Doris softly closed the bedroom door, then turned around to see a worried-looking Keira standing in the hallway.
“How is she doing?” she asked quietly.
“As well as can be expected,” the older elf replied. “I wish I could say she’s her mother’s daughter, but it’s never that easy.”
Rowana had returned home to find that both her father and many of the loyal servants that helped raise her had all died when their mansion was destroyed. This naturally left the woman devastated and wracked not only by sorrow and grief, but also by guilt. Losing loved ones was bad enough, but having that happen while she was off having fun without a care in the world only made it worse. Then again, her mother Doris wasn’t doing too well, either. She was a strong woman, but being ‘the one who survived’ was its own bitter flavor of tragedy. Still, she was an adventurer, and as such had learned to cope with sudden loss better than most people. Not to mention she had an almost two week head start on grieving for her husband Samulus. Compared to Rowana, who had only found out yesterday, it was only natural she’d be far more collected.
Samulus Slyth’s passing was also hard on Boxxy, mostly because it was now burdened with the untasty job of pretending to be sad and mournful. Not only was it unpleasant to act out those emotions, but also difficult since the amoral creature did not feel even a pang of guilt, regret or remorse over the death of the old elf. It was annoyed and bothered more than anything else. Thankfully Doris was there to pick up the slack after Keira convinced Rowana that it was best if she stayed with her mom for a while.
Well, technically it was the other way around since it was Doris who was going to be sleeping over at their house for a while, but that was besides the point.
“Thanks for being here for her,” Keira twiddled her thumbs awkwardly. “I don’t… I wish I wasn’t… I just…”
“It’s alright,” Doris reassured her. “We all mourn in our own ways, and I know you want to be strong for her. Just make sure you let it out, it’s not healthy to keep those emotions pent up.”
Oh, Boxxy was going to ‘let it out,’ alright. It was going to ‘let it out’ so hard that this recent disaster would look like a toddler falling over in a sand pit in comparison.
“That said, I’d like you to avoid doing anything rash,” the widow cautioned her.
“What are you talking about?”
“I know what you’re planning, Keira.”
“You want to track down the one responsible for all this.”
“… And? You’re not going to try and stop me, are you?”
“No. I wouldn’t even think of it. In fact, part of me wants to help you. By the Gods, I would like nothing more than to get my hands on that piece of shit and repay the pain he’s put my family through a hundredfold.”
The woman was a Monk with a Level somewhere in the 90s, so this was no empty threat.
“However, that is not who I am anymore,” she calmed herself down. “I’m a mother, and my responsibility is to my children first and foremost. Rowana is one thing, but I’m especially fearful for Elias. He idolized his father and I don’t know how he’ll react when word reaches him in Velos. The last thing I need right now is to have my future daughter-in-law get so fixated on revenge that she loses sight of what’s truly important.”
“I see. It seems we have a bit of a misunderstanding on our hands.”
“This isn’t about revenge,” Keira said in a low voice. “This is punishment.”
“Call it what you want, just make sure you don’t put my daughter through any more hardship, understood?”
“I can handle myself.”
“You can, can you? And what of those three girls you brought back with you?”
It was only natural that Doris would have questions regarding the nephilim. Unfortunate timing and physical deformities aside, having her daughter and her betrothed return with three beautiful blondes in tow was a bit jarring to say the least. She knew better than to bother asking Keira about who those three really were or to question her fidelity, but it was impossible to deny they looked up to and relied on her somewhat. She then remembered the crimson-haired catgirl had made a name for herself as a first-rate instructor and coach. With that in mind, it was safe to assume those girls were here as some kind of exchange students.
“Are you sure this is the sort of guidance you wish to offer them?” the elf matriarch added.
“I can’t worry about them right now. The FIB will take care of them.”
“The same FIB that completely failed to protect Azurvale from a terrorist attack the likes of which it has never seen?”
“You know that’s not fair. Nobody could’ve seen this coming. Even I refused to believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.”
“It’s a widow’s privilege to be unreasonably bitter. It’s about the only one we get,” Doris smiled sadly.
Keira popped her head into Rowana’s room to tell her she was heading out, but it would appear the elf had cried herself to sleep on top of their bed. The beastkin then told the nephilim sisters to stay put and listen to everything Doris and the FIB guards said. She then put on her adventuring gear and went outside. The branch-street where the couple had moved their place of residence to was unnaturally quiet and empty despite the afternoon’s sunny weather. Keira silently strode down to where the flying magic elevator was and rode it down to ground level.
