Tag Archives: Espionage

The Devil You Know


The devil was sitting in Anders’ office.

Seven foot tall, with skin the colour of lava, piercing green eyes and long horns protruding from a thick shuck of black hair, he was well dressed in fine robes. Around him there was a smell of summer flowers, with a faint whisper of something more dank, and spicier underneath.

When Courtney entered, he’d paused to look at her, making her heart skip. He was perhaps the most terrifying thing she’d ever seen, and she’d been frozen in place as his gaze looked upon her, feeling like she was naked before him.

“This is my lieutenant, Courtney.” Anders said from behind his antique desk. “She’ll be helping us with this issue.”

The devil nodded in understanding, and gave her a yellow smile that made her insides turn to jelly and made her want nothing more than to run from this terrifying being that sat before her like a god. “I will appreciate your help.”

Hearing this, it was all Courtney could do to keep from falling to her knees and begging for his mercy. She felt the urge wash over her, fighting with her own efforts to be as professional as possible. The effort made her stiff, and she just stood there, her face frozen as she stared at him. “Y-yes, my lord.”

She didn’t know what was happening to her, she was an officer in the Eidolon Corps, the Imperial special operations branch, and yet now she felt like a schoolgirl standing before an angry father. It was infuriating, maddening, but she couldn’t help it.

Anders, her superior, frowned and reached into a drawer, pulling out something. “Courtney, catch.” He said, and tossed something to her.

As soon at the small green gem touched her hand, Courtney immediately felt the waves of fear and emotion begin to ebb and settle. Within a few moments, her inner calm was back, she was as cool as ever.

“You’re no fun,” said the devil in a slightly displeased tone to Anders. And, when Courtney looked at him now, she found he appeared only a tall but slender young man in his twenties with orange skin and black hair, the god she’d seen moments before having seemingly vanished. The whole thing left her a bit disoriented, but she did her best to hide her confusion.

“We are not here to be your source of amusement,” Anders said in a flat tone. Then he waved Courtney over to stand next to his desk and sat back in his chair. “Now, please get to the point regarding your visit.”

The devil shrugged, “There is not much to tell. One of my sisters is here in your Empire, and we believe she is involved in acts that will cause a rift between our peoples. As the letter I just delivered to you states, my father has sent me to find her, and bring the lost child home if possible.”

Anders tapped the opened letter sitting on the desk before him, watching his guest. “And if it isn’t possible?”

The devil said everything he needed to with the sharp yellow teeth of his smile.

“Very well, you may return to the hotel where you’re staying. We will look into the case and let you know.”

The devil shook his head, “I’m afraid I must ask to be involved. This is a personal matter, a family matter, and I can be of great use in finding him. I know her patterns and what she will need.”

“Very well,” Anders nodded. “Is there anything we should be looking for, then?”

“If she is here in the capitol, as we believe she is,” said the other. “Then she will need live food. Since she is unused to feeding on lesser animals, I would suggest you look for places where your citizens have gone missing.”

Hearing this made Courtney shudder. She’d read about it before, the taste the devils had for human flesh, but to hear one say it…

“I’ll get my people on it,” Anders said, standing. “Please return to where you are staying, and we’ll send someone to get you as soon as we have something worth looking into.”

“Of course,” the devil stood and shook Ander’s hand lightly, then gave Courtney a smile that made that tingly feeling return for the briefest of moments before he left.

“Bloody devils,” Anders said, dropping back down into his padded leather chair and shaking his head.

“Sir,” Courtney said formally. “I need to apologize…”

But Anders waved her attempt at apology away with his hand. “It’s not your fault, Courtney. Devils of the royal line have an aura around them that makes everyone fear them. If anything, it’s my fault, I should have had you warned and given a protective weave before you met Stratios.”

“Is that what this is?” She said, looking at the small gem that was still in her hand.

“Yes. I’ve had them distributed among the staff, to make sure he doesn’t attempt to influence them while he’s here. You just arrived, so you were unprepared. Obviously this is your first time meeting one.”

Courtney indicated that it was.

“Well, I don’t think I need to tell you to keep that gem close on you at all times. You cannot, and must not trust him, as every second word that comes from his mouth is certainly a lie. Stratios might not look like much, but he’s extremely dangerous.”

That thought made Courtney pause. “If he doesn’t look like much, what does a dangerous devil look like?”

“May you never know,” Anders commented, ringing a bell on his desk to summon his assistants. “Now, let’s get to work finding his sibling.”


“Here he is.”

Courtney looked up to see the carriage pull to a halt and Stratios step down from it, ignoring the brief fluttering in her heart the moment she saw him. When the prince joined them, he grinned and looked to each of them in turn.

“A fine day for a hunt. Have you found her?”

Anders shook his head, gesturing at the cluster of broken down buildings in front of them. “Not yet. A local gang has been rounding up street dwellers with offers of good pay and easy hours. None of these people has been seen again.”

“Ah yes, good.” Stratios rubbed his hands together gleefully. “It sounds like we should be speaking with these miscreants. Thank you for inviting me.”

With that, Anders led the two of them across the street and into the slums.

The narrow streets of the slums were dark, even in the late morning, the sky blocked out by the lines of hanging clothes above them. The stones they walked on were broken and uneven, and to either side tired, sallow eyes watched them from broken windows and makeshift wooden stoops. There was a deep feeling of despair and hopelessness here, one which couldn’t help but tug at Courtney’s heart.

“Never been down here before,” she said. “It’s awful.”

“Yes,” agreed the devil. “I can’t help but wonder why your government hasn’t helped these people.”

This caught Courtney off guard, and she glanced at Stratios. “You don’t have slums in your country?”

He shook his head. “None. Every citizen is fed and housed. It is only proper, since they work so hard, that we should reward them.”

Courtney started to nod in approval, but then caught herself, remembering Anders’ warning. She didn’t know much of the Devil Kingdoms in the South, but had always imagined they were horrible places to live. Millenia ago, when the devils had comes to this world, they’d tried to conquer it, and there had been a great war. The Empire she served was formed in the aftermath of the alliance of human kingdoms that had been forced to work together to defeat the devils and banish them from this plane of existence. Of course, a few had remained, and they’d set themselves up as the rulers of some of the more southern lands.

After the war, the human alliance was too tired and fractured to drive the last of these devils out, and so the devils had taken root in those southern lands and built up new kingdoms which existed in an uneasy state of peace with the Empire. Most of the time, the devil rulers fought amongst themselves, so they were usually too busy to be much of a concern, but every now and then a single King or Queen would gain dominance over the others, and then trouble would start. It was like that now, Stratios’ father ruled a coalition that had begun to push on the imperial borders and created tensions between the two powers.

Tensions that this situation could escalate.

Anders brought them to a halt at the mouth of an alley, and turning they saw the short, trash strewn lane ended in a brick wall with a single door in it. Around the door was arrayed a group of tough looking young men playing dice.

“Friendly or unfriendly, sir?” Courtney asked.

“Let’s try friendly first,” Anders said, and the three of them stepped into the alleyway.

Seeing their approach, the young men stopped their games and arrayed out across the road. Courtney noted knives and other weapons being brought to the ready, and did a quick check for magical energies to make sure there was nothing of concern. A few among these toughs did have items that glowed a soft yellow or light orange, but none of the stronger colours that could give them trouble.

