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Neleh and Elsaria rushed towards their camp outside the city. Elsaria was still a little confused about what was going on, so Neleh gave her a short overview on what had happened. She didn’t quite understand the concept of Consortium, but she could deal with the idea of a secretive shadowy organization. After the explanation she also understood the need to look into the guard captain’s allegiances, and even brought up the possibility of the duchess herself being the real person behind the trouble and just framing her husband while he was gone from the city. Neleh had also considered the possibility, which was one more reason to get the guards involved, to make sure the duchess wouldn’t be able to leave town either. That said, Neleh was inclined to believe the duchess because of the reactions she’d had shown. Either she was not involved, or she was the best actress Neleh had ever seen. There were ways to make sure, if it came to that.

They found Dalyor immediately when they reached the camp. The man noticed the serious looks the sisters had on their faces, and took them aside where they would not be overheard while talking.

“I can see something is wrong. Out with it.” Dalyor said before the girls had a chance to talk.

“Our priorities here have changed. I was originally sent here to investigate the duchess’ husband, with the thought that he was probably just a dirtbag, maybe some small fish in a bigger pond of filth. I have since learned that he is quite a bit more. He has involved himself with several murders and treason.” Neleh stated bluntly.

Dalyor looked a bit shocked, but recovered quickly. “I assume you have some proof, and I also assume there’s more to this or you would have exercised your Inquisitorial duties already?”

“Indeed. The man is supposed to return to the city in a few days. The bigger problem is that he is involved with a plot of some severity inside the Sun Court, and I need to put him to question. For that purpose, I’m having the duchess put him in chains when he gets here. Before that happens though, I will need to find out if the city guard will be of help in case the man has muscle of his own around, or will I have to butcher my way through the guards to get to him. The best way to find out is for me to meet the guard captain. I was hoping that you would tag along for extra authority. I’d rather not shout my identity as an Inquisitor around.” Neleh asked hoping the man would agree to help.

“Of course I’ll help. This kind of puts a damper on the mission of the students though. I need to ask. Do you have what it takes to put the duchess’ husband, and if need be the guard captain, to question? Because that is not something I can do. I just don’t have that in me.” Dalyor admitted.

“Oh you don’t need to worry. I wouldn’t be a part of the Inquisition if I didn’t have it in me.” Neleh answered with a positively evil grin.

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Dalyor left the students with the instructions that everyone should stay within the camp. They should be on their guard, and they should try to avoid contact with the local populace. He didn’t want them getting into trouble while things in the city were getting complex. The students were less than pleased, but they noticed his serious demeanor and didn’t argue. Well Aneirin argued, but only that she’d be taken along, on the grounds that Neleh was a student in the academy and it was her job to protect younger students. Dalyor shot that idea down immediately, but she tried.

Dalyor led the sisters towards the guard barracks. Surprisingly they had no difficulty at all in getting a meeting with the guard captain. They were led into the office of a grim looking man who was going through a stack of papers. It looked like the man was relieved to get a distraction from the paperwork. As the door closed behind them, Neleh immediately warded the room against eavesdropping, which brought a raised eyebrow from the man.

“I’m presuming you have a good reason for doing that? I find it quite rude to use magic like that in my office without my permission.” The guard captain said in a disapproving tone.

“This should give you an idea.” Neleh said showing her Inquisitor’s insignia to the man, which produced a shocked look from him. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, which I hope you answer and answer truthfully. That said, I’m going to be using magic that tells me if you are lying, so feel free to try lying.” Neleh finished by casting a complex looking spell, while drawing a pair of magical symbols in the air.

“This is getting more and more rude. Inquisitors have their rights, but they usually keep the peace with the city guard, since we work together so often. We usually have some trust with each other.” The man was getting clearly angry, and also a bit panicky.

