A new week, a new chapter...
Once more the gold-silver scroll was set on the desk in the shadowed room, and reflected in the central panel was something far away and terrible to behold. The man seated at the desk, however, found that more exhilarating than frightening, for the fact he was present at these councils – even mostly to observe – meant he was close to the heart of mighty doings indeed.
The glowing-dark figure of the King of the Black City gazed once more out of the central mirror-like surface of the three viewing mirrors before him; the one to his left showed his enigmatic patron, while the right, this time, was but pure, unmarred silver. The King spoke. "All is nearly ready?"
"A few final… adjustments, Majesty," his patron answered, casually toying with a deck of cards barely visible in one corner of the mirror. "Credit where it is due; Voorith has worked wonders in the last few years. If anything, he has greater resources now for his part than he would have had without the interference of the Golden-Eyed."
"Have you traced that agent?"
It shook its head. "Not an agent. As is so often the case, a would-be adventurer who proved to have the talent. Which as you know makes him rather difficult to trace; he has the favor of Blackwart upon him, yet none of the power of the gods."
"You are certain?"
Ah, the common mistrust and concern of all at such a time. His patron's smile was open and cheerful, yet the room seemed somehow to dim, as though the brightness of the smile drew in all light. "Certainty is for fools, Majesty… as I believe you know well. But I even risked the Cards for a hint."
The glowing eyes widened and then the ebon-glowing head bowed in acknowledgement. "Well enough done, then."
He was surprised; his patron had shown him those Cards (which it was now idly fiddling with) once, and once only. According to his patron, they made no errors, showed the truth, but if used beyond a very, very limited amount, would give increasingly misleading answers which required ever more caution and cleverness to interpret properly.
When he had expressed surprise that a divination tool would be so perverse, the creature had laughed. "Unsurprising, in truth, as they were meant to serve higher and brighter destinies, and resent being turned against their own." It had smiled with a nostalgic look upon its face that, somehow, made even him shiver. "Capturing those cards… that was one of my greatest triumphs, actually."
But the King of All Hells was continuing: "And did the Cards offer any other insight?"
"The little Toad may well prove an impediment in the future, but not immediately. Alas, my friend, our true opponent is the same as always, and he has set more than one set of plans into motion. More than that I dared not attempt to see, not now."
The hiss of tormented air was the only sound for several minutes, air that shimmered with the same terrible blue-white radiance as Kerlamion's eyes and then vanished within the blackness that surrounded him. "What of the other components of the plan?"
"All appears nearly ready." His patron's blue eyes met his for a split second, as if to say Let me handle this. He was more than happy to stay silent, as it continued, speaking to Kerlamion, "and yours?"
The smile of Kerlamion did take the light from the room, leaving only the glow of his monstrous eyes and the blacker-than-black half-circle of soulless mirth. "Very soon. Months only."
There was a knock on the door of his room, a door almost never approached by any other than himself, one never to be approached save in true emergency. He raised an eyebrow. This is unexpected. "Majesty… I must go."
No questions were asked; the King of Demons knew he would not leave so abruptly without reason, and his patron understood even more. The mirror went blank, to ironic silver reflecting only the one seated at the desk. He turned, then. "Enter."
The man who entered was tall, in shining armor of silver edged with black and red. He bowed deeply, dropping to one knee. "Forgive me for the intrusion."
"Forgiveness depends upon reason, my friend. No need to kneel. If your mission is urgent enough, then forgiveness is inevitable. Tell me of the urgency."
"We… have a problem with Silver Eagle."
"A problem?" He frowned. This was not the time for problems with the Justiciars. Only a few months! "Be more specific."
"He has begun… asking questions. Questions about the past. Nothing too obvious – he is a clever man, sir, very clever – but it is clear that he suspects all is not as it appeared on the outside."
"Aran," he said softly, and Condor shrank back at the use of that name, so familiar and thus so very dangerous, "Aran, my friend, this seems to me far too swift. We have procedures, requirements in place for how you all must conduct yourselves, how the … adoption of a new Justiciar is to proceed, how to guide them slowly but surely into acceptance of their new position. More, we have not had to perform any… questionable acts since his induction. We have been given time, and while it has been clear that he is unfortunately upright and honest, possibly too difficult to turn to our cause, we have all been conducting ourselves as true Justiciars." He looked coldly at Condor. "Have we not?"
"Yes! Of course we have!" Condor was obviously offended as well as worried.
He sighed. "Then… Aran… how is it that he is asking questions? Someone has said something."
With his newly-increased and quite inhuman senses, he could sense the tension and fear in the Condor Justiciar. "No, it's not that. I swear it! You've been with us a lot of the time! He's asking about Silver Eagle."
