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A note from Vihyungrang

I didn't really have time to PR this chapter properly due to the fact my brother is visiting, so please point out mistakes that you find. I hope you'll enjoy!

Dee waited calmly as a very un-elf like elf observed her after reading the report she had delivered. The Sidhe woman, Noyala, had taken a meditative position and stayed behind as soon as the two had entered the keep that served as the main headquarters of the order. A simple gesture from Dee had indicated to the nearby guards that the Sidhe woman was with her and was not to be disturbed. Afterwards Dee had been ushered from one high ranking official to another in a quick succession, until finally an hour later her report had landed on the desk of the man she was now looking at.

 

Grandmaster Lothar was an impressive man and cut an imposing figure. Dee had heard that the Authority that the grandmaster carried had turned his appearance more humanlike, and the golden beard and broad frame certainly suggested the rumor had at least some validity. The man didn’t have to exert any pressure on people entering his presence, just his mere appearance and intelligent eyes carried a certain gravitas that was difficult to ignore. The only other person in the room was a human squire that worked as the grandmaster’s assistant.

 

“So. Razark is currently assisting with the defense of the city and is for all intents and purposes trapped unless he wants to use his full power to defeat the enemy, which might end up destroying the city he is protecting. The city is surrounded by a warhost sent by the Centaurum, and other cities are facing the same most likely. The elves are nowhere to be seen due to their internal conflict. That about the gist of it?” The grandmaster reiterated the important points.

 

“Correct. The part about other cities is based on speculation, but can most likely be tested by trying to use the teleportation gates of those cities.” Dee confirmed.

 

The man tapped his chin in thought for a short moment, before a small smile suddenly surfaced. He turned towards the squire. “Patrik would you be so kind as to give us a minute.” The squire gave an elegant bow and exited the room without asking questions. Dee idly noted that the room was protected against eavesdropping. The two could fight a battle in the room and nobody would hear a thing. A battle she would likely lose.

 

“You’re the assassin kid my sister picked up, are you not? Yes, there aren’t that many psions in the order and you still carry the mannerism of someone trained for assassination. I saw how you eyed the room as you entered and again just now. Even if you were not serious, you checked if you could kill me without drawing attention. I don’t mind, it’s probably instinctual for you at this point.” The man’s smile made it clear that he didn’t see Dee as a real threat.

 

“As you say.” Dee decided there was no point in trying to deny anything the man said.

 

The man’s smile widened a bit. “I always wanted to meet the Wraith in person. Looking at you, it’s no wonder you were such a thorn in our side as a child. You don’t seem surprised I know.” The man tilted his head a bit in question.

 

Dee gave a small grimace. “Well, your sister figured it out. It only makes sense that there are people in the order who did as well. It’s natural for you to know.”

 

The man guffawed a small laugh. “My sister figured it out? And she didn’t tell anyone in the order? Well, well. There’s still hope for her. I find it interesting personally. An ex assassin, a psion and Razark’s new disciple, trained as a templar. Your perspective is somewhat unique. Did you know I once tried to become a scout as well? This was when I was very young and still untrained and unsuited for such a role. In a way I’m glad I wasn’t accepted. I wouldn’t have worked so hard if I was.” He didn’t mention that he had been a child at the time.

 

Dee wasn’t sure what to say so she elected to keep her silence.

 

“So anyway, I was mentioning about your unique perspective, and I’d like to pick your brains a bit. What do you think of the current situation? Why did I send Razark where he is? What will I do now, and why? What do you think the order’s next actions will be?” The grandmaster threw a bunch of questions at her.

 

Dee considered for a moment. “I’ll point out that most of this is conjecture based on incomplete information. My answer would change based on certain facts that I have no way of knowing presently.”

 

“Noted.” The man waived her pre-amble away as obvious.

 

“I’ll start with what the order will most likely do, as the others are somewhat dependent on that. I see four obvious options, which I’ll list according to how likely I think they are to come to pass. The most obvious and unlikely is that the order stays out of the whole mess. This would waste all the preparations you have obviously done so far and defeats the point of sending Razark where he is now. This is very unlikely though there is a chance if I consider the possibility of some outside threat that I’m not aware of. Or some political reason paralyzing the order from moving. Internal struggle perhaps.” Dee discarded the first option, eliciting an approving nod from the man.

 

“The second option is that the order enters the internal struggle on the side of the Spring and Summer courts. This option seems obvious at first considering the fact that your family is a part of the Spring court, however I don’t think this is the case. I can’t point out a single reason why, just that many small reasons hint at this being very unlikely.” Dee continued, eliciting a smile from the man.

