Wagging Tongues Will - Part XVI

Aside from the soft tick, tick, tick of a clock perched on the mantle, Misha’s room was completely silent. As he considered the many mechanical devices lining the shelves of his workroom he realized that he had little seen this place over the last month. Reaching into the pail next to the hearth, he pulled out some tinder and arranged it in a pile over the ashes whose age he did not know. He then framed that with a few pieces of wood, and with a flint unused in the last twenty days, he started a fire. With one hand bandaged it was not an easy task, and so only after much fumbling did the cheery warmth of the blaze begin to seep through the apartment.

It did not help that his thoughts were still so scattered after the day’s events. In what should have been a hopeful return from battle, he’d been thrust into a deadly game he was only beginning to understand the rules to, and even then, he was likely mistaken. But there was one thing left that he must accomplish, and with the fire seen to, the fox moved to his desk and stared down at the blue gem that rested atop it. He stared at it a moment, before finally shaking his head to himself and turning away to the large chest that rested beneath the window. Leaning down, he removed a bottle of fine wine and a small glass

Returning to his desk, he filled his glass with the golden brew. He sat down, back still protesting from his exertion. His eyes trailed down to the blue gem that lay before him, even as he sipped from his glass. The sunlight coming through the window faded into dusk, and then the darkness of evening as the sun slipped beyond the mountains. Soon the only light in the room was the soft red glow from the fireplace. But still Misha sat, drinking slowly from the glass, refilling it when it was empty, and staring at the gem as it sparkled in the flickering firelight.

It was not until the fox had drunk a full three glasses that he decided to do what he knew had to be done. Setting the glass to one side, he picked up the gem with his left hand, the bandage made use of his right impossible. The gem was just large enough to fit into the palm of his paw, and he could feel the coolness of its surface against his flesh. With a deep breath, Misha closed his eyes, and pushed all other thoughts from his mind, and held in place an image of his sister Elizabeth. She was a tall woman, dressed in a loose gown of fine blue and green silk of several hues. Her long brown hair flowed down about her shoulders, and was held in place only by a silver broach about half way down her tresses.

And then the image grew into brighter clarity. Both his sister and he were standing in a small study, all but one wall lined with books. The other wall had a large floor to ceiling door that led onto a balcony overlooking the night. In one corner sat a large desk fashioned from mahogany, whose grains were zebra-striped an alternating white and dark red. Next to it was a tall lamp of silver and gold that cast a soft white light over the desk and the bookshelves nearby. Laying next to the desk was a rail thin, sandy coloured dog. The greyhound glanced up from the bone it was chewing and examined Misha for a moment, curious. And then, satisfied with its inspection, returned to worrying at the bone.

“Misha!” the woman cried as she saw him, the shock plain in her voice. “What happened to you?” Elizabeth walked slowly up to her brother, one hand out as if to touch the wounds. “What happened to your ear and your hand?” The fox looked down at the brightly decorated carpet covering the floor. Finally after several moment’s pause, he gave out a deep sigh. “We ran into some problems.” His voice was but a whisper, the memory of the battle that had led to his disfigurement passing once more through his mind.

Elizabeth pressed her hand beneath his muzzle, lifting his eyes to meet hers. “Running into trouble is what happens when your horse loses a shoe,” she pointed out gently. “I take it the battle didn’t go well?”

“We won the battle,” Misha started, the pyrrhic victory still tasting of ash in his mouth. “I went after Calephas and almost got the whole team killed. They were WAITING for us. The Baron knew we would come after him. I had to summon her to help.”

“Who? Who did you summon?”

“I summoned HER,” the fox said, as if that would explain everything.

Yet Elizabeth seemed intent on drawing the identity from him. “WHO?” she cried, her voice exasperated.

“I called her from the axe,” the fox explained, his voice still rang hollow.

Elizabeth’s face went first from confusion to one of shock, her eyes growing wide in disbelief. “You summoned HER?” Finally, she began to shake her head, voice filled with amazement. “That hasn’t been done in over two thousand years!”