“As it happens, we are here to establish that trust. Unfortunately we have a situation, and I don’t have the time to build trust the old fashioned way. We are here to establish your credibility, and we are going to do it quick and dirty. Answer the following questions yes or no. Refusing to answer or trying to wheedle a different kind of answer will be taken as an admission of guilt, and we will act accordingly. Do you understand?” Neleh asked, getting a disgruntled nod as an answer, the man’s panic becoming stronger than his anger.

“Are you a member or an affiliate of the group known as the Consortium?” Neleh had barely asked the question when the man tried to jump over to attack her. Neleh quickly used air magic to push the man against the wall behind the desk, and bound the man in bindings of light magic.

“Well that saves time.” Neleh said, not sure if she should be pleased or not.

“I think that confirmed things rather quickly. I have heard some rumors about Consortium. So that’s what this is about.” Dalyor said suddenly understanding how the duchess’ husband could be mixed with treason.

“Dalyor, would you be so kind as to take my sister outside? I don’t think she needs to see the next part.” Neleh said with a grim voice.

“Neleh, no! I’m staying! I’m already in this, and if you can handle it, then I can handle it.” Elsaria said with a voice that made sure everyone knew how hard it would be to force her outside.

“Normally, I’d be quite happy to do what you ask, but I’m also curious to know how you’ll do this in his own office, with all of the guards outside.” Dalyor said with a grin.

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Neleh moved the guard captain into a chair and the light bindings extended to bind him into the chair. She moved to stand behind the man, took a hold of the man’s jaw and leaned in to whisper in his ear. “I’m going to sing you a little song, and after I’m finished you’ll answer all my questions or I’m going to have to sing to you again.”

By the time the screaming ended, Dalyor looked a little green, and Elsaria was gagging holding her mouth in the corner.

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The captain was almost begging to answer all their questions after Neleh was finished. The answers were both good news and bad news. The good news was that the corruption in the guard extended only to the two highest ranked guards. The bad news was that he had very little information about Consortium activities. The really bad news was that the duchess’ husband was expecting to meet the guard captain outside the city, because the duchess wasn’t all that great at hiding her suspicions and her husband had taken some safeguards. The man would be suspicious if the guard captain didn’t show up, which of course wasn’t’ possible.

“So I assume you have a plan?” Dalyor asked.

“Well first I will have to use my Inquisitorial authority to have the vice-captain arrested. I’ll leave him to the rest of the Inquisition to deal with. We’ll interrogate him too, but I doubt he’ll know anything more than this guy.” Neleh said pointing to the captain.

“So what do we do with him? I’m assuming you aren’t planning on leaving him to the hands of the guards? They’ll either free him, or kill him depending if they will trust you.” Dalyor asked.

“Oh that’s easy.” Neleh said and casually created a white hot flame that consumed the captain instantly. The man died so fast that he didn’t even have time to feel pain.

“Wasn’t that a little extreme?” Elsaria asked with a little queasy look.

“I’m not in the habit of leaving behind live enemies, especially traitors. They have a tendency to pop up later on, if not dealt with.” Neleh said with some finality. “Dalyor, I’ll leave it to you to choose an acting guard captain until the city can choose a new one properly. We’ll need someone who we can work with. You can use my authority to get it done. I’ll have to make some plans with the duchess.”

“Consider it done.” Dalyor said.

Neleh was almost out the door, before something occurred to her. “You know, we’ll most likely have to ambush the traitor outside the city. Don’t you think it might be good experience for the students if they got that experience, now that they kind of missed on the monster hunting? Do you think they could handle it?”

Dalyor gave that a thought. “You know, I’d say no with a normal group, but this one is quite promising. This could be some serious experience for them, and would really put them to the test. It’s one thing to fight monsters, but a whole another to fight other elves.”