 

“There are many factors you are unaware of, but you are sensing the tail ends of those factors. That’s why you have a feeling this option is unlikely even though you can’t quite point out why. Continue.” The man encouraged her. Being able to grasp such loose threads to complete a picture resembling the truth was a skill in itself.

 

“The third option is a direct intervention on the side of the Winter court. Considering the balance of forces as they are currently, Winter court alone matches the strength of their opposition. As a result, even if the Autumn court was drawn back to protect the borders, the balance would swing heavily in the Winter court’s favor with our entry into the conflict. However, both this and the previous option would bring a lot of criticism from other parties. Meddling in the internal affairs of the empire will have some consequences, many of which even I’m unaware of. Additionally it seems you’d go in direct opposition of your own family.” Dee concluded.

 

“So far so good. And the fourth option?” The man asked with a knowing smile.

 

“The fourth option is to bring our forces to defend the borders of the empire, allowing the Autumn court to utilize their forces in the internal conflict freely. We would not be meddling in the conflict directly and we now have an excuse. One of our highest ranking members is trapped in a city on the border and is being attacked by the Centaurum. This gives the order an excuse to say that we are there to help our own and retaliate against aggressions made against us, in addition to helping the border cities of course. That way we’d support the Autumn court side of the conflict indirectly and almost by accident, instead of supporting the Autumn court directly.” Dee suggested, not entirely sure of her conclusion.

 

This last option felt the most correct to her, but was based on some very shaky premises and could easily be countered by factors she was not aware of. There was the fact of the two elves of the Autumn court that had joined the order at the same time Dee had. Once the conflict started, those two had been pulled out of training and been given separate teachers. Rumor had it that the grandmaster himself took part in that training. Maybe that wasn’t quite the case. Maybe those two had been something like emissaries. Or maybe they had become something on those lines due to the situation. The two might have started off as genuine trainees, but the situation had changed their lot in life.

 

“Well done. Now the big questions. What will I do and why? Why would the order act according to the plan you just described, which is correct I might point out. A force equal to about three chapters worth of our brothers and sisters is already prepared to leave on a moment’s notice and I sent the signal to march as soon as you entered the building. Now answer my questions if you would.” The man dropped a small bomb without a change in expression.

 

Dee shook her head immediately. “I can’t answer that. Too much that I don’t know, especially about your personal motives. Plus, I’m aware that there’s most likely another party outside the four seasonal courts and us dabbling in this internal conflict, so I can’t judge how their actions might influence things. I have no idea who they might be.” They had confirmed the presence of a third party with their mission to check the villages under Spring court’s supervision for potential rebellions.

 

The man burst out in laughter. “Good! Well done. That was a trick question of sorts. There’s rarely only one reason why people and organizations take certain actions, and claiming to know that reason is the height of hubris and stupidity. I can say that I myself have at least a few dozen reasons big and small for making this decision. If you had answered anything else, you would’ve just revealed your ignorance. But it seems you have a mind worth cultivating.”

 

“My thanks?”  Dee replied half questioningly with a confused look. This was taking an odd turn.

 

“As a reward for doing so well and as thanks for you and Razark playing into my plans so perfectly, I’m sending you with the army going towards Craghold and Razark. That army will be led by someone I believe you know. Commander Luthana had been promoted into a general. You will be her second in command. Learn from her. She has a good grasp on leading people and you have no experience in that field to my knowledge.” The grandmaster ordered.

 

“I get the feeling there’s something else to this. Otherwise you wouldn’t put me the second in command even with my strength.” Dee pointed out.

 

The man had a wide grin. “You’re right. You have no experience so putting you in that kind of position is folly, even if it is to learn. No, this is also a test for our dear Luthana. There’s a possibility that she might decide to side with the Spring court due to her heritage. You’re there to monitor her for any sign of betrayal or even just dragging her feet.”

 

“And if she fails the test?” Dee wanted to confirm.

 

“Cut off her head and take her position. I think this should be no problem with this seeing as it’s done to save your master and since you’ve killed without much remorse before. Unlike many other officers, you also don’t have much in the way of ties to her. You’re a more neutral observer, which is rare among those that actually have the strength to take her out. Most are either her friends or enemies. Her friends would hide it if she does something inappropriate, while her enemies would take the chance to get rid of her. You on the other hand have an incentive to keep her in place to more easily save Razark, but also a good reason to get rid of her if she drags her feet. Besides, I need to get a handle on your skill with people when you actually try to get along with them. I have another mission for you after this that requires…certain skills.” The grandmaster confirmed Dee’s instructions.