His voice was soft, almost as if he were apologizing, but more truly because he himself at times could not believe what he had done. “I had no choice. It was that or lose more friends.” Misha did not mention that he’d lost friends already, and knew he did not need to. He walked over to the door leading to the balcony and stared out over the dark cityscape over a month’s ride from where he was really standing. His eyes took in the lights of the city, noting the way they lined the streets, signalled homes, represented life. Perhaps they were a sign of families relaxing, eating, or just enjoying each other’s company.

Elizabeth walked up behind her brother and hugged him, her arms warm against his chest. “I’m sorry. I’d forgotten how bad things have been up there.” Yet Misha said nothing, his eyes still piercing the darkness of the night, and the brightness of the city beyond the balcony. Elizabeth released him then after a moment and walked over to her desk, her hands tracing across some papers. “I’ve got good news for you.” Her voice trembled as she spoke, her unease at Misha’s disquiet plain. “The guild has decided to give Metamor the aid the Duke asked for. Plus I’ve managed to talk them into throwing in a little bit extra.” She turned around hoping to see her brother’s face, but it was still set resolutely towards the city.

“I found out today some things I need to convey to you and the guild,” the fox said in a formal tone, the hollowness gone. “During the assault on the Keep something besides humans and Lutins was unleashed. A Shrieker.”

“A real Shrieker?” she asked, the skepticism in her voice clear.

But Misha merely nodded. “They managed to destroy it before it could cause much havoc but it was close.”

Incredulously “How can Nasoj have gained that much power? The Moranasi were bad enough but a Shrieker too? How can Nasoj have summoned it?”

The fox shook his head. “I’ve no idea, but I’m not sure that it WAS Nasoj.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak again, but the dead seriousness in her brother’s voice made her pause. Though she could not have believed Nasoj capable of this, it was entirely possible that another could have done so, no matter what she wished. “Then who? Someone who is capable of summoning a Shrieker and has the twisted mentality to do it is a threat to everyone. The guild will absolutely panic when they hear about this.”

“I think that the summoning had nothing to do with the Assault itself,” Misha explained, his voice still firm, the many things he discussed with Thomas coming to him, reaching clarity. “I think they just used it as a convenient cover. My instincts tell me it’s connected to the Patriarch’s death.” He wished he could tell his sister more, but knew this was a matter for terrible discretion, Thomas had been right about that.

“How could it be connected to the Patriarch’s death?” Elizabeth pressed, a note of disbelief creeping into her voice, but only slightly. “And why summon a Shrieker at Metamor?”

“I can tell you who it was that cast the actual spell itself that summoned the monster - Wessex.”

Elizabeth blinked and leaned forward “Say that again,” she ordered in a soft voice, hoping that she had misheard him.

Misha continued though, “Someone or something manipulated Wessex into drawing the actual runes.”

Elizabeth looked as if she wanted to sit down, but held her pose. “Misha, I want you to go into every detail of this.”

Misha gave a short bark of laughter. “I will but it’s not as easy to explain as you think. We need to start back at the beginning; with the Patriarch's death. I did not arrive until it was long since over, but the killers left several clues. It had been raining that evening, a fairly violent storm. The Patriarch was camped only half a day’s ride from Metamor. I had several of my men stationed near there in case there was any trouble. The Patriarch had brought with him a good number of troops and knights, as well as his personal bodyguards, so we did not expect to have any trouble.”

Misha stopped then as he began to remember the carnage that had been left by the killers. Elizabeth leaned forward, hand reaching out to touch his shoulder as if to stir him, but he stopped her with a gentle shake of his head. “The attack came roughly around midnight. Wessex had discovered through some magical means that the attack was to occur, and I immediately set out with some of my men. I knew I could not reach them in time, but I could not do anything else and I certainly was not going to wait at Metamor.

“Well, we sent the dragons South to warn my scouts and the Patriarch, but they did not make it in time either. The killers had dispatched two of the Patriarch’s bodyguards in the woods, before moving to kill most of the soldiers in their sleep. They then attacked the other priests, killing two and nearly killing the third. By then they’d been discovered, and a full fledged battle ensued. The rest of the soldiers and knights tried to buy the Patriarch time to run away, but they were felled far more quickly. The killers were well trained in many fighting techniques from what I could see, and from what the survivors described. After defeating the last of the opposition in a battle that must have taken no more than two minutes at most, the killers chased down the Patriarch and stabbed him through the chest with a Sathmoran blade.”