“Nothing to be concerned about, sir.” She whispered to Anders.

He nodded. “Still, keep up your guard.”


The two groups met.

The apparent leader of the toughs didn’t show any intimidation at the sight of the three of them, which was impressive enough in the face of two people wearing Imperial Security uniforms, but when they had the imposing figure of Stratios with them, it bordered on insanity.

“Yeah?” Said the tattooed young man, his face a mask of lines in the form of a wolf, a popular look among the street thugs.

“We’re here to see your leader,” Anders said directly. “We just want to talk.”

The tough eyed them, then barked a command to one of the others that sent him rushing through the door at the alley’s end. Meanwhile the rest of them stood there like a wall, trying to look as imposing as they could.

A few years ago, Courtney might have been intimidated by them, but now they just looked like kids to her. The things she’d seen during her training to join the service and subsequent time in the Eidolon Corps had shown her how hollow this show of bravado really was. It also didn’t hurt that she was only a thought away from summoning up a mystical suit of armour which made her a match for battle trolls and giants.

After a candlemark, the door opened and the messenger rushed out. His whisper into the lead tough’s ear made the tattooed man nod and look at them with a slight sneer on his lips. “We’ve been told to treat you nice. Follow me.”

The crowd parted, and the three let themselves be led into the building by the tattooed man. Courtney stayed vigilant, ever aware that the narrow halls they now walked could easily turn into a site for an ambush. Her job was to protect Anders, and their guest, although she doubted Stratios needed much in the way of protecting.

The dirty corridor emptied out into a larger hall, which was some kind of recreation room from the look of it. It was a cluttered mess, and stank of sweat and human desperation. On the far side, past a few tables and ratty couches, a thin faced man wearing a white turban and colourful robes sat at a desk. One of the desert dwellers from the Sand Sea to the West, he was surprisingly clean and well dressed compared with his surroundings and associates.

The associates in question being the half dozen enforcer types who were standing strategically around the room. Unlike the kids outside, these were big men, and they had the wary eyes of old soldiers of the street. Courtney knew before she checked that they all had artifacts or other items that glowed bright orange and red for the strong magical energies flowing through them. These men were equipped to fight, and knew their business.

Their guide led the trio into the middle of the room- the worst spot to be if trouble happened.

“Greetings,” said the turbaned man, standing as a show of respect and bowing slightly. “I am Navrang Krul, the manager of this business. How may I help you?”

“Good morning, Honored Krul,” said Anders, “I am Colonel Anders, and we have come to talk with you about the hiring you have been doing recently.”

“Oh yes?” Said the man, who seemed impressed by Anders’ respectful use of the form of address that the Sand Sea dwellers used. “How may I help you, Colonel?”

“Yes, we’ve heard that you’ve been busy hiring local people for a special job, is this true?”

Krul nodded. “It is. We have a large contract to help build a dam in Korvar Province, and we need all the help we can get.” Then he smiled. “If there is some concern over taxes, I’m sure we can come to an agreement. I assure you our paperwork is all very much in order.”

“It is,” Anders agreed, looking around casually in a way Courtney had seem him do before when he was playing with his opponents. “I’ve seen it. However, I did a little checking and learned you don’t have contracts with any of the caravan companies. Why is that? You’re hiring quite a few people, how are they getting to their work sites?”

The smile faded from the other man’s face, and Courtney saw concern flash through his eyes. “Well, we don’t use the caravans. We have our own means of transportation for them.”

“Oh, is that so?” Anders said politely. “Then, where are your stables? I don’t imagine you make these workers walk to Korvar Province?”

“Not at all,” said Krul. “We rent horses from a reputable dealer in the Merchant’s Quarter. I can give you his name if you wish to pay him a visit?”

“Someone unregistered?” Anders asked, his voice showing false surprise that such an esteemed businessman would associate with such types.

“No. No.” Krul waved a hand. “I can assure you they are registered, just that they do a little extra side business when they can. Not every caravan needs so many horses, and we use their extras when they are not needed, for a modest fee.”

“Ah. Sounds like a good business arrangement.” Anders said. “We’ll be sure to pay them a visit.”

Krul nodded. “I am sorry if my clerk’s small omission caused you all to come down here. I am sure you are most busy.” He said, finally sitting back down. “If there is anything else?”

“No… I think…” Anders began, and then paused and said. “Oh wait, there was one more thing that troubled me.”

Krul cocked his head. “And what is that, esteemed sir?”

“Korvar Province is in its rainy season right now, you can’t build a dam there during this time, the ground is too soft and wet. So why do you send so many people there each week? It seems like they’d just be sitting around, eating up your profits.”

Krul’s tanned face turned the colour of milk tea- with extra milk. “Well, ah… That is…” He stammered. “We do not…”

“Do not what? Actually send people there? We know.” Anders said flatly. “What we want to know is where you are really sending them. And, why none of them return.”

Seeing Krul’s expression harden, Courtney tensed and made ready to summon her armour. This was the moment- Krul would either crack or he would go on the offencive and they’d have a fight on their hands.

Then Krul did neither.

He stood again, sighed, and made ready to speak, but what came out his mouth a second later was a mournful tortured scream of agony and his eyes rolled back into his head. Then a green glowing hand thrust out of his open mouth, followed by another as each hand grabbed the sides of his mouth and pulled it apart inhumanly far. Then, from the tortured orifice a green glowing head suddenly appeared, it’s wet face a ghastly twisted grin with no eyes or nose. Only huge, sharp teeth that clashed together like a shark’s jaws.

As Courtney watched in horror, the rest of the creature’s body emerged from Krul as well, like a spider shedding its skin to emerge new and whole to let Krul’s body drop at its feet. Scuttling up onto the desk, it hunched there on all four limbs, hissing at them. The sight of it sending the former bodyguards screaming from the room and leaving the three of them alone with it.

“What… Is it?” Courtney gasped.

It was Stratios’ rough voice answered from behind her. “A Keeper Demon. It was this human’s minder.”

Anders grunted in agreement. “He was getting ready to tell us what we wanted to know. His employer put this in him to make sure no secrets got out, and that anyone who did force him would also die.”

“Is it dangerous?” Courtney asked, watching it carefully.

“Very.” Anders replied, not taking his own eyes off the thing and slowly reaching into his coat where he kept his collection of charms and talismans. “Stratios, I don’t suppose you can lend a hand here?”

“No.” Said the devil in a tone which indicated that it was a matter of preference rather than ability.

Anders sighed. “Fine. When it starts to move, armour up and try to avoid its claws. They’re ethereal, and will pass through everything but flesh- don’t count on your armour. Protect Stratios as best you can.”

“What about you?”

She saw a slight grin appear on his face. “Let it try.”

“But my job…” She started to say, and then there was a flash of movement and the keeper was gone.

Instinctively, she armoured up, which was just as well, as it was only her enhanced speed and senses that let her know the thing had appeared out of the air to her left and let her dodge the skeletal claw that would have taken her head off.

Jumping back, she threw a kick at the thing only to have it vanish before her leg was even close. The suddenly lack of a target throwing her slightly off-balance and making her tumble backwards into Stratios.

