“The feather is stronger than the sword.”
The door to the small study opens and Dorver enters the room. The gnome looks at the stacks of documents which are piled up on my desk. He touches a rune to activate the magelight which is supposed to light the room. “It would be a lot easier if you just told us what you are searching for. Instead, you hide yourself inside this study.”
I blink and rub my eyes. The sudden light hurts me since I was using magic to see in the dark. It’s one of the many subtle ways I use to train myself. Instead of relying on the magical mechanisms around me, I channel my own mana to strengthen my ability.
Since I was interrupted anyway, I close the records in front of me and lean back. “I am not searching anything specific. Just answers to many questions.”
The gnome huffs and closes the door behind him. “We’ve found suitable accommodations for the new factories, but you have to understand that such things take time. We can’t assemble a working company out of nothing. Additionally, this project needs to have several different sites to supply everyone once the demand rises.”
I nod. “It’s okay. I don’t expect a flow of money right away. How long until you actually start selling chests?”
He purses his lips. “Three to four months at least. We have to find trustworthy people. Not someone who will run off with the knowledge right away. It will happen sooner or later, but the more care we put into selecting the staff, the better the company will work. We want to have the economical advantage before we get competition.”
He wants to have the monopoly position. “That’s fine.” My eyes return to the records in front of me. I didn’t get access to everything. Only the records of this branch are available to me. This means that I know everything there is to know about Hormundad. I also learned a lot of basic stuff regarding the alliance as a whole, but no economical details on the capital or other cities for example.
But what I learned is enough to make me angry. I suspected it from the start, but with all this economical data my suspicions are as good as confirmed. The Eternal Battlefield was always suspicious to me. There is simply no way that two opposing parties can be in a military deadlock for that long. Sooner or later one or the other side has to develop a decisive advantage over the other.
But the Eternal Battlefield has existed for a hundred and forty-seven years! These records aren’t definitive proof, but it’s clear that the Alliance simply doesn’t want to commit to total war. It’s much easier to guard the Trestian pass with a few thousand soldiers. The Empire seems to hold it the same way and I suppose that the Murian Sociocracy simply doesn’t care. They don’t have access to the pass and while the Alliance does a nice job in defending it, they prefer to lean back.
So it’s not surprising that there isn’t a single word about Orwen’s destruction going around. Did the Alliance really not find out? Or are they suppressing the information? The latter seems more likely. I am sure that the merchants would be the first ones to react at the news of Orwen’s destruction.
Dorver can’t take the silence any longer. “So, what were you searching for? Don’t think for a single moment that I believe your story about being a simple enchanter. You want something and the records you asked for already indicate at what you are looking for. I just don’t understand why you are so interested in Orwen.”
I pat my own cheek and consider the question. “Oh, it’s nothing. I was just extremely surprised that the merchants don’t know about Orwen’s destruction. There are at least some black market affiliations between the Empire and the Alliance, so I didn’t understand why there isn’t a single word about it.”
The gnome’s eyes widen in shock. “Orwen destroyed? But how? When?”
I shrug. “Beats me. I just heard about it from a friend who is a smuggler. According to him, it happened several weeks ago. I decided to wait until the information is verified, but you can probably guess my surprise when nothing happened. Normally, he is a very reliable source of information. Did you tweak the records?”
“Of course not! Your friend must be mistaken. And how should that even be possible? Orwen is the Empire’s largest centre for magical studies. Over three hundred thousand inhabitants. A city like that can’t just vanish!” The gnome shakes his head, not believing the story.
I place a hand on the records. “Then why did the influx of magical artefacts drop by about five percent? I admit that it isn’t much, but the monthly sales were very consistent for years. And suddenly there is a visible loss overnight. I assume that at least some of the goods came from the Empire?”
Dorver steps closer and takes the records away from me. He squints his eyes upon comparing the numbers. “But how?”
I cough and shake my head. “I don’t know. Maybe they tested a new magical weapon and it went wrong? Who knows. Maybe the Alliance is trying to keep it quiet in order to avoid a panic. Just imagine what would happen if someone developed a weapon which is capable of wiping out a city like Orwen.”
Getting to my feet, I pick up my coat and put it on. “I’ll go on a little journey. I suppose that I can inform myself on your progress by visiting any guildhouse?”
The gnome nods and feverishly picks through the records. “Of course. Don’t worry.” His mind is clearly somewhere else.
I grin devilishly and leave the small study. Dorver will surely start his own research to confirm the information. He will ask other guildmasters, who will ask their own questions. Even if the powers who are in charge manage to suppress the information, the rumour mill has been started. It’s just a matter of time until people will send their own spies to Orwen.
Walking through the narrow corridor, I take the stairway and smile at the guards who already know me. The merchants keep their records in a basement beneath their guild. The basement has several levels, each of them heavily guarded.
I invested two weeks in order to make myself familiar with the alliance. I sigh and head outside into the sun. Once I am in front of the guildhouse, I scratch my cheek and consider my next steps. It’s much too early to return to the inn, so maybe the library?
I head over to my lemu and mount it, then I take the main street deeper into the city. Even with the lemu, it takes me twenty minutes to arrive at the library. Hormundad isn’t a small city by any means.
The library is a large Roman building. Two iron doors between a front of several pillars suggest that the building receives a lot of funds. The library is open as long as the sun shines, but only people who can pay the fee are allowed inside.