Misha felt the bile rising in his throat, but he fought to keep it down. “They then walked off into the hills, and here’s the odd part. Their footprints ended in mid-stride. No stopping to cast a teleportation spell and no magical trace of any magic item. It’s like they simply walked out of existence.”

“That’s possible,” Elizabeth replied, though her own face was a mix of confusion. “I don’t know of any spell that works like that but I’ve heard rumours of such things being done.”

“Even stranger. Several of those killed were literally cut in half, their wounds cauterized so fast that no blood was spilled,” Misha continued, his voice recoiling at the horror of what he described. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Elizabeth finally sat down at her desk, her legs far too weak after all the revelations. “What did the wounds look like?” Elizabeth asked, as her hand strayed down to pat the dog’s head. The greyhound noticed her distress and leaned up against her leg.

“Almost like they were burned or seared by great heat but the rest of the body wasn’t burnt or even singed. You know of any magic that could do that?”

“Nothing for certain but it sounds like a powerful spell or more likely some sort of magic weapon. A sword perhaps.”

“No,” Misha countered, shaking his head for emphasis. “I know weapons, particularly a magic one. No weapon I’ve ever seen did that damage, it had to be magic.”

She didn’t speak for a moment but just stroked the dog’s head slowly. Finally, she found her voice again, but it was soft, almost distant “There are rumours of spells doing strange things but nothing that fits what you’ve described. I’ll need to talk to Thadeus the Slow. He’s the guild expert on unusual magic. This tale seems filled with it.”

“That sounds good,” the vulpine nodded in agreement. “There is quite a bit of strange magic left in this tale I’m afraid. Thomas wanted me to ask you and the guild if there was magic that could disguise a person so as to appear as someone else.”

“Of course,” she replied, quite confidently in fact. “But how long the disguise lasts and how much scrutiny it must withstand is the problem.”

“It would have had to standup to very powerful magic but not for long.”

Elizabeth breathed deeply then. “That’s not easy to answer. Knowing how powerful the mages at the Keep are it is possible but not for certain. The spell would not have lasted long.”

“Just long enough to kill the Patriarch and his guards,” Misha commented sourly.

She didn’t speak for a moment but just looked at her brother. Their eyes locked tightly then, and when she gazed into those grey orbs she knew that he was withholding information. And it was very clear as well that he knew that she knew.

“Liz,” he started to say but she held up her hand to stop him.

“I understand,” she explained, offering him a weak smile. “If you revealed the name of a suspect even if it’s only a vague guess and word got out, the results could be terrible. Tensions are already high. If a rumour went around that someone or some group killed the Patriarch it would be genocide. Better to wait till you are certain before revealing names.” Seeing that her brother was set at ease, she continued, “Now tell me about the Shrieker.”

Misha didn’t speak for a moment, but it was a brief silence. “The thing was summoned near Wessex’s chambers at the time the first of Nasoj’s forces were attacking. Keepers arriving at Wessex’s room found the place in flames. All the books and furnishings were alight.”

“His spell books and notes as well I suppose?” she asked, her face clearly displaying her dismay.

“Everything was destroyed,” the fox answered, as if he were recounting the weather to a stranger.

“How was the Shrieker summoned?”

“The keepers found Wessex drawing some sort of magic diagram on a wall,” Misha explained in a tone that was flat and devoid of emotion. “He was already dead by this time. His throat slit from ear to ear. Most likely from a knife or a garrote.”

The coldness of her brothers tone didn’t fool Elizabeth. She knew him far better than that, and probably far better than he realized. “He was a good friend?”

Misha gave a humourless laugh, his eyes alighting upon her briefly. “Hardly. We fought over almost everything. But I never expected him to die.” He shook his head. “I’ve lost too many friends lately,” he added in a small voice.

Elizabeth leaned forward then, her hand reaching up to touch her brother’s shoulder. “We’ll find the monster responsible for his death and they will die,” she promised, her voice firm.

“What if he’s already dead? What then?” he asked.

“We will find this monster and destroy him,” she reiterated with a hardness in her tone that spoke of conviction borne from hardship.

Misha smiled slightly then, feeling hope for the first time in a long while. His sister meant what she said and he knew that she had the determination and skill to carry it out. Perhaps this tragic affair would have a happy ending after all.