She felt the robed figure give her a gentle push, and at first she thought he was steadying her, but then a paralysing cold shot through her body as something struck her from behind.

The last thing she could do before she blacked out was scream.


Courtney awoke with a startled gasp, clutching her chest. It felt like there was a cold void there, like her guts were pure ice.

Then she looked around- she was on the gravel of a rooftop?

She was no longer in her armour, just her uniform. The hot mid-day sun beating down on her from above.

How had she gotten here? Where was Anders? Where was Stratios?

She started to rise and then regretted it. Her limbs felt like putty, her whole body was shaking and coated with sweat. She stayed where she was.

What had happened? She remembered falling back into Stratios, and then he’d… attacked her? She wasn’t sure.

Then there was a loud bang as a trapdoor set into the roof near her suddenly sprang open and slammed onto the roof. She tried to move, but she was too scrambled and couldn’t focus. She could only sit there and watch as…

Anders came up the ladder into view. His tied-back brown hair and hazel eyes peeking above the lip- eyes that watched her in concern as he rose into view. As usual, he looked none the worse for wear, and in fact might have been coming from a formal dinner for all he appeared.

“You okay?” He asked.

“I… I’m not sure.” She said. “W-what happened? The Keeper?”

“Gone,” Anders said. “I dispelled it after it attacked you.”

“It attacked me? But Stratios?”

Anders shook his head. “It appeared between you two and used its claws on you.” The senior agent tapped his chest- “Right through you.”

“How… am I alive?”

Anders pointed up. “Your armour absorbed most of the attack, and we did what we could. Stratios was unsurprisingly knowledgeable about this kind of attack, and had me rush you up into the sun. He said the heat would help your recovery. I had to leave you while I found the vagrants they’d been rounding up.”

That got Courtney’s attention. “They’re here? Alive?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Anders frowned. “There are a few dozen here, not the whole number who have vanished. They are in a spell-induced trance in the basement.”

Courtney started to get up again, “I’ll summon help.”

But Anders put a hand on her shoulder to keep her from moving. “No, we’re going to leave them. Just wait until you’ve recovered, and then we’ll pull out.”


“Are you sure this will work?” Courtney said, sipping hot ginger tea to try to rid herself of the lingering chill she felt.

Anders shrugged. “It should.” Then he reached over and grabbed a bun from the bread basket between them. They were in a small cafe off one of Volksgrad’s main thoroughfares- a place which Anders frequented because he knew the owner. “Be patient.”

“I will try,” Courtney said, glancing at the small scrying mirror which sat between them on the table in its soft leather case. “Can I say I’m not comfortable with this?”

“Using those vagrants as bait?”


“It’s necessary,” he said as he buttered the bun. “We need to find out where they’re being sent, and the best way to do that is to let the gang make delivery.”

“What makes you think they’ll deliver them? They’d all run away, and we left those men helpless in the basement.”

Anders shook his head, “They don’t know that we know about the men. They think we were there for Krul, and left after we got him. When no city militia show up to surround the place they’ll move back in fast enough. Those men are worth money, and greed triumphs good sense every time.”

“What if they’re hurt? Before we can arrive?”

“Who? The vagrants?” He considered a moment, and then bit into his bun. “It’s a possibility.” He said, chewing. “If so, they’ll prevent others from suffering the same fate.”

“But, they’re people.”

“People who were going to die preventing a lot of others from doing so.”

Courtney crossed her arms and looked away, pulling the blanket over her shoulders closer. “There should be another way.”

“There are,” Anders admitted. “But none are as efficient. If it makes you feel any better, the devils only eat live food. If they’re being brought in to satisfy some appetites, then they’ll be kept alive until the last possible minute. We should have time to reach them before that happens. Perhaps saving a few more.”

“Thank you for that reassurance,” she said, sarcasm in her voice.

There was a long pause, and then he said. “Courtney, look at me.”

When she didn’t, he repeated it again, and finally she did, finding his hazel eyes fixed on her.

“This is our job,” he said in a voice that made it clear she was to listen quietly. “We make trades and we make compromises to serve the greater good. We belong to a system, and that system needs to be maintained. If the cost is to sacrifice some so that more may live, we do it. That’s the nature of government, the sacrifice of the few for the good of the many. The Empire is what keeps people from killing each other, it’s brought a peace that our people haven’t known in centuries. We’re the guardians of that peace, and while what we do might not be pretty, it is necessary. If its not something you’re comfortable with, then you’re always welcome to transfer out.”

She wanted to turn away, but knew he would only interpret that as weakness, so she met his gaze and nodded. “I understand.”

“I felt the same way as you when I first started this job,” he continued. “It took a long time to get used to the idea that I was playing with people’s lives every time I made a decision. At first, I hated it, but I told myself it was what I signed up for, and over time I got used to it. You will too.”

She nodded slowly. “I just wonder.”

“About what?”

“What makes us any different from devils if we treat human lives so casually?”

The scrying mirror on the table let out a chirping noise, and they both looked at it.

Then Anders looked up at her.

“Let’s go find out,” he said.


The guard crumpled to the ground, felled by the force of Courtney’s blow.

Double checking to see that the other guards were also still unconscious, and that there weren’t any other surprises waiting, Courtney went into the guardhouse and pulled the lever to open the front gates. As she walked out, she saw Anders and Stratios come through.

“Are they?” Anders asked glancing at the guards.

“They’ll just be out for an hour or so,” Courtney said.

Anders nodded, “Good, in case this is a mistake, the last thing we need is some noble complaining about how we manhandled their staff.”

“This is a waste of time,” Stratios said. “You should have allowed me to enter by myself. I could’ve taking care of all of this easily.”

Anders shook his head, “I already told you, we are coming with you. We’re already going in before our backup arrives, that’s bad enough. This may also be a trap, and we can’t allow anything to happen to you.”

The devil made no reply, but merely began moving along the path toward the large distant manor house. Courtney looked at Anders, who shrugged, and then the two of them began to follow the devil.

Anders’ tracking spirits had led them to this place, the very private estate of a very rich noble family. Not that this was much of a surprise, as whoever was behind this operation would require money and resources. Also, a devil princess would only choose to work with someone they perceived as having equal status, or equal ambition, which was a common characteristic among the noble families of the Empire.

“Why do you think they did it?” Courtney asked. “They must’ve known that they be caught.”

Anders shook his head. “Likely the Princess promise them something. Wealth, power, immortality, or some other thing that she knew they’d find irresistible.”

“But they…” Courtney started, and then stop speaking when she saw Anders raise his hand.

Her commander then looked at her, and pointed to a nearby ancient tree. “Armour up. Scale that tree, and use your mage sight to scan the area.”

“How far out?”

“As far as it takes.”

Not needing any further prompting, Courtney did as he told her to. In a flash, she’d scaled the ancient tree, using her suit’s enhanced strength and agility to get her to the top in moments. Once there, she began to peer around, using her suit’s magical senses. In this way, she saw the world as flows of magical energy, with the essence of every living thing in the world itself flowing around her.

With this method, it didn’t take her long to see why Anders had sent her up.

She leaped from the top of the tree and landed on the road with a soft thump. Then, she returned to Anders. “Someone is performing a large-scale ritual to the west of us,” she said. “It’s drawing in all the mana from the area.”