I already visited the place a few times, but except for cultural themes I didn’t find anything of interest to me. Though, it was interesting to learn about the various races which are part of the alliance. The elves have their own kingdom, while the beastmen and humans intermix on a regular basis. They are also the most numerous within the Alliance. Dwarves and gnomes live in little, tightly organized communities.
The demons also keep to themselves. There isn’t much known about them, but they do their part in defending the Alliance. Nobody dares to protest because of their strong fighters and magicians. There are a few other races, but they are in the minority.
The old librarian who takes care of the library smiles upon noticing me. “Fiora, I didn’t expect your visit this early.”
I cough and reply with a smile of my own. There was no other choice but to give her a different name. I don’t want them to connect the books to 'Joyce'. It feels wrong to use the old lady, but there is no other way. “I wanted to say goodbye. I got a job in another city.”
Miome curls down the corners of her lips. “Oh! That means that you won’t visit me anymore. It’s so boring without any young people in here. They should just open the place for everyone. Not just those who can pay the fee.”
I pat her wrinkly hand. “My new job involves a lot of travelling. I’ll pay you a visit when I return to Hormundad.”
She sighs. “Of course I am glad that you found something you want to do. Forgive an old hag like me for being so grumpy.”
“Don’t worry. Say, is there a possibility that the library buys books? I’ve a few which are too heavy to take with me.”
Miome tilts her head ever so slightly. “I am afraid that we don’t have the funds to buy anything. And even if we did, only books with new knowledge are allowed to be added to the collection. We have to review them before we take them. But if they make the cut, they will be added to every library which is affiliated with us.”
“Oh, but that’s fine. The books have belonged to me for a long time and I’ve the feeling that I know them word by word. They are good books on magic and other fields. I would hate it to sell them to a merchant. If some collector gets his hands on them, they would just gather dust.” I take off my backpack and retrieve five tomes. Three belonged to Nemus, but now they have a few additional pages. The two thinner ones were created by me.
Miome bends beneath her counter and takes out a sheet of paper. She starts filling in the document. “If that’s the case, then I’ll make sure that they are processed correctly.”
I smile and wait until she has everything stored away. Then I say my goodbyes and leave the library with the promise to visit her. My lemu is obediently waiting in a side street next to the library. I always leave it there because it’s convenient.
When I enter the street, I immediately know that something is wrong. There are no people, and two men in dark clothes are blocking the narrow street on the other side. I turn around and find two more behind me. They clearly followed me. “This is surprising. I expected the trouble to start much later. I just wonder how they caught on?”
The two men approach me and one of them draws a sword. “Don’t make problems. Come with us and you have a chance at survival.”
I take a quick look behind me and find out that the other two are also advancing on me. Their hoods make it hard to see their faces. “I am not inclined to follow four dubious men. There is just too much trash on the streets. A woman has to be careful.”
They don’t argue and raise their hands. I feel myself being picked up and thrown against the library’s wall, where I stay stuck like a fly. Okay, seems like the negotiations failed.
They approach me and the lead figure gestures at me. “Search her for weapons.”
One of them steps forward and I close my eyes. Their force magic isn’t perfect, so I expand my own aura and shake off the spell which is pressing me against the wall. The man in front of me is surprised when I slide back to the ground, but he reacts in time to block the kick which I deliver straight to his guts.
There is a sickening crunch as his arms break like sticks and he is thrown backwards into his comrades. A gesture is enough to send a crescent-shaped blade of energy at them. The leader throws himself to the ground and one of the others jumps to evade the attack.
The man whom I kicked and the comrade who caught him are bisected and a cut appears in the wall behind them. I raise my hand to punish the man who jumped and cast the flamethrower spell which I prefer to fireballs. He raises a barrier, but the jet of hot air is enough to do him in. His scream is cut off before he touches the ground.
I jump forward and kick the leader before he can get back to his feet. His flight is stopped by the wall and I follow, giving him a good treatment with my fists. Carefully avoiding blows to his head, I make sure that his arms and legs are broken before I stop. I can’t help it, I have to admire the fact that he didn’t scream a single time.
Having established that he is nothing more than trash, I place a foot on his chest and hold him down. “Since you are obviously just grunts, I don’t expect that you know much. But I’ll ask anyway. Who sent you?”
He coughs blood onto my boot. “Isn’t that obvious? You won’t get away with this.”
I lean forward and rip away his hood. “An elf. Which clan?”
He coughs again and smiles. “Finguld. Are you sure that you don’t want to help your friend?”
I step away and send a blast of energy at him, popping his head like a ripe melon. Then I dash back to the library and inside. Everything looks to be in order, but when I reach the librarian’s counter I find Miome on the floor. Her throat is cut and her empty eyes are watching the ceiling.
I take a deep breath and stretch out my senses to find the one who killed the old woman, but there is nobody. I huff and bend down to close her eyes. “I only knew you for a few days, but I am sure that you would’ve never surrendered a single book to a thief.”
The counter is mostly okay, but several books from beneath the counter are on the ground. The one who killed Miome just took a look at the uppermost books. One of Nemus’s studies on weather magic lies opened on the ground. The murderer didn’t even bother to check the other books. It’s a shame that she had to die by the hands of an idiot. I place the books back inside the compartment and leave as quickly as possible. Maybe another librarian will take them through the process.
“I am sorry.”