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Neleh managed to get the help of the duchess’ guards while Dalyor got the city guard’s help. They also got the help from the students, although Neleh had Dalyor explain the general gist of things to them, not mentioning anything about Neleh being an Inquisitor. The students were surprisingly all for it when they heard the duchess’ husband was accused of treason. They were a surprisingly patriotic bunch. Nevertheless it did surprise Neleh a bit how easy it was to mobilize the forces of the city with the Inquisitorial authority, while only a couple of people actually knew she was an Inquisitor. Of course it helped that the duchess was one of them.

When they were gathering to ambush the man and his entourage, Neleh thought that the overblown forces would not be necessary. She was quite sure that just she and Dalyor would be enough, but a show of force had a way of pre-empting trouble. The three separate groups also kept each other in line, in case there were still corrupt guards among them.

One of the students had sent out a scout spell to keep watch for the enemy. When they got word that the enemy was close by, Neleh gathered the whole group to cast her most effective defensive support spells. She didn’t expect a real battle but it was better to be ready. She made the motions for both ‘Fateguard’ and ‘Arrow Turning’.

They all recognized ‘Arrow Turning’ but the other spell was too rarely seen, being a very high level holy spell. Which naturally lead to Aneirin asking about it. “What does this spell do?” Pointing to the multiple layers of opaque golden light that were absorbed into her skin. That naturally brought everyone’s eyes to Neleh.

“That’s a spell called ‘Fateguard’. The layers of golden light will block any physical attack, one attack per layer. The strength of the attack is irrelevant. The good thing is that you’ll survive even a mountain being dropped on you, while the bad news is that even a pebble moving at kick velocity will remove a layer.” Neleh explained.

“Wow! So how many saves do we get?” Aneirin asked impressed.

“I haven’t got the foggiest idea. I’ve never tried casting it on a group this big. At least a couple, but I’d try to not waste them.” Neleh said while shrugging her shoulders.

The group got into position surrounding the road, with Neleh, Dalyor and the guard captains stood on the road waiting. The plan was to order the enemy to surrender, and if the enemy was to refuse, they were to use non-lethal means to subdue them. Lethal means were allowed only as a last resort and not at all against the duchess’ husband. Neleh and Dalyor would handle him.

The ambush went pretty much as expected. The duchess’ husband ordered his ten cronies to attack as soon as he noticed the four people standing on the road. The people in ambush quickly attacked and started subduing them with ruthless efficiency. The guards were very effective at that, especially now that they didn’t have to worry about their lives, which allowed them to take stupid risks.

Neleh and Dalyor ran towards their target, who tried to stab himself in the heart during the confusion. He succeeded, but that didn’t’ really worry Neleh.

“Stupid man. He should’ve at least shoved the dagger into his head. Brain injury I would have trouble repairing, but the heart is easy. Of course I would’ve stopped him if he had tried that, but at least he could’ve made the effort.” Neleh said grumpily, which brought a chuckle out of Dalyor. Neleh walked to the man, took out the dagger, healed the damage and kept the man unconscious until they could get him to the duchess’ manor.

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The room they chose for interrogation was roomy enough to allow both the guard captains and the duchess to attend, although they were told not to interfere. They were only allowed to observe and bear witness. Dalyor and Elsaria were also present, even though both of them looked a bit queasy already. Neleh removed her spell holding the man unconscious, and smacked him awake.

He had trouble focusing his eyes at first, finally settling in on Neleh standing in front of him. “Well. You look a little young to be an Inquisitor.” Neleh was still wearing her mask, especially since the man seemed to have some perverted fetish about her.

“And it seems your age has not brought you wisdom. Acting rude to the person in charge of your interrogation for no reason can have rather unpleasant results.” Neleh said with a calm voice.

“Save your threats Inquisitor. You already know enough, that I know I won’t be walking out of here alive. You obviously went through my secret compartments or I wouldn’t be here. Those documents contain pretty much everything you want to know anyway. I know how effective you Inquisitors can be, so I’ll save you the trouble and myself the pain. I’ll answer any questions you may have, you’re too late anyway. There’s only one thing you really want to know about isn’t there?” The man sounded both resigned and a little smug.