Anders nodded. “I could feel the flows going in that direction. And, it appears our guest did to.” And he gestured ahead of them at Stratios, who had stopped and was now turned to face in the direction that Courtney had seen the ritual.

Cutting across a path through the forest, the three of them soon came to a large open field normally used for sports and equestrian events. The moment they cleared the tree line, Courtney came to an abrupt halt.

She stared out at the scene before her, unable to quite comprehend what she was seeing.

The open field was carpeted in bodies. Thousands of them. They were laid out in neat rows that seemed to stretch on in all directions as far as she could see. It was like a huge crowd had suddenly all collectively laid down to take a nap.

The exception was the centre of the field, where a huge magical circle glowed white and amber in a brilliant rotating display of light that danced around in a series of images of various magical runic symbols. And, at the centre of that casting circle, a single tall horned and armoured figure was waving her hands and chanting loudly, manipulating unseen magical forces.

“What is he doing?” Courtney asked, finally finding her voice. “Is she, eating them?”

But, by the time she’d finish the words, Anders and Stratios were already both rushing across the field toward the casting circle, and she was forced to start running after them.

“We have to stop her!” Anders yelled.

“Why? What is she trying to cast?”

“This isn’t a casting circle! This is a summoning circle! These people are being used as part of a powerful summoning ritual. We need to stop her from finishing it!”

Then, as Anders finished saying the words, there was a mighty cry in an alien language from the centre of the field, and the circle within it. The summoning circle pulsed, sending a pulse of orange energy out across the field.

“Armour up and get behind me!” Anders shouted as they came to a halt and he pulled out a paper talisman from inside his coat. As he brought it up, the paper stiffened and glowing magical symbols flared to life all across the long yellow strip, then he held it up in front of him as though he were trying to show it to an invisible person before him.

When the energy wave hit them, it bent around Anders and Courtney. They, and the bodies next to them, were in a small safe zone that he had created.

Courtney looked ahead, at Stratios, who was outside and or safety zone. He too had stopped, and was holding one of his hands in front of himself to bend the flow of energy away from him.

Then, as quickly as it had started, the energy wave passed. It left all the field was once again in darkness, except for the now dimmed light show of the summoning circle at its centre.

“What just happened?”

Anders lowered the talisman, and then said grimly, “She finished the spell.”

Courtney was about to ask what kind of spell, when she heard the first of the screams as all at once, the legion of bodies around them cried out in tortured agony. Whatever the spell was, they were about to find out.


All around them, the legion of bodies screamed and writhed in tortured agony. It was the most terrifying and soul wrenching noise Courtney had ever heard in her entire life and it left her reeling in confusion. It wasn’t until she felt Anders grabbed her arm, and looked at him that she found her focus.

“We have to go!” He said, pointing toward the summoning circle in the middle. “The possession process has just started, it will take time to finish.”

“What’s it doing to them?” She said as they started to move again.

“They are being possessed by war demons.” He answered, “It’s even worse than I thought. She’s using them as vessels to raise an army. When they are fully possessed, she will have over a thousand demon-possessed warriors under her control.”

Courtney, who had already faced berserker demons in combat several times in her short career, shuddered. Fuelled by the power of magic, such creatures had inhuman strength and stamina, and were filled with a rage to kill and destroy that few could imagine. It was almost impossible to take them out without killing them, and because they felt no pain that took quite a bit of effort. Even subduing a small group of these things was difficult, and there were untold numbers of them around her on the field being born.

With this in mind, she used her armour’s speed to pull ahead of Anders and Stratios, making a direct line for the summoning circle.

She intended to go right through it and hit the summoner as hard as she could. With her strength and power, she was capable of going through buildings and even some castle walls with relative ease if she had enough momentum. And now, with this open field. She had lots of room to build up the speed it required. As a result, when she hit the summoning circle she was going easily fast enough to tear through a thick stone wall.

Which is what made it even more shocking, when instead of going through the summoning circle she merely bounced off the edge of it as though she’d hit a giant piece of rubber. Spinning out of control, she was sent tumbling back into the field to land among the screaming bodies.

By the time she regained her senses, Stratios and Anders had caught up and were standing next to the summoning circle.

“Stop it now sister!” Stratios called out, “our father has forbidden this.”

But inside, a demonic figure who looked very much like Stratios himself only laughed.

“Our father is weak,” Laeeq cried out. “He would accept peace with the humans. But there can be no peace between us, for we were born to rule.”

“I agree sister,” Stratios said, surprising his to human companions. “But now is not the time, and this is not the way. Come with me, and we will return. Your vigour will be rewarded, and you will not be punished.”

But at this, the rogue princess only laughed. “Do you take me to be a fool? You will return with my head to present to our father, and he will reward you as crown prince for it. I would rather return with an army to show him my true power.”

While this exchange continued, Courtney joined Anders. She was still a bit stunned from the impact, but had regained most of her senses.

As she approached, he leaned in and whispered, “I want you to try again. Can you do it?”

Courtney, whose insides were still rattling from the last attempt, stared at him blankly. “But, that shield is too strong.”

“No,” Anders whispered. “There will be a chance. Get in position on the far side of the field, and wait for my signal.”

“What signal?”

“You’ll know it when you see it. Go.”

Without further question, Courtney turned and took off. Moving at high speed away from the magic circle as though she were fleeing, and then when she got to the edge of the field turning and beginning to circle around so that she was on the opposite side from where Anders and Stratios faced off with the rogue demoness.

Once there, she put her hands on her knees and gasped in mouthfuls of the cool night air. In the middle of the field, she could still see the three of them arguing on the other side. Then, she saw Stratios raise his hands and powerful energies fly from them to attack the summoning circle’s shield. At the same time, she saw a blue flash as Anders launched another type of attack spell, but neither of their efforts could penetrate the powerful summoning circle’s defences.

Despite this, she knew that what she was looking at was her signal. So, sucking in a deep breath, she began her dash back across the field towards the summoning circle.

As she did this, she saw that the bodies were beginning to rise up. Their human features were now changing into something twisted and demonic, and their bodies were becoming bigger and hunched over- their hands becoming claws with long sharp talons for fingers. A few of them noticed her, and suddenly there was a wall of these creatures before her, talons reaching for her.

But Courtney had a job to do, and so with her shoulder ahead of her, she relied on her Armour’s strengths and defences to ward off the attacks of the creatures as she plunged into them. The creatures were sent flying and scattering before her as she moved through the field at an ever-increasing rate.

Finally, the seemingly endless army of creatures before her parted, and she was looking once more at the lights of the summoning circle. It’s amber energies were flaring on the side across from her as it weathered the onslaught of her superior and the power of a demon prince.

Making a silent prayer, she raised a fist and charge into the summoning shield, hitting it with everything she had.

Much as Anders had obviously expected, the shield, which was occupied by the attack on the other side, was weaker now on this side. And, as an end result, Courtney found herself passing through the barrier with only some small resistance. Then, she was inside, having lost only a little bit of her momentum, and before her was the rogue princess, who was still facing the other direction.