Elizabeth’s next words broke that thought. “You said he was drawing some sort of formula on the wall?”

Misha nodded firmly, lifting up his paws as if to demonstrate. “It was described to me as being three circles, one inside the other. The outermost circle was made up of dots and had strange chevrons around it. Nine of them I think. The second circle was drawn in Wessex’s own blood. The central circle was a normal circle, though there was some sort of roundel inscribed within it. When he finished putting the chevrons around the outer circle the spell was complete and the Shrieker came through.”

Elizabeth tapped her chin with one finger. “That would be a Symphony he cast. Although you mentioned nine chevrons around the outer circle. Do you know what order he drew them in?”

Misha shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not. Does it matter?”

His sister nodded firmly then. “A great deal. If they were drawn inwards, starting with the first, then the last, the second, and so on until the middle was drawn last, then they would be opening something outwards. If you start with the middle and move outwards, then you can use a Symphony to seal something or bind it. Since the Shrieker came out, they were drawn inwards.”

The fox nodded then, not understanding why it might be that way, but he accepted his sister’s word. “And what do the chevrons mean themselves?”

Elizabeth could only shrug at that. “It depends on the type of spell you are trying to cast. I have never seen a spell that would open a door to the Underworld as this must be what was done, so I have no idea what they might look like.” She then tapped her chin once more. “And that there are nine chevrons is curious. Usually the number of symbols placed about a spell is not a multiple of three.”

Misha blinked, doing the math quickly in his head. “Why not?”

“There are special numbers in magic, two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen, and so on that normally are called upon for specific purposes. Using the same number multiple times can interfere with the effectiveness of the spell. A Symphony already has the number three because of the three circles necessary for its construction, so any other symbols to strengthen the spell are never used in multiples of three. These must be very important symbols indeed for there to be nine of them.”

“Well, for some reason, this spell had nine, and it was quite effective because the Shrieker came out. I’m told it tore Wessex’s body in two when it did as well. And the Keepers who found it were only able to defeat that thing after a long, savage fight.”

“I’m surprised they defeated it at all,” Elizabeth opined, her face grave once more.

“The Keep itself helped by reshaping the area around it into some sort of weird closed space where there was no up or down.” Elizabeth looked at her brother with a puzzled expression. “I’m not sure of that myself. It seems that Kyia distorted time and space itself to trap the thing.”

Finally, she shook her head, face broad with amazement. “Incredible.”

“Few people realize just how powerful Kyia really is. I honestly think she is as powerful as any of the Lightbringer gods.” At the mention of the Lothansi pantheon, Elizabeth gave her brother a curious look, but said nothing. Being a Rebuilder, she doubted he’d had much contact with those other beings.

However, she said nothing of that. “It’s amazing that Nasoj thought that those Moranasi could tame magic that powerful.”

“They came a lot closer to succeeding then you realize Liz,” Misha pointed out, his voice bitter.

“But in the end they failed. And that’s all that matters.”

The look in her brother’s eyes told Elizabeth that he did not think so. “We need to make sure no one EVER gets the chance again.”

“We’ll make sure of that,” she assured him. “But to do it I need more detailed information, especially on the Shrieker. I need to know exactly what was drawn on the wall to cause it to appear.”

“I can supply you with a diagram drawn from memory by one of the witnesses. Will that suffice?”

Elizabeth’s eyebrows arched up. “None of the diagram survived?”

Misha shook his head. “No. Kyia completely destroyed the place. Nothing survived. She wasn’t taking any chances and I don’t blame her.”

“Were Wessex rooms examined?”

“Yes but only AFTER the assault was defeated, almost a week later. I haven’t had the chance to examine it myself yet. Jessica, Wessex’s apprentice, had that odious chore.”

“What did she find? Surely she must have used magic to try and uncover some clues,”his sister asked.

“Nothing,” he answered with a shrug. “To be honest I don’t think she’s had the time to give the place a proper examination until now. We’ve all been rather busy. Mages are in short supply here and with Wessex dead there’s all the more for her to do.”

“I want to talk to her directly. Mage to mage,” Elizabeth announced. “Can you arrange it?”

Misha nodded, “I can. When do you want to meet with her?”