The area had been transformed from a bustling plaza to something of a slum. Shacks, tents and other temporary housing dominated the pedestrian roads and pathways as victims left homeless by the disaster milled about and generally stewed in their misery. Armed guards and people in uniform were all over the place as they did their best to maintain public order and distribute emergency rations and supplies. There was no telling how long this would go on for since cleanup crews were still sorting through the mess with no clear sign of when the reconstruction effort could begin. All of this was being carried out on the Republic’s bill, of course. Money had always been something the elven government had plenty of, so it was only natural they’d pour that into helping the citizens get back on their feet.
The disaster that caused all of this turmoil and unrest was now being referred to as ‘The Great Collapse.’ It was a terrifyingly apt name, as a single glance towards the crown of the hylt tree immediately to the north of Ambrosia’s was enough to reveal what had happened. It seemed surreal, but six of the tree’s titanic branches were no longer attached to it. As one might imagine, the city directly underneath those limbs had turned to dust when the limbs fell from their dizzying hundred-meter height. The titanic impact also made the ground quiver and quake, turning everything around the roots of the tree into a ruin. Not just civilians, but adventurers and soldiers alike were crushed to death en masse beneath the avalanche of timber. Numerous administrative and commercial buildings were also caught up in the Collapse, temporarily crippling the Republic’s governing ability and economic stability in addition to the loss of life.
Yet as tragic as these events were, they had clearly been orchestrated by someone. Those branches had not fallen off on their own, nor had they snapped under the weight of the buildings and people that once dwelled on them. A single glance at the stumps left behind made it impossible to deny that they had been cut. It seemed ridiculous to think something could cut through hylt branches dozens of meters thick, but there was no other way to explain the flawlessly smooth surface of those stumps.
These anomalous traces seemed like a good place to start investigating, but Boxxy had other venues it wanted to explore first. It had only just arrived in Azurvale via Forest Gate a few hours ago, so it had yet to grasp the full extent of the damage inflicted to the city. It needed to ask some unpleasant questions and get thorough answers, so it was currently on its way to meet one of its contacts. After disappearing into the crowd as Keira and emerging as a generic-looking elf laborer, it made its way due south, the opposite direction of the site of the attack.
This part of Azurvale was known colloquially as ‘Dirt Town’ and was generally seen as the seedier part of the Republic’s capital, especially down here on ground level. Dingy shacks, old tents and run-down buildings were the norm in Dirt Town, so the Collapse hadn’t had a negative impact on the lives of the neighborhood’s residents. Just the opposite, in fact. The streets were filled with people seeking an escape or some sort of outlet after falling victim to that harrowing event one way or another.
And the place that could offer relief in more ways than one, and was also Boxxy’s current destination, was an establishment called the Spring Daisy. Tucked away in the shadow of a huge hylt root at the heart of Dirt Town, this three-story building instantly stood out as being taller and cleaner than the others around it. Though officially the headquarters of the small and private Sealed Lips guild, it essentially functioned as a brothel. Such places were entirely legal and could be found elsewhere, but what truly set the Spring Daisy aside became obvious the instant Boxxy stepped inside.
“Hey, cutie. Fancy busting a fat nut all over my face?”
“Surely a gentleman like yourself prefers a more sensual and intimate experience, yes?”
“Forget those amateurs. Come with me and I’ll show you pleasure unlike any other.”
Though having a plethora of scantily clad working girls call out to a potential client was not out of the ordinary, this was the only brothel in Azurvale staffed almost entirely by succubi. Any normal man who walked in here would not leave until both their balls and their purse had been drained completely. There was no risk of unwanted pregnancies, no chance of contracting weird diseases and absolutely zero danger to one’s health and general well-being. This was made possible by the fact that all of these demonic temptresses were bound familiars belonging to one of the guild’s Warlocks. The busty seductresses were therefore strictly and repeatedly forbidden from hurting the clientele. Unless they asked for it, of course, but even then it was limited to strictly non-lethal roleplaying.
