It took the group six days to reach the city that looked over the area their mission had designated. The city was deep into the Sun Elf kingdom of Solaria, and the city was called Ilyanden. Neleh found the naming sense of Sun Elves rather amusing. Her girlfriend was called Solana, the Sun Elf country was called Solaria and the capitol city was Solaris. At least it wasn’t too hard to remember. At least the city they were at now had a name that had nothing to do with the sun.
Dalyor had purposefully avoided telling the group too many details about what they would be facing. He had only mentioned that they were here to eliminate dangerous creatures that were causing trouble in the surroundings of the city. Any further information gathering was to be done by the students as a part of their training. They made camp relatively close to the southern gate of the city, and some of the students remained to guard their camp and supplies.
Majority of the group were assigned to go into the city on various errands with their partners. Some were tasked with buying supplies, some were tasked with gathering information on the surrounding area and the target of their hunt and some were given free time for rest and relaxation. Neleh and Elsaria were tasked with performing two visits on behalf of the group, one to the local temple and one to the duchess of the area. This task was given to them mostly because Dalyor knew Neleh needed time to perform her mission as an Inquisitor and it most likely had something to do either with the local temple or with the noble tasked with ruling the area. He was correct in his assumption, since the duchess was the person that had made the request.
The sisters visited the local temple as a courtesy, to let them know a group of student on a practical mission was in town. It was possible some of the students would end up being treated by the temple in case of injuries that Neleh couldn’t simply heal on the spot, hence the courtesy visit. Neleh found it rather useless since she could heal most everything aside from death, but the rest of the group wasn’t aware of that. And there was one type of injury that would require longer term care that she would not be able to provide.
Most of the members of the group were going to face their first real battle in the face of death, and the mind of some people could not handle it. Some people thrived on danger while some people crumbled. Sometimes it was hard to tell if certain people belonged to the first group or the latter. A mage that could not handle danger could still work on peaceful projects, but hunters would face danger no matter what. So it was necessary to weed out those that would crumble under pressure before they took on more serious duties with people’s lives at stake.
When they were leaving the temple, Neleh asked about any monster related injuries that the temple had treated lately. Apparently there had been bite injuries as if by a wolf, and damage from a sharp edge, like a sharp sword. Normally this would’ve been a weird combination, but Neleh figured they were most likely dealing with wind wolves. Wind wolves were famed for their speed and their pack mentality. Stronger individual wolves were able to send blades of wind out of their mouths and claws, which explained the shard edge injuries. Seems like the group had their hands full with dealing with the threat.
While walking towards the duchess’ manor, the sisters noted the abundant wealth of the town. It appeared that several prominent merchants made their home in this city. There were several blacksmiths working in the town, and most of them seemed to be working on weapons and armor. The current unstable situation in the elven lands was good for business. The area was also focused on farming goods that were favored by the army because of their ability to keep for a long time without spoiling. Most of the smiths and merchants had an insignia of a particular merchant house on their door. That merchant house was making a killing.
The sisters ran into trouble at the gate of the mansion. The guards were not willing to let the two of them inside, to bother the duchess with just the excuse of reporting the arrival of their group, and Neleh wasn’t too keen on making her status as an Inquisitor known. She was almost resigned to revealing herself when the duchess herself happened to come to the gate with the intention of going outside on business. Elsaria was explaining why they were there, and the duchess was just about to say that they had performed that duty when Neleh surreptitiously pulled the ring hanging on a chain around her neck out and let the duchess get a good glance at it.
“Oh silly me, I just realized that my meeting was moved to tomorrow. Come on in and tell me more about your business. Maybe I can tell you more about the trouble around here, and that might help you.” The duchess was quick on the uptake, and ushered them inside before anyone had time to think about her words in more detail. She ushered them into her sitting room, and instructed her servants to make sure no one would bother them.
“Well then, I’m duchess Viansola as you are aware Inquisitor.” She said giving Elsaria a shock. Elsaria had not realized they were here on Inquisitor business. “Though I must say I have always thought that Inquisitors were supposed to carry their mark of office on their finger.” The ring Neleh had shown held the insignia of office for the Inquisition, and served as a way to identify the Inquisitors as who they said they were. The duchess was correct in her thought that almost every Inquisitor carried that ring on their finger.
“For the most part you are correct. Some of us find it more advantageous to work in relative secrecy, hence why we don’t like to advertise our presence. Also the reason why I’m here as a part of an expedition of students. That part was true.” Neleh answered with a serious voice.
“Now that you mention it, you do seem young enough to mask yourself as a student.” Viansola mused.
Neleh laughed. “Now, you asked me here for a reason. Your husband and something about an affair?”
“Indeed. The old goat has a memory crystal of some pretty harlot of a girl that he spends time gazing at, and he also makes frequent trips to Rhi’a’non where the girl lives. He also spends extended periods of time somewhere, Goddess only knows where, and I suspect that he’s diddling his little harlot while gone like that. Personally I hold no feelings for the old goat anymore, but as a relative to the sun throne, such behavior from my husband is a disgrace. Besides, I should think I am quite sufficient when it comes to looks.“ The duchess said with pride. She had a reason to be proud, as she was rather beautiful with refined features and an impressive bosom. She was also fairly fit for nobility, showing that she spent time exercising.