 

“Aye, sir.” Dee somewhat reluctantly gave a small salute and turned to leave.

 

“Oh, right. I almost forgot. We were speaking of reasons to do things. You might have missed this due to having been absent for so long, but as it happens, my family is trying to bring Faylen back into the fold. She’s already back at the family estate within the empire. I heard they are planning on arranging a marriage for her, for obvious political reasons. Just something I thought you should know and it’s something that might work as a reason for you to act. There’s no need to rush for her sake though. They’re not in a hurry for once. My family likes to do things properly when it comes to politics.” The man suddenly pointed out, a tinge of anger creeping into his voice.

 

That left Dee wondering. Who was that anger directed towards? What was the cause of that anger?

 

------

 

Dee marched back out to the reception hall of the keep, and noticed Noyala getting up as soon as she entered the room. “So when are we going?” The Sidhe woman asked nonchalantly.

 

“And where do you think we are going?” Dee asked, somehow feeling the annoyance towards the grandmaster seeping out of her. The Sidhe woman had a weird calming effect on her.

 

“Back to the place where you were running away from. It seems obvious you would be part of a rescue force. I can guess that you left someone important behind. A mentor or a friend perhaps?” Noyala threw out a guess.

 

“A mentor.” Dee grunted a reply. “And what makes you think you’re coming along?”

 

“Unless I’m misreading this situation completely, you won’t be going on a simple rescue mission. I get the feeling you’ll need someone with some skill with politics, and no offense but you’re not exactly a people person. You could use some help.” The Sidhe woman’s smile was obvious even through the thin veil.

 

“And how do you know any of that?” Dee asked a little surprised.

 

“Come now. There are hints everywhere if you know to look for them. You just had a long meeting with the grandmaster of the order, yes word gets around about things like that. I also heard about the army marching. It’s really stunning how much everyone here ignored my presence even despite my race. They gossip pretty freely. Besides, you’re strong. You would be sent on a mission. You’re also a warrior…and someone who has experience working from the shadows if I don’t miss my guess. Someone who works from the shadows with a knife. Combine those with some other little hints and I can guess some of what you were told to do. Am I getting close?” Noyala listed off, lifting fingers to indicate the number of points as she went along.

 

Dee had to hand it to the woman, she was sharper than almost any person she had met so far. “That brings us to the main point. You just ran away from the forest. You wanted to get as far away as you can get if I recall correctly. Why do you want to go with me? I have nothing against you, but if you can’t answer that, I’m not taking you along.”

 

Dee could see through the veil that the Sidhe woman was chewing her lip, considering how much to tell. “Fine. It might be helpful if you know. You already figured out that I was attacked, and you already knew I wasn’t alone when it happened. I was with a friend of mine, plus an escort of course but they aren’t important for this discussion. That friend of mine was an advisor of sorts, and has been a friend of mine for a long time. Long before she joined the group known as Threads of Fate.”

 

Dee cursed quietly. “The Threads of Fate. I see. I can guess where this is going but let’s hear the details anyway.”

 

Noyala shook her head apologetically. “As you might have guessed, as a member of that group and a possessor of a certain amount of talent as a seer, my friend could see certain things about my future. She pointed out the direction I should run and told me that staying close to a certain fox would help me achieve my goals. At first I thought she had been mistaken when she had described your current form and you approached me in that more beastly form but I took a chance. And as it happened, her description fit the form you shifted into, your current form.”

 

Dee remembered that Noyala had alluded to her before, mentioning revenge as the most obvious among them. That was something she could understand. Something about her words caught in Dee’s mind though. “She knew she was going to die?” Dee asked, alluding to Noyala’s friend.

 

“I assume so. However, I can’t even say for certain if she died or not. She just told me to run, and I did. Also, she mentioned that you owe the Threads a favor. You’ll have to check with them to make sure, but I’m pretty sure my friend meant that helping me would erase that debt. I don’t want to pressure you into this, but I thought you should know. And I have a feeling this might not be so bad for either of us.” Noyala pointed out.

 

Dee made a small displeased growl. “This sounds like it will be worth more trouble than I owe them, but fine. I’ll haggle with them later. For now you can come along. Besides, I think I could use your knowledge about the Sidhe and the courts. I get the feeling my dealings with them are not over.”

 

“Fair assumption.” Noyala replied with a grin. “Where are we going now?”

 

“To meet with an acquaintance that I might have to kill.” Dee replied with a sigh.

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Vihyungrang

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