“Well then, that saves some time. Just so you know, I will know if you are lying, so save us that trouble too.” Neleh said while pointing at the two glowing magical formations she had used again. “I’ll do the housekeeping first, before the juicy bit. Are there any accomplices that were not named in your documents, that you know of, and are there any other ongoing plots aside from the one in your desk drawer and the one in the Sun Palace?” Neleh asked.

The man gave a couple of names, the dead guard captain and the still alive vice-captain among them. The guards wrote the names down. He finished by saying that he really didn’t know too many members of Consortium, because they valued their secrecy. He even told the details about the caravan attack, from the note Neleh mentioned.

“Now for the juicy bit then. What’s the deal with the Sun Palace plot?” Neleh asked dreading the answer.

The man laughed. “Solaris should be under attack by at least two angry dragons by now. We managed to steal their eggs and smuggled them under the Sun Palace. The dragons can sense their eggs when they are out of the magical containers we used. The whole royal family should be present for a party, except a few distant relatives like my wifey dearest.” The man laughed, eliciting a scream from the duchess. It was her family after all.

“Surely that’s not all of it? You wouldn’t miss the opportunity for a follow up plan, now would you?” Neleh asked quite calmly. She didn’t give a fig about the Sun Elf royal family, though it would be sad to consider the civilian losses that would undoubtedly follow.

“Right, some other people were in charge in trying to organize a coup at the same time. I think they were supposed to capture some bastard girl from Rhi’a’non, Solana or something. They were planning on putting her on the throne and then controlling her. There would most surely be other parts to the plan, but I’m not privy to those.” The man was still smug, although he sensed he had said something he should not have, when the temperature of the room started dropping fast.

Elsaria could not keep quiet. “There’s no way that would work, Solana would not follow your commands. She’s a fighter to the core. You know that too, right sis?”

“Sister dearest, it’s not that simple. There are ways to control rulers, even those with smarts and absolute power, and Solana would not have that solid of a grasp on the throne. Because the ruler can’t be everywhere, she must rely on others for information and advice. If you only give intelligence and advice that support your position, then the ruler will do what you wish while thinking she’s doing the right thing. Few decisions in the world are black and white, and if the advisors spin and frame the choices correctly, the ruler could be a horrible tyrant, and think she is doing her best for the people.” Neleh explained while getting furious.

She knew the time was running out, but she had one more question only this man could answer. She pulled the memory crystal out. “Where did you get this, and are there copies?” Her voice was pure ice at this point.

“Oh you found my treasure? Oh well, I got it at the internal market of the consortium. I have no idea if there are copies, but I don’t think there are too many. Rarity raises the price after all. The internal market doesn’t’ use names, so I don’t know where it came from.” The man was resigned to his fate now.

“I guess it’s time for your punishment then. Don’t worry, I won’t kill you. You will however soon wish that I had.” Neleh said with the sort of finality that sent chills of terror down the spines of everyone in the room.

She stepped behind the man likes he had done with the guard captain, and started to quietly sing the Song of Khali to his ear, except this time she also wove a complex magical spell, complete with several magical formations she drew with her hands. The magic and the formations were sucked into the head of the man, and he was simply stuck staring forward with a blank look.

“What did you do?” Dalyor whispered quietly, not really wanting to know the answer.

“I sang him a little song, and the spell I made will make sure that he will hear the song for the rest of his life. Except I changed his perception of time, so that every second of his life will feel like a thousand years to him. There’s also no danger that anyone will be able to remove that spell without turning him into a vegetable. I hope he has a long life ahead of him.” Neleh said grimly, and with just a hint of glee.

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Author's note: The plot thickens. The next chapter should be especially interesting. Among other things, you will find out more about Neleh's original race from her old life. Hopefully I won't get stuck reading other stories like I did yesterday, so that you won't have to wait. :D Now the siren song of sleep is too powerful...
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Vihyungrang

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