That wasn't the answer he'd expected. Four years was a very long time to continue to keep secrets, and some of the Justiciars just weren't naturally good at that task, even with their lives and souls at risk.
And his own life and soul might be at risk, too. It was his patron that allowed the Justiciars to mimic the powers which they would have been granted by Myrionar. Something about the Justiciars, or Evanwyl, was crucially important to his patron, and if this brought the masquerade down too soon… "What is he asking? Do you have any sense of what he's hoping to find out?"
"I'm not sure," Condor said, "but I think he may believe that Silver Eagle was involved in the attack on the Vantage house."
As he most certainly was, along with the rest of the Justiciars, he thought. But it's interesting he asks only of Silver Eagle. "You think he only suspects Silver Eagle?"
"Right now?" Condor thought for a moment; he waited patiently, not wanting to disturb the young Justiciar's thoughts.
"Yes," Condor said finally, nodding to emphasize the word. "The way he's been poking around, it's like he's trying to get us to admit something we all want to admit."
He frowned. "That… is an interesting approach. And if I think of it from his point of view, it could even make sense. Unfortunately, if he keeps going along that line of thought, it will inevitably force us to the truth. And I do not think there is any likelihood of getting him to let the truth pass by."
Condor shook his head. "No, I don't think so either."
"So. Strategy, secrecy, and safety dictate only one course. Justiciars are often at the forefront of dangerous missions; thus even with their powers they can, and sometimes do, die. I think it has been long enough; arrange the appropriate accident, my friend."
When Condor did not move immediately, he realized there must be more, and his eyes narrowed.
"Forgive me again… but it may not be so simple."
"How so, Condor?"
Condor took a breath so shaky that he felt a faint twinge of excitement and perhaps… not fear, but nervousness. Truly it must be something of…
"Today… while he was with myself and Shrike… we came upon a small family, travellers, set upon by doomlocks." He nodded; doomlock spiders were extremely dangerous creatures that sometimes travelled into Evanwyl from Rivendream Pass. "We of course drove the things off, but afterward… before either Shrike or myself could begin, Silver Eagle began healing the victims!"
He stood still for a moment, taking that in. That changes everything. As an ordinary man against Justiciars – or, being honest, against false Justiciars who wielded powers equal to the originals – even Rion Vantage, the Silver Eagle, would fall, and fall fairly quickly. But if he has the true powers of a real Justiciar…
"You do not think we can… stop him, do you?"
Condor obviously wanted to say he could, but knew this was no time for false confidence. "No. Not certain enough. If he managed to get away, he could reveal the truth. We have a fair hold on Evanwyl, but nothing like perfect control."
"I will … consider this problem. I may have to call in… outside help, I suppose." He nodded slowly. "Aran, unless he seems to suspect you directly, it may be well to respond to him in a manner that indicates that you might know something, but are afraid to talk about it. Draw it out a bit; if he believes what we suspect he does, he'll have to eventually realize he needs to reassure you that he won't hold it against the Justiciars as long as we… took care of the problem. Getting to that point will probably take at least a few days."
Condor bowed and left, clearly relieved.
He turned and considered the now-blank scroll. He could initiate a signal; only a few minutes ago his patron had been visible in the one pane of shining silver and gold. But to reactivate it now might bring him back into the middle of a conference, and the King of All Hells did not at all appreciate people coming and going from his view. Not at all.
More to the sharpest edge of the matter, my patron has yet to give me permission to contact it again… even using this speaking scroll. And I have been given full authority…
That decided him. If I cannot deal with the problems that come before me, what use am I to my patron, or myself for that matter? I have been given the power; I have been making my own preparations for years. I need no other help.
Yes. That was the proper decision. His patron would not appreciate being called upon – assuming it would answer a call at all, which it might well not – to deal with a problem that he could have dealt with on his own.
Silver Eagle. He smiled, even as he contemplated the next moves. Formidable, yes – he had crossed blades in practice with Rion Vantage, and the young man was fast and deadly. With the actual powers of a Justiciar, even ones new-acquired and thus still being learned, he would be extremely dangerous, and it was vital he not have the chance to communicate the truth.
Still, at the moment he was still focused on the idea of one rogue Justiciar, hadn't yet grasped – or, perhaps, allowed himself to suspect – that all of his cheerful companions had been part of the butchery at the Vantage estate. There were a few days yet. Just enough time to bring down some… special support from the North.
Support that I found on my own, bargains I made with my own resources, risking my own life to find and negotiate with certain forces that even my patron has not contacted.
And all the time he thought, his smile grew wider. Alas, poor Silver Eagle. To be buried again, in so short a time!
That doesn't bode well at all.