She must’ve heard the sound Courtney’s attack made, or perhaps she sensed her, and the demoness began to turn, but it was already far too late. Courtney slammed into her, and the power of armoured body and momentum carried them both into the defencive wall of the summoning circle before them. Crushed between her, and the barrier, the demon princess let out a pitiful cry and there was a loud cracking sound as several of her bones were rendered down into powder.

Of course, Courtney also felt some of the impact, despite her Armour’s attempts to protect her. So, both she and the princess fell back into the circle, stunned. It took the young agent several moments before she regained her wits, and could hear the distant sounding voices of Anders and Stratios calling to her. Then she was awake, struggling to her feet, looking around.

The rogue princess’ body lay nearby, broken and unmoving, but the barrier was still up and very much active. It was like she was now trapped inside a giant glowing glass jar, one with no exit and which she had no idea how to get out of. Meanwhile, outside she could see that Anders and Stratios were fighting desperately against a tide of demon possessed war spirits that were surging up against the circle.

Courtney shook her head, trying to clear it, and trying to think of something she could do to help them.

Despite Stratios’ power, there was no way they could survive this attack. And, while she had stopped the rogue demoness, she was trapped inside the circle, and knew nothing about weaving spells or controlling magical circles.

Looking around desperately, she stared at all the magical symbols carved into the ground around her. Should she try to destroy them? But, if she did, what would that do? Would that just get her killed as well, and destroy any chance they had of taking control or stopping this mob?

But, if she didn’t, Anders would die, and she would have failed in her duty…

That wasn’t going to happen.

Deciding she had little choice. She picked a symbol at random and slammed her mailed fist right into it as hard as she could.

The moment her fist impacted, there was a bright light that blinded her, and a loud popping sound.

Then, the tinkling sound that the magical barrier made became a angry buzz as the weave began to lose its stability and break down.

As this happened, Stratios suddenly lurched through the barrier to join her inside the circle, followed by Anders.

“Out of the way!” Screamed to the demon prince, and he rushed into the middle of the circle, his hands waving in a complex series.

Courtney moved quickly to Anders, who was none the worse for wear in his torn coat and uniform with his face and one arm covered in blood. “Sir, are you?”

“I’m… Okay.” Anders said and looked from her to where Stratios was frantically creating a new weave. “He’s trying to stabilize the circle, and get it back under control.”

“But sir,” Courtney whispered, “Won’t that put it under his control?”

“Yes,” he said, giving a concerned glance in the direction of the devil prince. “We’ll just have to wait and see what he does.”

All around them, the demon warriors were pounding on the shield, their fists reverberating off the barrier in a rhythmic beat. And then, suddenly, the noise was gone, and there was only the tinkling sound of the barrier itself.

Looking out, Courtney could see the demon-possessed warriors were standing stock-still, waiting for orders.

“Dispel the spirits within them,” Anders said, coughing up dark fluid.

Stratios, who now stood royally over the fallen body of his sister, turned and gave the two humans an amused smile. “I now have an army to do as I will, why would I release such power?”

Courtney felt her insides go cold again, they’d only barely stopped one devil, and now another had taken its place. She tensed, getting ready to attack when Anders gave the order. She wasn’t sure if she could beat him, but she had no choice but to try.

“I have your brand.” Anders said, locking eyes with Stratios.

Courtney saw the devil’s eyes go wide. “You lie.”

Anders met his gaze levelly. “Your father sent it in the letter you brought. I have it, and I will use it, unless you shut this whole thing down. Now.”

Stratios and Anders faced each other for a time, and then finally the devil looked away and began a series of gestures to weave orders into the circle.

“I was just musing, of course.” Said Stratios as he worked. “You humans are far too serious.”

“Of course,” said Anders, flatly.

A few moments later, Courtney saw the demon-possessed people around them begin to collapse and could see their features slowly start to revert to normal. Then the circle also began to shut down, and as the last of the glowing symbols faded from view, they were standing alone in a darkened field.

“Thank you,” Anders said, and then pointed at the fallen body of Laeeq. “Now take her, and get out of my city.”


Their backup arrived shortly afterwards, every member of the Eidolon Corps in the area, and a whole unit of city militia. Anders set them to work sorting the details out, and then let Courtney drag him off toward a healer’s tent.

As she took him there, she asked, “What did you mean when you said you had his brand?”

This brought a weak smile to Anders’ tired face. “Devil kings all brand their children with a magical tattoo that lets them control their magic. They do it to prevent rebellion.”

Courtney nodded, with children like this, she could see why. “And you have his brand?”

“Well, I said I did.” He smiled. “It was something his father might do, especially if he thought Stratios might get out of control.”

“They don’t trust each other at all, do they? The Devils.” Courtney mused.

“No. That’s what separates them from us. Even when I sent you in, I knew there was a chance you’d end up trapped inside the barrier.”

“But you trusted me to find a way to get you in.” Courtney looked at him, feeling touched.

He shrugged. “I trusted you not to let me die easy.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome,” he said as they reached the waiting healers. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to rest. A lot.”

After he’d gone inside, Courtney turned and looked across the field at the chaotic scene. They’d saved a lot of lives, and risked their own, it was a good day’s work.

Suddenly she was proud to have this job again, and glad she could be part of something so important. And glad most of all that she had the trust of the people she worked with.

After all, without trust, what was there?


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The Scribe (Part 3)

Shocked, Courtney tried to run around the counter, but by the time she’d gotten around it Anders had already thrown the old bookseller to the ground.

Whipping out a small strip of paper from his pockets, Anders slapped it on the struggling man’s forehead, at which point the struggling seller suddenly went limp like a broken puppet. “Here,” Anders said, thrusting the book the man had been carrying into Courtney’s hands, then he whipped out a scrying mirror.

Courtney looked at the book, “A Study of the Grey Fawn-Mouse” it was called, but a quick check with mage-sight revealed nothing unusual about it, it was a normal book, with the only exceptional thing about it being a rather nice rendering of a fawn-mouse on its grass green cover.

Moments later, Vulfang and Jorah slipped inside the front curtain.

“Check upstairs, watch for traps.” Anders ordered, and the two men rushed past and up the spiral staircase at the back.

“Sir, this book..?” Said Courtney, now somewhat confused.

Anders, who was now rooting around through the seller’s pockets, didn’t bother to look up, but began to explain. “Courtney, what color are the books in the front window?”

This caught the young woman by surprise, she hadn’t really thought about it. “I don’t know”, she admitted. “Should I go look?”

She caught Anders rolling his eyes and decided to stay where she was.

“Brown,” Anders told her. “Most decidedly brown. All of them.”


Finishing with the seller and not finding anything, Anders shifted his attention to the rear of the counter. “Why place a bright green book among a collection of brown ones in a front window?”

That’s when it hit her.

“A signal, he was sending a signal.”

Anders nodded. “Somewhat late, but at least you finally arrived at the proper conclusion. Didn’t you notice how his manner changed when I mentioned the scribe? He clearly wanted us gone, and there had to be a reason for it.”

Finishing his search without finding anything, Anders stood up. “No scrying mirrors, or other means of signaling. So you’re holding the one we want.”

Courtney looked down at the book again, impressed. She never would have thought of that.

“Anders, upstairs!” Jorah called down.

“Cover the door, but don’t let them see you do it.” Anders ordered, gesturing at the wooden boards that lay next to the entrance.