And ‘roleplaying’ was without a doubt the order of the day at the Spring Daisy. One of the best parts about laying with a succubus, besides the obvious carnal pleasures, was that they were all shapeshifters. Whether she was a celebrity, a relative, deceased, or fictional, any woman could become one’s partner for an hour. During that time, the succubi would satisfy any wild fantasy or kinky desire with a smile on their face. All things considered, it was not the least bit surprising that the ‘Keira Special’ was an extremely popular item on the brothel’s menu with both male and female patrons.
The demons themselves didn’t mind this arrangement too much either, as they got to enjoy the bodily fluids their kind typically craved on a regular basis, even if not as completely as they would’ve liked.
Sating its nonexistent carnal desires was clearly not why Boxxy had come here, though. It briskly walked past the eight large-breasted and practically naked women flanking the main hallway and headed straight for the back. This place had no need for bouncers or guards since all of the ‘merchandise’ was both expendable and capable of taking care of any violent intruder or would-be robber. The only security personnel here was a green-skinned fiend wielding a sword and shield who was mostly there to keep people from wandering into the members-only parts of the building.
“Woah there, bub,” he stood in front of the elf-shaped monster. “Just where do you think you’re going?”
“To see the manager,” Boxxy calmly stated. “I have a message from her sponsor.”
“Oh. Alright, off you go, then.”
The fiend stood to one side and allowed the shapeshifter to enter through the door he was guarding. Inside was a cramped office filled with filing cabinets and shelves, but it was tidy to the point of coming off as lifeless and sterile. The manager, a youthful human woman with black hair and chestnut eyes, raised an eyebrow at her visitor from her seat behind her desk. The not-an-elf’s eyes flashed from green to red to blue and then back to green, prompting the other party to flip a switch under her desk. The door to the windowless office locked itself with an audible click and the walls, floor and ceiling flashed with a dull green light, securing it from prying eyes and ears.
“Was wondering when you’d show up, Mister B,” the woman smiled and leaned back. “You missed one damn loud party. Should’ve seen the elves scurry about with their heads up their asses, it was something else.”
Despite what the authorities were led to believe, not all of the succubi in this den of demons were bound to a mortal. The one currently masquerading as the leader and founder of the Silent Lips guild certainly wasn’t. Her real name was Honeyneyney Fallisun Panadelkaxke, a lily variant of the succubus species, who were infamous for their strong predisposition towards wanting to fondle lady parts. Their special Skill allowed them to release an odorless gas to subtly lower mortals’ inhibitions, not too dissimilar from a doppelganger’s Pheromone Control though much more limited in scope. This particular individual was also a Pyromancer on top of that, though she didn’t share a certain djinn’s mania regarding flames.
As for how she wound up masquerading as her former mistress, that was because she had reached out to Boxxy through Demons ‘R’ Us and made a proposition. If it freed her from her surprisingly prudish mistress’s control, she would do everything in her power to assist it. The shapeshifter had nothing to lose so it accepted and made it happen. After silently removing and replacing the original, it just had to make sure to be around whenever the mandatory Appraisal inspections rolled around every three months or so. Then, when the time came, it would use its Essence Concealment and some social engineering to convince the government official that the guild master of the Silent Lips was alive and well.
What Boxxy got in return was two things. The first was a cut of the profits. The amount that trickled in was nothing compared to the rest of its hoard, but it liked the idea of imposing a ‘boxing tax’ whenever possible. The second and far more valuable boon it got from this partnership was information not readily available to the public. Despite its discrete location, the Spring Daisy was a respectable establishment that attracted customers with much higher standards and more refined tastes than other brothels. They even offered ‘deliveries’ for especially generous patrons that wanted some extra discretion and privacy regarding their evening entertainment.
Either way, it was almost ridiculous how loose-lipped the members of Azurvale’s upper class got once a succubus had them between her legs. Blackmail and trading in dirty secrets had been the Spring Daisy’s secret weapons for years and its new owner was more than happy to keep the tradition alive. However, such juicy gossip was not what Boxxy was after at present.
“The Collapse. I need you to tell me what you know about it.”
“Hmm, straight to business as usual, huh?” Honey smirked. “Well, I guess that’s part of why I like you so much.”