“I think in many cases the cheater isn’t looking for something better, or something more beautiful. They are simply looking for something new and something different. Of course it doesn’t hurt if the mistress is also beautiful, but surprisingly often that’s not a requirement. For many men having affairs is a power trip. For people like that, sex is about power.” Neleh said getting the duchess’ interest and the duchess waved for her to go on.
She explained further. “Way back when, I'm sure he pursued you aggressively because you were the best. The most beautiful. The most endowed. Smart and rich too. It was impossible to find a more impressive wife. Then he was happy with you for a while, because having and flaunting you was one way for him to prove his superiority over others. But people like that get bored with the status quo. Eventually, he figured out having you and some women on the side would be even more of a power trip, plus there's the thrill of the chase and the excitement of keeping a dangerous secret, and so on.”
The duchess nodded. She had come to similar conclusions. “For a long time, I was stumped; why on Earth would a man cheat on ME? Let's not toot the false modesty horn; I'm an extremely beautiful woman, and smart, and good-hearted, and an insatiable tigress in bed, and lots of other things besides. But eventually I realized it wasn't about me. His personality made his cheating inevitable. Some people are just never satisfied.”
“So do we know anything about his mistress? That would go a long way towards proving his misbehavior and could prove to be even more useful if he has been involved in some more dangerous activities.” Neleh asked, preparing for the possible Consortium angle. The newest girl might not be a mistress, but a member of Consortium instead.
“He has been fairly secretive about his newest conquest, the girl in the memory crystal. As far as I know, it has been a fairly long process for him, pursuing that girl. I’ve seen the images in the crystal though, and can see how a girl like that would be worth the effort. Especially for someone like my husband who craves for the power trip. I haven’t been able to find out anything else besides where she lives and her name, and both of those I found out by going through his correspondence with his underlings in the city of Rhi’a’non. The girl’s name is Neleh Khalidor.” The duchess said with anger.
Both of the sisters whipped their head up to look straight at the duchess. “Wait, wait. How did you come up with that name? More specifically, what makes you think she is his mistress?” Neleh asked pained.
“His correspondence, and like I said he has been gazing at a memory crystal about her. Who keeps a memory crystal about a pretty girl like that, if she is not his lover? Why do you ask?” The duchess asked suspiciously.
“Well…” Neleh removed her hood and her mask, to the shock of the duchess. “Look familiar? And my name is Neleh Khalidor. I can say with absolute certainty, that your husband is not having an affair with me. I don’t’ even swing that way.” She finished a bit embarrassed to the amusement of Elsaria.
“YOU!! BUT…WHAT?! HOW?!” The duchess was yelling moving rapidly from one emotion to another. All of them showing on her face.
“A good question. I would really like to see this memory crystal. I didn’t even know there were memory crystals made of me…” Neleh was suddenly angry. Someone had recorded her actions without her knowledge. Someone was going to pay.
“Give me a second.” The duchess said covering her eyes with her hand. “Ok, seeing you now in the flesh, I can see how someone might decide to make a memory crystal of you without your knowledge. Also why you hide your face. It makes sense now. Come with me, I’ll take you to his office. Don’t touch anything until I give permission. He runs a very rich merchant house, and his office is protected from outsiders.”
Neleh narrowed her eyes. “The merchant house that owns the blacksmiths and food merchants in the city? Provider for the army?”
“Yes, how did you know? The recent unrest has been good for his business, I’m sad to say.”
“Oh, just a thought that occurred to me.” Neleh answered. A hunch was taking form in her mind. They came to his office, and the duchess started to undo some of the safety mechanisms.
“That’s a bit overblown security.” Neleh mused. “I have a theory that might explain it. It’s about people who have the kind of money your husband seems to have. Interested in hearing it?”
“Might as well. This will take a few minutes.” The duchess answered, aware that she herself was quite wealthy and the theory might hit home for her too.
“This kind of money especially on a power hungry person makes them paranoid. Here’s the basic gist of it. Deep down the person doesn’t believe that he deserves such wealth, especially if they’ve had to do some questionable things to get that wealth. That causes them to believe that everyone is trying to steal chunks of it when he isn’t looking. That makes them distrustful. If a person he interacts with senses his distrust, which can easily happen, that person reacts negatively in a number of ways. Which form the negative reactions take isn’t important. The negative reaction is the point, because just about everyone around him is soon giving off negative vibes. Then he starts to think negative reactions are normal, which means that someone who reacts to him in a positive manner is abnormal, and clearly intending to fool him. Convoluted isn’t it?” Neleh finished just as the duchess did.
“Seems plausible. We’re in.” The duchess said. Inside she quite agreed with what Neleh had said, partly because she had started feeling similar things within herself as her own wealth and power grew.