When she’d done as he ordered, Courtney checked the bookseller to be sure he was still out. A large black and purple blotch was starting to form on his temple where he’d hit his head when Anders had thrown him down, but the sleep talisman Anders had used was firmly stuck to his forehead. He wouldn’t awaken until someone removed it.

Then Courtney slipped up the narrow stairs and into the upper level. The place was a messier version of the store below, with cushions for sitting and clothes strewn about. She followed the sounds of her comrade’s voices into another room, and through a hole which had been knocked in a side-wall. Next to the hole, a hanging carpet lay crumpled on the floor- the hole’s former covering.

Inside what Courtney took to be the abandoned building next door, she found her comrades standing around the edges of a large, empty room. The only illumination was from a half-covered rear window, but it revealed nothing but an empty room, the middle of which Anders and the others were peering at carefully.

She was almost going to ask why, but suddenly she stopped herself and did the obvious thing- she switched to mage-sight.

The moment she did, it literally all became clear.

The room which looked so darkened and dusty under normal sight was actually ablaze with lines of yellow and orange magic everywhere. The majority of it was concentrated around a circle in the middle of the room about the diameter of a wagon wheel, which was what Anders and the others were examining. Moving closer, Courtney could see the very tight weaves of the circle’s structure, and recognized the sharp angles of Hathiri style weaves.

“A casting circle for a mind control spell.” Jorah said, before she could ask for confirmation. “This is where they did Biddleton.”

Anders nodded. “Vulfang, take Courtney up on the roof and do a survey of the marketplace. Find out who was supposed to catch that signal. Jorah, I need to know how many times this thing has been used. Can you do that?”

“I can try,” said the gentleman, slipping down into a crosslegged position next to the casting circle.

Vulfang clapped Courtney on the shoulder. “Let’s go, kid.”

Following the large man up a ladder at the back of the building, the two agents crept low across the roof, before they reached the edge, Vulfang stopped her. He pulled a hood up to hide his broad, shaved head that we gleaming in the midday sun, and motioned for her to do the same.

Instead, Courtney shook her head. A moment’s concentration later, she vanished from sight, her Armor of Saltea throwing a stealth weave over her whole body. If she moved there was a visible distortion, but as long as she was still she was effectively invisible.

Now Vulfang was the one to be impressed. “Must be nice.” He said, shaking his head, then the two of them dropped to their elbows and crept forward to the front edge of the building.

“Look for anyone showing a lot of interest in the building,” he told her. “After seeing all of us go in, they should be getting pretty antsy about now.”

Courtney started to indicate she would, then remembered that he couldn’t see her, and just settled down to work. There were a lot of people on the market street, but all seemed to be busy going about their business and showing little interest in anything to do with the bookstore. She started checking the other buildings as well, and while there were many open windows, almost none were occupied.

After a few minutes, Vulfang whispered “Check the bun seller.”

It took her a moment to find him, but sure enough, partway down the street was a bun seller’s stall, and she saw the turbaned head of a skinny man pop out from behind the edge of the stall and look at the store beneath them. As they watched, he casually walked out and past the store, pausing to try to get a look inside the window of the bookshop, and then continued in a look back to his own stall.

“Not very professional, is he?”

Vulfang smiled at her comment. “He’s just a little extra hired help. You keep watch, I’ll report this in.”

A few minutes later, he was creeping back up beside her again.

“You can leap around, right?”

“Yes,” Courtney said. “Like a rabbit.”

“Good. Here’s the plan- Anders is going to put the book in the window, and we’re going to see what he does. If he runs, you follow. If he sneaks off to use a mirror, we grab him.”

It made sense, and Courtney said as much.

So they lay there on the hot roof and waited. This is where her armor had a decidedly large disadvantage, Courtney decided. While the stealth weave was active, her armor was manifest around her in the physical world, but it had no system for cooling, and literally became a wrapper she was stuffed inside. It didn’t physically get hot, but it did keep her from cooling and so she suffered from a real chance of overheating if she exerted herself in the armor or was in a hot environment with it on for too long.

She wanted to pull back and release the armor, giving herself a chance to breath, but it could be needed at any moment, and she didn’t want to look weak in front of Vulfang. So instead she lay there, getting ever more uncomfortable in the midday sun.

Then, just as she was about to retreat and escape from her personal prison because she couldn’t stand it anymore- something happened.

Using mage-sight, she could look through physical barriers and see the pale green and yellow silhouettes of people. Behind the bun-seller stand she watched as he summoned a boy, gave the child something, and then sent the boy running down the street.

“You’re up. Keep in touch.” Vulfang told her, and Courtney pulled back from the edge, stood up, and began running across the rooftops in pursuit of the boy. The buildings that didn’t share a wall had only small alleys between them because of the dense need for space, so it didn’t take much for her to keep up with the boy.

She used mage-sight to track him as he sprinted among the awnings and between the sellers and their stalls until he ducked into a restaurant two blocks away. It also let her follow his progress as he made his way through the crowded tables to finally stop next to a man, give him something, and then leave.

Ignoring the boy now, she crouched on a rooftop across the street and waited.

After a few minutes, the man casually got up and walked to the back of the restaurant and out a rear doorway.

Sighing, Courtney took a look down at the market street below, did a quick estimate, and decided her odds. Then she took a couple steps back, and with a running start threw herself into the air over the street. Thanks to the magical enhancements of her armor, she soared over the sellers and bystanders to land with a hard crunch on the restaurant roof with room to spare.

Not having time to be be impressed with herself, she dashed forward to the back edge of the roof and looked down.

The man was alone in the back alley, and was unrolling a piece of paper on top of a wooden barrel. As she watched, he pulled out something and started to write quickly on the paper, scrawling down a message. The paper shone with a light orange tint, so Courtney wasn’t surprised at all with what happened when the man was done.

He pulled out a knife, cut the tip of his finger and dropped a little blood on the corner of the page. Instantly the paper came to brilliant orange life as the blood activated the spell and the paper was transformed into the shape of a messenger bird about the size and shape of a pigeon.

This was her time to act, and Courtney took it.

Vaulting over the edge, she dropped down from above and grabbed the bird, then, before the man could react to the invisible demon he faced, she backhanded him into the wall, rendering him unconscious in a cloud of yellow alley dirt.

“In you go,” she said to the bird as she grabbed the sack the man had been carrying and stuffed the magical messenger inside.


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The Scribe (Part 2)


“Yes, we’re here assessing possible assassination threats to yourself or others at the conference.”

Earla smiled again. “If you want a list of people who may wish me dead, it will not be a short one. It’s been a long war, and peace isn’t quite as popular as you might think.”

“I would think peace is always welcome,” Anders offered. “Just so long as one benefits from it.”

“Are you looking for those who don’t?”

“I’m a practical man,” Anders agreed. “I find simple motives the most compelling.”

The General frowned, her affected mirth draining away. “That too is a fair list, but I believe I may shorten it quickly enough. I will have my secretary give you a few names before you go.”

“Thank you, it would be appreciated.” Anders replied as Colonel Haman returned with a pair of servants carrying food and drink. “Is there a name I should pay special attention to?”

Earla thought a moment. “Tyla Bonheur is where I would begin.” She offered.