The main reason why this succubus approached Boxxy in the first place was not, as one might imagine, because she wanted to be free to sap the life out of as many mortals as possible. She was what was known as a ‘purist,’ a succubus that was so in tune with the race’s conniving, deceitful and fraudulent nature that she valued conspiracy over coitus. Honey, along with dozens more like-minded temptresses, had formed a Keira Appreciation Club within the Beyond. Not because they wanted to boink the bronze-skinned redhead, but because they admired the mind-boggling web of lies that Boxxy had built up around its Facade. Watching that holier-than-thou bitch’s kids get sucked into the vortex of falsehoods that was Keira Morgana had become the club’s new favorite pastime.
Honey couldn’t see it for herself, unfortunately, as the Progenitor’s broadcasts were unavailable to those in the material realm. Her fellow Keira fans were more than happy to keep her up-to-date whenever she called them, so she was fully aware of the shapeshifter’s current situation. They also kept her abreast of other developments they’d heard about in the material realm or the Beyond, which only increased her abilities as an information broker. Which was good, because this position allowed her to take a prominent part in one of the biggest conspiracies in centuries.
And that brought her far more pleasure and satisfaction than any amount of carpet munching ever could.
“Do you want the long or short version?” she asked matter of factly.
“Keep it brief.”
“Alright. I suppose I should start by saying your ‘friends’ in the Foundation were most likely the attack’s primary target.”
“… The Foundation had bases in those tree branches?”
“No, but the Collapse took out a whole lot of important people with considerable wealth and fortune. The kind of ‘old money’ types that my sources say had no qualms about financing unethical and heretical research for the sake of their precious Republic.”
The woman passed Boxxy a list of a hundred or so names, presumably casualties of importance that were caught up in the attack. It recognized several of them as ones it had strongly suspected of being in league with the Foundation, so the demon’s first assessment was not entirely without merit. It would also explain why the targeted area was of so little political and strategic importance. Sure, some government buildings were wiped out, but they were mostly empty since the Collapse happened in the middle of the night. If the aim of the attack was to take out the Republic’s ruling class, then it was either extremely poorly timed or missed its mark completely.
Unless, of course, one were to target a shadowy organization that may or may not have been the real power behind the scenes.
“What about the Slyths?” Boxxy asked its informant. “Were they part of the Foundation as well?”
It was also both unsurprising and a little bit worrying that Rowana’s father was among the names on that list. Though her family were most likely bystanders in all this, it was impossible to ignore the fact that their mansion was one of the estates destroyed in the Collapse.
“There’s no way to know for sure,” Honey shook her head. “In fact, all of this is mostly speculation based on circumstances. Those people keep a tight lid on their operations, as you well know. However, the fact that Mrs Slyth survived the event leads me to believe they were nothing more than collateral.”
“Now that you mention it…”
Boxxy looked back to the list of casualties. Among them were a number of names that were marked with a red cross, and the shapeshifter recognized all of them as belonging to individuals with real power. Many of them were either retired VIPs or adventurers it was looking forward to slaughtering during the Dragon Festival. It was ludicrous to think all of these were killed by something as simple as falling off a branch, even if the scale of it was rather extraordinary.
“These seven you’ve marked, they didn’t die in the Collapse, did they?”
“Indeed,” the succubus confirmed Boxxy’s suspicions. “Though the FIB hasn’t made the news public, they’ve determined that those victims had died due to stab wounds to vital areas. The hundred-meter fall had merely softened them up for the killing blow.”
“If the FIB hasn’t made it public, then how do you know all this?”
“Oh, that’s because their investigators used quite a few beholders to help look for survivors and analyze evidence. I just had some of my girls arrange an exchange of information with one of those melon-heads while they were off-duty.”
“Hmm, I see. What about the actual method used to cause the Collapse?”
Judging from what Boxxy had already gathered, those six branches had fallen off at exactly the same time, almost as if the tree itself had gotten bored of them and cast them off. That clearly wasn’t the case, however, as no dryad would willingly sacrifice her limbs like that. Especially if it would result in the deaths of thousands of the elves favored by their ‘mother,’ Nyrie. It was also ludicrous to think anyone was capable of forcing or coercing one of those tree spirits, though some sort of deception and misdirection could have taken place.
“No idea there, sorry Mister B. You probably know more about it than I do.”
Well, it wasn’t as if Boxxy was expecting things to be that easy, but it was nevertheless disappointed it didn’t get any more answers. Still, this was only the first of its sources and the revelation that the Foundation’s upper echelons were the main target was as good a lead as it was going to get.
“So… Have I earned myself a finder’s fee yet?” Honey coyly asked.