Neleh took a good look around the room that looked like a typical office of a businessman. One of the abilities she had gained from her blessings was a very high level ‘Truesight’ effect from the Greater Blessing of Lulu, the protector Goddess of the Faeries. She could see the true nature of things and no secret compartment or illusion spell was safe from her eyes. She immediately noticed two things. Firstly there was a secret compartment on the man’s desk, and a bigger secret area protected by spells behind a false wall. That particular blessing was quite handy in situations like this.
Neleh went for the table first, because whatever was inside the desk was more easily accessible, and the small space couldn’t hide too many things. She quickly managed to open the hidden compartment to the shock of the duchess. The duchess also knew of the secret compartment inside the desk, but she had found it only accidentally and she had lived here for years. Inside the space were three items, the first was a small insignia token the members of the Consortium used to identify each other. Neleh had seen the same kind of token on the assailant she had killed, when she had been attacked when going from the grand temple to the training grounds in Rhi’a’non. She could remember the group of black clad assailants that had tried to grab her. Things were starting to come together.
“Is this token the reason that you mentioned your suspicions to the Inquisition, when you thought your husband might be involved in something sinister?” Neleh asked the duchess while showing the token.
“Yes. I have no idea what it is, but I’ve seen a few of those on guests that visited my husband, and I described it in a letter I sent to the Inquisition. You recognize it, don’t you?” The duchess asked worried.
“I do. I can’t tell you what it means at this point, but I can tell you I was attacked a few months ago by people with this kind of token. We are going to need descriptions of anyone who you remember having a token like this, in writing.” Neleh said. It seems this man really was involved with the Consortium.
The other two items were a letter and the memory crystal. Neleh recognized the scenes in the crystal immediately. It was the ritual she had performed for ten days to gain her Ignasia. Someone had been monitoring the ritual and had recorded it. Her face turned into an angry scowl that scared even Elsaria. The duchess felt chills running through her. She was afraid. Until now she had not been sure of the young looking Inquisitor, but now she was afraid of even her own safety. The air had gained a dangerous feel. The duchess felt that one wrong move could result in her getting cut down where she stood.
“This is about ten years old. I had no idea I was monitored.” Neleh muttered in an angry voice. She felt violated. She knew that if the recording went to the end, it would show her naked form as a child, where the ritual burned her clothes away. Were there other copies of the recording? She knew there was going to be a lot of people ending up on her shitlist because of this. And people who ended on her shitlist usually faced a rather brutal and extended ending, where they begged for death before it arrived.
The air in the room was turning so chilling cold, that there was a faint layer of frost forming on some surfaces. Both Elsaria and the duchess noticed they could see their breath in the air. Neleh had two types of anger in her. The burning rage that demanded destruction and immediate satisfaction, and the cold and calculated anger of vengeance she was feeling now.
Neleh read the letter that was the third item in the compartment. The letter contained some instructions for the man, to arrange for a certain caravan to be ambushed. This showed that there was someone pulling the strings of the duchess’ husband. The event was to take place a month from now, so presumably it was still being planned. Neleh had plenty of time to alert the right people about the problem. She deposited all three things inside her holding ring, closed the secret compartment and went for the larger secret space behind the false wall.
“What are you doing?” The duchess asked still afraid due to the atmosphere in the room.
Neleh didn’t’ answer, but simply used her magic to disarm the traps protecting the false wall. Apparently any material inside was supposed to be destroyed if someone tried to get to it without knowing about the traps. The illusionary wall disappeared, and the shocked duchess drew a sharp breath in surprise. Neleh started looking through the papers inside. The documents detailed many plans, already carried out, to increase the instability within the elven empire. There were also a few details about plans on the other continents, but those were quite scant in detail. Most likely they were things that the man had discovered on his own.
One thing in particular caught Neleh’s eye. It gave some hints about a future plan involving the Sun Court, but gave no details about the nature or even the timing of the plan. If the man was involved in plots against the Sun Throne, then he was a much bigger fish than either Neleh or Yunalesca had assumed. Neleh had to find out more details about this plan, and for that she had to capture the duchess’ husband.
“Viansola, when is your husband expected to return home?” Neleh asked turning to the duchess.
“The day after tomorrow or the day after that. What is going on?” She was worried and afraid.
“As soon as he arrives, I need you to send word to me at the camp near the southern gate, and I need you to have your guards capture him and put him in chains. It would be even better if he was rendered unable to kill himself.” Neleh said with a steely voice.
“In chains? Unable to kill himself? What is going on?” The duchess pleaded.
“Your husband is involved in several murders, assassinations and treason. I will need to put him to questioning, and I can’t have him kill himself before I get my answers.” The chill in Neleh’s voice allowed no resistance, and made sure the duchess knew what the results of failing to follow instructions were. The duchess managed to barely nod in acquiescence.
“Come sister, the nature of our mission here just changed radically. We need to find Dalyor, and the captain of the guard in this city.” Neleh continued storing all the documents from behind the wall into her ring. “We will need some muscle, and we’ll also need to find out if the captain of the guard is also corrupt. This could become a big heap of trouble if the guards are in his pocket, and I’d really rather not be forced into killing them all. The normal guards will follow their captain’s commands even if they themselves are not corrupt.”
The two left quickly to find the warrior trainer. Their mission against the wind wolves had suddenly turned secondary in importance.