“Then I will start there,” said Anders with a curt nod, and he stood up so fast Courtney had to jump to her feet to keep up with him. “Thank you for your time, General Brightblade.” He placed a hand across his chest and bowed slightly. “I wish you success in your negotiations tomorrow.”

The rebel general mimicked the gesture, wished them well, and then pair made their exit.

Courtney didn’t speak until after they’d retrieved the list from the general’s secretary and left the building. Anders hadn’t said a word, so she thought she too should remain silent. Despite this, she felt as if she was going to burst if she wasn’t able to ask questions, and did so as soon as they were in the private safety of their carriage.

“Do you think she’s involved?” She asked her superior.

“I think everyone’s involved, trainee.” Anders told her with a slight hint of amusement. “Don’t you?”

The younger woman wasn’t sure how to answer this, and hesitated before finally replying- “I think she’s the one we’re after.”

“Why? Let me hear your reasoning.”

“It’s those Orbs of Truth- there’s no way anyone could get close to her without her seeing their intent. She’d also see any delayed spells, so it’d be useless to put ensorcelled people around her unless she already knew about them.”

Anders nodded. “A reasonable assumption. Nothing provable, but reasonable.”

“So what can we do, sir? Put her under surveillance?”

“Even if she is responsible,” Anders said, pulling a small circle of leather from the folds of his longcoat. “She won’t leave any direct connections with whoever is conducting this operation.” Then he undid a small hook and flipped open the leather circle to reveal a tiny scrying mirror the size of an egg.

“Hebris,” he said, using the mirror’s activation codeword. Almost immediately, the bespeckled face of a young male clerk appeared in the mirror.

“Hawkins,” said the clerk.

“Give me a connection to the chief, Hawkins.”

“One moment, please, sir.” Said the man, and in Anders’ mirror Courtney could see the receiving mirror being lined up with another mirror of the same size which had the image of Lord Brigham on it.

“What have you got, Anders?” The Lord asked, when the two mirrors were aligned with each other.

Anders told him what they’d learned so far, including Courtney’s thoughts.

“Spell analysis on the scribe is still ongoing, we’re trying to avoid bringing him in unless we need to, as we don’t want to tip the opposition off.” The lord told them. “I have an appointment with the Minister of the Left in an hour. Black and Ding are currently en-route to Sturm Gallen’s residence. I’m going to have them do the interview with him.”

Anders frowned. “I was going to do that myself, sir. Is there a reason?”

“Jorah and Vulfang have turned up a missing piece of time in the scribe’s itinerary, and I want you to focus on that. It seems a more likely line of investigation.”


The city of Kul-Margat was an ancient trade city which sat on the Western border of the Empire, where the last of the mountains of the South met the vast expanse of the Kahli Desert. Carved, as much as built, from the deep brown stone of a mountain, it was home to thousands, and at any time had thousands more passing through its gates. Trade was the city’s reason for being, and most of its narrow, twisting streets were dedicated to the shops that seemed attached to the first level of every house.

Courtney and Anders met Vulfang and Jorah in an outdoor cafe on one of the lower levels frequented by travelers. Courtney spotted the two men almost immediately, the hulking Vulfang with his scarred face and the more fashionable Jorah with his slicked-back black hair being easy to spot in a tent filled with desert tribesmen. Both were dressed in civilian clothes, as were Courtney and Anders now, their uniforms traded in for pale cloth robes and colorful scarves.

“Yo! Friends!” Vulfang raised a glass of the local brew to them as she and Anders threaded their way through the tables of tea-drinkers. Courtney tried not to look at the other things arrayed on the tables, not wanting to lose her lunch.

“Vulfang. Jorah.” Anders said as they took their seats.

“How’s he treating you, new girl?” Vulfang asked Courtney.

She shrugged. “Well enough.”

Vulfang laughed. “Then you’re getting off luckier than that last recruit…What was his name?”

“Tomkins,” Anders said, clearly not eager to discuss the subject.

But Vulfang ignored him. “Yeah, Tomkins. Anders here had him begging for a transfer after the first week. He must like you.”

“I believe,” Jorah put in. “That it’s because you share a commonality. Like you, Courtney, Anders is an alumni of the Ferring School in the Capitol. Did he tell you that?”

In point of fact, Anders had talked little to Courtney since she’d joined the unit two weeks before, and even today had said almost nothing outside of the topic at hand. She was surprised to find out that he was a Ferring graduate, though. It was a school for the children of high ranking officials, and she’d pegged Anders as a scholar’s son.

“I wasn’t aware.” Courtney said, trying to avoid looking at Anders. “He doesn’t talk much.”

The others laughed. “Enjoy it while you can,” Vulfang finally said. “Once he gets used to you, he won’t shut up!”

“What have you learned?” Anders said, trying to steer the conversation back to the mission at hand. “Anything more about the missing hours?”

Vulfang turned to Jorah, who nodded. “Indeed. We were able to determine from a servant at the governor’s house that he asked directions to a bookstore here on the gate level. It seems someone had told him where he could find a book on medicinal desert flowers, and he went in search of it.”

“Do we know who that someone was?” Anders asked.

Jorah shook his head. “No one knew, but he reappeared several hours later, and it was the next day that he was spotted. He had just come in the day before with the Minister of the Left’s party, so this seems the most likely time.”

“Agreed. We’ll check it out. Let’s go.”

As the four of them left the tent, following Jorah, Courtney leaned in and asked Anders “Sir, what year did you graduate? I don’t remember seeing you there.”

Anders’ jaw tightened. “I didn’t graduate.” He half-growled, keeping his eyes straight ahead.

Courtney decided she’d best do the same, and let the subject lie.


They found the book store wedged in between a flower shop and boarded-up home on a bustling market street- the blue icon of a book barely visible on the sandblasted sign that hung above the front doorway. Courtney and Anders went inside first, with Vulfang and Jorah loitering nearby and pretending interest in a local carpet seller’s wares.

The old bookseller, standing behind a short counter to their right as they entered, smiled at them warmly. “Friends! Welcome to my humble shop.” He said through bad teeth as he looked at them expectantly. “How may I help you?”

The shop was a long and thin room filled to the brim with leather bound books, scrolls and various piles of vellum that filled it with a musty scent that Courtney associated with teacher’s offices and her own father’s study. At the back, a single small staircase twisted up into the dwelling above.

“I was recommended a book by a friend, and told you had a copy.” Anders said casually, giving a brief description of Biddleton the scribe. “He told me I could find a book on medicinal wildflowers here.”

Hearing this, the bookseller frowned. “No. No book on that here.” He said, his face becoming serious. “The man you seek didn’t come here.” He added, and then began to fiddle around behind the counter, agitated.

“Are you sure?” Said Anders, watching him intently.

“Quite sure,” said the seller without looking at them, then he picked up a book from behind the desk and began walking toward the front window to place it with the others on display. “You may look for it here, but you will not find the book you’re looking for.”

Inwardly, Courtney shook her head. This clearly wasn’t going to be much of a lead, and she was about to ask Anders what to do next when suddenly Anders yelled “stop him!” and leapt over the counter.


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The Scribe (Part 1)


by Robyn Paterson

(Fantasy, Espionage, PG)

“He was tagged by one of the guards on his way into the castle.”