“… I suppose you have.”
The succubus clapped her hands once in excitement and stood from her seat while reverting to her base form. She cast off her robe as her skin turned a deep crimson with patches of dark scales. Her eyes were now as red as the rest of her and her hair had turned a rich brown hue tied off in a braided ponytail. A pair of thin and narrow horns jutted out of the sides of her head and a serpentine tail grew out of from just above her backside. She clearly had a bit of raptor influence in her, which was most likely why she was practically as flat as a board when compared to the rest of her voluptuous ‘sisters.’
Meanwhile, Boxxy had already changed its outward appearance from that of an elven laborer to a fully nude and provocatively smiling Keira that caused Honey to purr in anticipation of what was to come.
Just because carnal pursuits were not at the top of this particular succubus’s list of priorities didn’t mean they weren’t a priority. And as good as the brothel girls were at imitating the public persona of the Hero of Chaos, none could compare to the genuine article. One could argue there was no ‘genuine article’ since Keira was an entirely fictional character, but that was precisely the sort of thing that made the act so enjoyable for Honey.
After essentially whoring itself out at the whorehouse, Boxxy decided to try contacting the Foundation directly. In order to do that, it had to drop by its home dungeon and fetch the Comm-crystal that could be used to get in touch with Silus Underwood, its main point of contact with the clandestine group. It had left it there so that Lavender could inform it remotely in case it rang while it was away.
Incidentally, the alraune dungeon master was still blissfully unaware that anything of importance had happened on the outside. According to her testimony, she didn’t even feel the earth-cracking tremors of having uncountable tons of timber fall on another part of the city. Then again, none of Keira and Rowana’s neighbors had felt them either, they just reported hearing the thunderous crash and seeing the massive dust cloud. It would appear that nothing short of a truly calamitous quake would be enough to shake Ambrosia’s tree enough for it to rattle Boxxy’s dungeon.
Upon getting back to its lair, however, Boxxy realized exactly why the Foundation had been silent despite the Collapse. Though the shapeshifter’s Comm-crystal had not suffered a single scratch, its soft blue glow had been replaced with a lifeless gray hue. This meant that the item’s twin had been shattered, rendering this particular object almost completely worthless. Which was inconvenient, to say the least. The hylt creeper naturally had several other ways to get in touch with the organization, but there was no telling how many of them were still active.
Time wasn’t on its side, either. It was almost two weeks late to the ‘party,’ so it had to act fast to try and pick up the perpetrator’s trail before it ran cold. Part of that was because its monstrous nature demanded revenge for having several of its plans and plots ruined out of nowhere, but there was more to it. Finding out exactly what sort of power or method could cut off six hylt branches at once had various practical applications. Even if it was something it couldn’t use, it would at the very least be able to take precautions against it.
Therefore, rather than trying to scrounge up Foundation survivors, Boxxy decided to take the initiative and investigate the Collapse itself. Something it could accomplish in one of two ways. The first was to publicly investigate the issue as Keira alongside the Republic government. Doing so would help its public image even more, but the downside was that it most likely wouldn’t get to keep whatever secrets it learned to itself.
The other option was to check in with the pruned hylt tree’s dryad and get her side of the story. The problem there was that Boxxy hadn’t bothered to formally introduce itself to any of Ambrosia’s sisters, meaning it needed a way to get an audience with the plant-woman. Thankfully it already had a fix for that in the shape of the Elder Dryad’s Authority. That could potentially backfire, however. The amber orb in question was nothing but a glorified doorbell, and not all dryads shared Ambrosia’s tolerance of unsolicited visitors. Especially not one that has very recently been vandalized.
Boxxy then realized neither of those approaches were mutually exclusive, so it decided to pursue both. It pocketed the Elder Dryad’s Authority from one of its treasuries and prepared to set out as Keira. It would have to visit the catgirl’s guild office at the Central Consortium building and put in an official request with her guild master. It could go directly to the FIB, of course, but protocols and procedures existed to keep order in turbulent times like these, and blatantly disrespecting them was not the sign of an honest person.
“Wait a minute…” the shapeshifter paused as realization hit it. “Aren’t I approaching this from the wrong direction?”
