were doing all along and you were right. I should have listened to you. Once the war is won, we will let it die. We have tempted Fate enough.”