Anders nodded, looking down at the image of the man on the scrying mirror. The man in question was just entering his twenties, mouse brown hair, slight stoop, clothes just a bit sloppy and ill-fitting- typical scribe. He didn’t look like much of a fighter, either, and hardly like an assassin- which was reasonable since he was supposed to be neither of those things.

“Do we know what he’s been infected with?” Anders asked, not taking his eyes off the man, who was simply sitting at a desk arranging papers.

“We got Kulhaven to do an analysis,” Lord Brigham answered. “He’s been hit with a Class 4 delayed action Mind Control spell- Hathiri in origin. We’ve got intelligence running it down, but I expect it’ll come up as one of the standard types.” Then Anders’s boss, the director of Imperial Intelligence , stroked his long red beard. “Good bit of luck, that. If they’d used one of the more recent spells with a cloaking weave, the guard’s mage sight might not even have caught it.”

“Yes. Good bit of luck.” Anders repeated, sounding more thoughtful than certain. “So, who at the peace conference are we to assume is the target?”

“Kiri?” Lord Brigham looked over at one of the other people who stood around the table in which the scrying mirror was embedded. A striking ebon-haired woman with pale skin and eyes such a bright blue that they glowed with a soft luminescence in the darkened room.

“Tomorrow’s peace conference between the Cutwater Rebels and the Empire will be attended by sixteen delegates- eight from each side, plus their scribes and personal attendants. The most likely targets are the heads of the rebel army, Earla Brightblade and Sturm Gallan, or the Minister of the Left, Lord Rathcombe. The deaths of any of these people would result in the dissolution of the conference, and the continuation of the war.

“It is possible others might be the targets, but since we assume that the goal of the assassination attempt is the continuation of hostilities, they will be the most likely choices. In addition to this, Lucas Biddleton, the scribe in question, is slated to sit to Lord Rathcombe’s left. Killing the Lord from that position will be relatively easy, assuming he’s also got some form of weapon smuggled in with him.”

“The pen will be enough,” Anders commented, tapping the side of his throat. “If he hits the right spot. There will likely be poison in the ink as well, or some sort of enchantment to make sure the job is done properly. Assuming the Lord is the target, and assuming that Biddleton is carrying the weapon and not having it delivered.” Then he looked at his boss. “How are we going to handle this, sir?”

The aging warrior glanced around the table at the eight assembled members of the Imperial Eidolon Corps, “For the time being, we’ve just had Biddleton put under surveillance. Our goal isn’t to stop the assassination, that’s the job of the security detail on the conference. Our goal is to learn who’s behind this and gather enough evidence to make sure they’re dealt with.”

“Understood.” Anders replied, turning to look at his team. “Alright people, listen up. Since time is critical, we’re going to split into four. Vulfang and Jorah, you’re going to do a background check on the scribe. Interview family, friends, neighbors and anyone else you can. Kiri, you and Kulhaven need to continue your covert analysis of that spell someone’s put on him. We need to know what the trigger is, and anything else you can get from it.  Black, you and Ding need to check the rest of the attendees to the best of your ability, also check the rooms where the conference will be taking place. You’re looking for any method by which something could be passed to Biddleton during the conference.”

Then the thirty-something man with the shaggy brown hair looked at the remaining member of his team, a tall, blonde woman with broad shoulders and a steely gaze. “Courtney, you’re with me. Everyone else, keep in touch.”

This got a round of affirmations, and the team went into action as Anders and his partner walked from the table, heading for the nearest door. Anders pulling on a gray longcoat and tanned fingerless gloves as they went.

“Captain, where are we going?” Courtney asked, striding along beside him.

“To interview the attendees.”

“But, you just assigned Black and Ding to deal with them?”

“No, I assigned Black and Ding to check them, not talk with them. That will be our job.”

“Oh. I see.” Courtney nodded. “Who will we begin with, then?”

Anders smiled. “When faced with a choice between two evils, trainee, always pick the one you haven’t tried yet.”


“When we go in,” Anders told his partner while they were waiting. “Note everything.”

Courtney nodded, and at a mental command let the faceplate of the armor she wore slipped over her eyes. As it did, the world suddenly shifted to the view through mage-sight. Now the world was patterns of energy weaving in and around everything, blue and green for inert natural energies, and brighter yellows and oranges and reds for energy which had been twisted and woven into constructs.

Instead of seeing Anders in the black-piped crimson of the Imperial Security service, with his long face and shaggy brown hair, she instead saw a vaguely man-shaped fuzzy yellow blob. His protective magics and anti-scrying spells preventing her senses from penetrating more deeply into his true nature. Similarly, when she looked down at herself she saw the magical Armor of Saltea that she always wore, but which was normally invisible and intangible around her body. A second skin of full armor that existed in astral space and only manifested to aid her or protect her. To anyone else, she too would appear to be wearing the normal security service uniform.

A quick check of the front sitting room of the mansion they were visiting revealed a number of spells for monitoring and listening in, as well as several dormant security traps for the unwary thief. These were all relatively minor weaves, not meant to deal with someone whose magics were stronger than you could find in the marketplace. This was merely a wealthy merchant’s home in a frontier city, after all, not a place of espionage and covert operations. Although with the leader of one of the rebel armies here, she did think it poor that the host hadn’t beefed up security a little.

At last, a servant appeared and gestured them into the audience room, where behind a large antique desk with gold inlays sat the rebel leader, Earla Brightblade. She was older than Courtney expected, with salt and pepper hair and deep lines in her leathery face, but the young woman could also see how Earla may have once been a striking figure. Not that she wasn’t impressive now, with her bright purple silks and blue sash, but what immediately drew Courtney’s eyes were Earla’s own- she didn’t have any.

In place of eyes, Earla Brightblade had two clear glass spheres, and in the middle of each hung a red gem shining like a miniature star. Orbs of Truth, Courtney thought as the General rose to greet them and offered a hand. They were rare, even rarer than the armor Courtney herself wore, and she had only heard of them, never seen a pair. Even though this woman was the enemy, it raised her quite a bit in Courtney’s estimation. To have your eyes ripped out and replaced with these artifacts took a lot of courage, even if they allowed her to see “the truth of the world”- whatever that meant.

“Welcome, friends.” Earla smiled, motioning them to the seats arrayed before the desk. “May I offer you tea? Or fruit? The merchant whose home I stay in specializes in fruits from the Southern jungles, so do feel welcome to ask for whatever you may wish.”

Anders sat, declining the offer. “No. No. Thank you, General Brightblade. We don’t wish to impose on your host’s profits, nor do we plan to take up much of your time.”

“Of course,” the older woman slipped back behind the desk. “But you will not be offended if I partake? I have been working so hard I seem to have missed a meal or two. Haman, could you see to it?”

The tall, gruff looking man in the white clothes of a desert warrior who stood beside the general’s desk nodded. “Of course, General.” Then he marched back out the way the pair had come.

“Colonel Haman of the Slate,” Earla said once they were alone. “My chief of security, and the head of my house guard. I saved his life during the Red Gorge incident, and he has been with me ever since. If you are here to discuss changes in security arrangements for the conference tomorrow, he would know them better than I would.”

“We are, but I think General, that you are the one who can better answer our questions.”


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