Rather than the ‘what,’ the ‘how,’ or the ‘when,’ the question Boxxy should’ve been asking first and foremost was ‘who.’ The Foundation was a secret society with plenty of questionable dealings, so it was not surprising they’d have enemies. The mastermind behind the Collapse had clearly been out for blood, otherwise they wouldn’t have employed such a brutal method of attacking them. Yet the way they handled things still had a certain finesse and meticulousness to it, not to mention it must have taken a good deal of resources, planning and organization to pull off.
And after pacing around within its dungeon for half an hour, there was but one individual it could think of that fit all of those criteria.
“Reggie!” it growled. “I should’ve known!”
This sort of scenario was a brilliant demonstration of how Boxxy imagined the ‘ganger capo did things. Yes, it was flashy and attention-grabbing, but it was brutally effective and impossible to cover up. After all, if the fall of the Gilded Hand taught Boxxy anything, it was that a shadowy organization was done for the instant it was dragged into the light. It was also likely that Reggie would not have made such a huge move unless he had taken every step imaginable to make sure it succeeded.
One such precaution was without a doubt the timing of the attack. Though the date the Collapse happened on was of no particular significance, it had happened while the Hero of Chaos was still out in the middle of the Shimmering Ocean. It was the perfect time for someone to stir up trouble without fear of immediate retribution from Boxxy or Keira, as it would have been at least a week before the shapeshifter would have a chance to find out. And since it had to make a detour due to being burdened with looking after Teresa’s spawn, Reggie now had at least a twelve day head-start in covering his tracks.
Which, considering he was the leader of the country’s biggest crime syndicate for several decades, meant that Boxxy’s odds of tracking him down now were effectively nil.
That said, the shapeshifter wasn’t about to give up that easily. Even if it was just to maintain its main Facade, it still wanted to investigate this ‘Great Collapse’ as soon as possible. With that in mind, it got into character and made a beeline for the Central Consortium building. Once there, it found the place was bustling with activity as adventurers of all professions were doing what they could to help. The office of the exarch had posted a number of emergency Quests that caught Boxxy’s attention.
The monster had been slightly curious as to how exactly the Republic planned to move those titanic branches, or whether they wanted to do that at all. According to the notices plastered all over the place, their intention was to recycle them into timber that would be used towards the rebuilding efforts. A bold move considering some people likely had reservations towards using ‘murder-bark,’ but the task was by no means an easy one. The Ironbark on those detached limbs was anywhere between one and two meters thick and would require a small army of Miners to strip it away before the Carvers and Laborers could start processing the timber.
Looking at the various Quests, Boxxy had something of an epiphany and decided to check on something before visiting the Hidden Arrow’s guild master. It looked around for a free receptionist and was able to find one despite the high traffic, mostly because the Consortium was in ‘all hands on deck’ mode. When Keira approached the counter, she instantly demanded that she be given access to all of the personal Quests, letters, messages and other packages that had arrived for her while she was away.
This request struck the receptionist as a bit odd since now was hardly the time to be checking one’s fan mail, but he complied nonetheless. He excused himself and disappeared for a few minutes before coming back with a large wooden box bearing Keira’s name. The catgirl gratefully accepted it and carried it off to a secluded spot in the Hidden Arrow’s member-only area. Retrieving a set of Speed-Reading Spectacles from her waist-mounted Aetherial Repository, she began leafing through the hundreds of envelopes and missives addressed to her.
The reason Boxxy was bothering with those was because it had remembered something while looking at the Quest Board from earlier.
Two years ago it had liberated Reggie from the Foundation’s brainwashing by using Ambrosia’s absurdly potent Waters of Life. The older doppelganger disappeared without a trace afterwards, but not before coming to something of an agreement with the Hero of Chaos. The older shapeshifter had sworn to look into ways of dismantling the organization that used and to an extent helped create him. A goal that Boxxy had, at the time, expressed willingness to assist with. Reggie was supposed to reach out to his much younger accomplice by sending its Facade a personal request with a very specific name and subject matter.
And sure enough, just as Boxxy had guessed, the promised message was waiting for it in the shape of a standardized personal Quest form. It had been submitted two days before the Collapse happened and requested that Keira escort and protect someone named ‘G. O. Welles’ as he transported a shipment of ‘frozen peas.’ The alias and cargo identified Reggie as the sender, but having Bitterhold as the destination was most decidedly not part of the code they had agreed on.
In other words, it would appear that it was time to pay the good Warden Stain another visit.