“How about tomorrow morning, eight o’clock your time?”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll send word if Jessica can’t make it.”

Elizabeth stood up then, her dog’s head following her motion before returning to rest upon his paws. She stretched her legs before walking to the doorway out to the balcony and gazing out over the sleeping city below. A cursory glance at the position of the stars told them that it was very late in the evening. Both were surprised to see how long they had been talking.

“I think I’ll head off for now. I need to find Jessica and make a few stops before bed,” the fox announced, stretching his own legs, grey eyes following his sister.

Yet Elizabeth was strangely quiet, and a silence fell across the room that was only interrupted by the rising clop of hooves against cobblestone and human voices raised in harmony from far below. Misha recognized the sound of Vespers, a tradition Hough had brought to the Chapel in the Keep not too long ago. But neither he nor the singing interrupted his sister’s thoughts. Clearly he realized, she had quite a lot to digest.

Finally, her voice broke the stillness in the room, and shut out the singing rising from far below. “This is very bad.” Misha snapped his gaze once more up to her. “There is a definite connection between the death of the Patriarch and the Shrieker.”

“Agreed, but how?” Misha asked, flexing his fingers once.

“Someone is manipulating events,” the woman said calmly. “Someone who is going to great lengths to not be seen.”

The fox nodded, “That’s what I thought, but I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or not.”

Elizabeth snorted a sour laugh. “After twenty years of guild politics and manoeuvring I’ve gotten very good at detecting conspiracies. It’s a survival skill. ”

“So we have an unseen enemy. Who is it? What is it? And what are they up to?”

Elizabeth shook her head, but her voice was resolute. “I don’t know but they have to be stopped at all costs.”

“Agreed,” Misha said, coming to stand by his sister. “But how high will the cost be this time? How high?”

She glanced once back at him suddenly, noting the missing ear upon his brow, and the missing finger upon his paw. She then turned back to the dark city scape before her, the sea of lights below reflected in the vault of the Heavens by the stars above. Her voice seemed a trivial thing next to the vast emptiness between, “I don’t know.”

The man sat at his table, gingerly spooning a bit of meat from his plate to his mouth. It was warm and delicious, though he felt it could be garnished with a bit more salt. Scanning the main hall of the Inn, he saw that the evening patrons were gathering, most bundled from the cold of the early night, others warming themselves with beer and mead from the Inn’s wares. He found that they watered their beer down far too much for his taste, and so had instead continued to sup from the cider he’d had that morning. So too had his new charge, Marin, who sat one table apart from him, eating a similar meal, waiting for the return of his partners. He smiled as he saw the deck of cards at the young man’s side, waiting to be used once more.

His own associate had yet to arrive, and he wondered what the delay might be. But he knew that the time would be well spent, and so did not worry. Instead, he continued to watch as he ate his meal in silence, his own cloak bundled tightly about his shoulders. He could feel the weight of the far heavier bag of coins at his belt and smiled slightly. How could they object to a little more gambling when they saw what gains he’d made in the market today? He snorted a bit at his own thoughts, for he’d never even left the Inn at all.

Setting the spoon down upon his tray, he leaned back in his seat, hands before him in his lap. He glanced once to Marin, who returned the gesture, his eyes dedicated, but then quickly returned to his own supper. He was glad to see that, his servant was intelligent enough to keep his new allegiance discreet. But he had never been truly worried about that, for the subtlety of the magic worked in his favour. He just hoped that the cards themselves played in his favour quickly enough.

And he sat there in his seat, just watching the patrons move in and out, drinking and laughing amongst themselves for nearly an hour before the other two merchants walked back in through those doors. He smiled in their direction as they saw him, shaking a bit of snow from their coats as they entered. But they paid him little attention, turning instead to their companion as was expected. Kaleas offered him a warm open grin, while Thulin’s was more restrained, eyes noting the cards at his side curiously.

“Ah, Marin, you look better,” Thulin said as they approached the table. The man calling himself Krabbe made sure that he did not appear to be listening in.

Marin nodded firmly, lifting the mostly empty goblet before him. “Oh yes! A good bit of rest was all that I needed.” He finished the last of his own cider off and then set the goblet down with a firm whack. “How did the trading go?”

Kaleas nodded, patting his pouch discreetly. “Well enough. I hope to double this when we leave in a few days.”

“Perhaps I could lighten your load?” the man offered, smiling warmly to them, pointing to the satchel at Kaleas’s waist.

Kaleas laughed at that, though Thulin did not appear to be as delighted at the prospect of more gambling. “Or perhaps we’ll lighten yours. Would you care for another hand of cards this evening then?”

The man nodded. “I could never refuse such an offer.

“First let us both take our meals,” Thulin admonished lightly, his voice distant as if he were considering something. “And then we shall play.”

He sat back down into his seat and smiled to them. “Fair enough. Might I recommend the beef quenelles, they are quite well done, if needing a bit more salt. Tad expensive, but worth the price.”

“Many things are,” Thulin said as he sat down with his friends. His long face glanced past the man towards the bar. He looked as if he wished to say more, but then turned his back to the other, letting his words remain unfinished.

He who was known to them as Krabbe simply smiled and returned to watching the Inn, eyes following the barmaid to their table, and then to the fire beyond. He watched as faint wafts of smoke trailed around the edge of the hearth, the pop and crackle of the wood snapping against the sluice occasionally. And he waited, hoping that when the time came, there would be many good hands.

A large meal was just what a warrior deserved after a large battle, or at least that was what Rickkter had always told himself. He was seated with his back to the wall at one of the few Inns to have survived the terrible attack, a plate full of food before him, and boisterous Keepers sitting at the tables to either side of his own. Delicately woven strands of bread lined the quenelles upon one dish, the savoury mixture of meat and egg filling his tongue with warmth, was the heart of his meal, along with the potatoes served in gravy. But the spice was definitely the green pepper stuffed to the brim with forcemeat and mushrooms, a rarity at Metamor, especially during this season. But he ate all of it, washing it down with expensive wine.

He deserved it, after all, he’d fought and bled for Metamor. And what better way to wash away the foul memories of battle than with good wine and even better food? Though he had seen more action than most men his age, he could not think of a finer way than this. And so he continued eating, well beyond the point where it would have been prudent to stop. Were Kayla with him, she would scold him by saying that he would regret this tomorrow. But he had no intention of being awake tomorrow to regret anything.

As he continued to bring the food to his muzzle, where it was savoured with rich deliberateness, he watched the comings and goings of the Keepers and visitors. Many merchants had flocked to the Keep after her hour of distress, hoping to make a killing from the Metamorians who needed food and supplies very badly. He had heard that Thomas had manage to frustrate many of them so far, but he was sure a few had managed to reap great profit at their expense. It did not truly bother him though, as that was the way of things.

He recognized many faces, but as with any city this large, most were unfamiliar to him. He took special notice though when one of the newcomers sat down at the table next to him. It was a mixed group, one male child drinking ale, an older human woman, a frog dressed in very tight wool, and the late arrival, a pine marten. The marten had a very conspiratorial look on his face as he joined his friends. The frog managed to croak out a question though, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you!”

But the marten was nonplussed. “You will not believe what I just heard.”

Rickkter cocked an ear, even as he scooped some of the egg ground with meat into his muzzle, his tongue rubbing it against the rook of his mouth. Secrets rarely stayed secrets for long at the Keep, something he had discovered rather early on. He could not help but wonder what secret this was that was being told.

After much prodding by his friends, the marten leaned even closer and whispered softly, though Rickkter could still hear him fairly clearly. “I’ve just found out that the rat, Matthias had been imprisoned.”

“No!” shouted the child. “Surely you jest!”

Rickkter was indeed very interested now, and could barely disguise his eaves-dropping.

“I swear it’s true!” the marten continued, still whispering conspiratorially. “They’ve got him locked up in the dungeons. Apparently there’s going to be a trial tomorrow. I don’t know why he’s been imprisoned, but I do know it’s happened.”

The raccoon leaned back in his chair and could not help but smile. He wondered what his nemesis had done to get himself thrown into jail, but he found he just didn’t care enough to inquire. Lifting his goblet high, he said a silent toast to the evening, and to a guilty verdict being drawn. With one quick motion, he finished off the wine in the glass. What a pleasant day it had been, Rickkter thought merrily.

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