The Blight Returns , Chapter 15-16.

Another Bishop gets some visitors. Dan arranges to get himself robbed.

Chapter 15.
The Rectory, Enceshire, Kingdom of Dolman.
Bishop Hamelin was reading a report in his office when he was suddenly not alone. He looked at the pair and said, “What may I do for you, Faer sir and lady?”
“I am Esgalwathanar and this is Lazuli. You are far more polite than the last bishop we visited.”
“Have the fae started to have the habit of visiting minor bishops in the mortal kingdoms?”
“Not a habit, but some of your Brothers work with fae on a regular basis and we felt that we should see what your opinion is on some things and perhaps persuade you to push one of your Brothers in certain directions.”
“If I had to guess, you are talking about Brother Artamo.”
“So you know somewhat.”
“I know that Moonflower is almost certainly royal fae, works almost exclusively with the Brother and that Moonflower’s mother wants me to order the Brother to renounce his vows.”
“I see now,” Lazuli said.
“It doesn’t help that Artamo comes from a village adjacent to a faery kingdom and “going into the woods” is not unknown.”
“Do you know how Artamo passed the test?”
“It may be that the parish Brother never bothered to run a test in the first place. For the most part the people in that village never go away from home and as I said, “going into the woods” is not unknown. Neither is coming out of the woods.”
“Did you come from similar circumstances?”
“I really shouldn’t say, but you will find out in any case. I think that you can guess that I am fae that failed my test, was handed to my foster parents and grew up here in the kingdom. I keep in touch with my family somewhat. I felt it was easier to help those who the Church considered pollution by placing Brothers like Artamo in positions where they would do the right thing. I think that the time is nigh that I have a frank talk with Artamo about what he is and what he should do. There is also the possibility that Artamo may go lost child and not understand what happened.”
“Have you seen the crystal the bishops are showing around?”
“I have not as yet. I think that my sympathies are well known and Bishop Pasco and his cohorts do not want to get into an argument. They want to suppress any views other than their own. I take it that you have seen the crystal?”
“The entire Council of Kings has seen the crystal, as has the Grand Master and your king, together.”
“I imagine that they were not happy. They have developed a commonality of interest and are both determined to stop the killing. By and large they have succeeded and here in the kingdom, other than the king, very few of the Great are as loved as the Grand Master. This campaign to ruin him will not end well, I think.”
Esgalwathanar handed the Bishop a crystal. “Here, this may prove useful. We have been passing these around. This was taken in my home in the Cloud City where the survivors of the massacre are living for the time being. You can see how the Grand Master thinks about this yourself. I doubt that there is anyone angered more about this than he. He does not condone, nor does he accept Mage Zanis Zylvyre’s actions. In fact he has cooperated fully with the Council, the Justiciary and the Marshalls on this. Unfortunately Zanis is still alive and in a place that he cannot easily be retrieved from in the Empire. That does not mean that Zanis and the people he is with are unmolested or that there has not been a price. As of now, Zanis and his brothers are the last remnant of a dissolved House, abandoned even by their own children.”
“What worries me is that the archbishop is determined to return things to the killing time and if he is thwarted, may attempt something to raise the stakes.”
“Such as?”
“He’s using an attack on the fae to create anger and calls for the return to the killing. But the crystal is of a place far away and long ago. But if the attack were in the kingdom and now, he may think that he will get what he wants.”
Palace d’Royal, Dolmas, Kingdom of Dolmon.
Gander stood at the podium as Tom started the crystal and paused it. He looked at the crowd of kings, dukes, other notables and nobles, all prettied up to show their status. Naexi had made sure that he had his share of pretty, full Justiciar’s dress tunic with its many closed case awards and service stripes. There was even a special badge with “Office of Investigations” on it. He looked around and since it was time, he started. “Welcome to my presentation. I am Full Justiciar Gander Dawkins and head of the Office of Investigations in the Empire. I was trained in investigations in the Academy in the Republic and have been in charge of investigating crimes in the Empire for over fifteen years. Before that, I was the sole investigator for ten years. In early Yellowleaf, right after I had been raised to full Justiciar’s status, I was handed a case as a result of a terrible mass murder in the Timberlands on the tenth of Green forty years ago. The crime had been covered up by the actions of House Ravathrya who isolated and placed under compulsion the people living there and took measures to prevent the crime from being discovered. Through a series of accidents, the crime was discovered and I was sent to investigate. In the course of my investigation, I discovered that a crystal had been set and captured the entire crime. I will start that crystal now. Lights.”
The glows dimmed and the crystal started. Gander watched the crowd as the crystal ran its course and the lights came back up. Tom started the second crystal and Gander lifted a pointer. “Mage Zanis entered here and went to the main community building. He was looking for the fae community’s library so that he could use the information that the fae had to unlock the old Imperial mana well at the site. The library had been removed by the community’s lore keeper and handed to someone outside the community for safekeeping. As Mage Zanis was searching for the library he was discovered by the king’s son and daughter in law, who he killed. He was seen leaving and went to the other mages in the old castle and returned with them to remove the witnesses.”
Gander went through the whole thing, death by death until he finished with the woman and her child. Then he went to the floor for questions. King Aestaeros asked, “A mystery to me has been why the crystal was made in the first place. Can you explain?”
“That is actually an important and significant question. The crystal was set because a man outside the community had joined with a lady inside the community and had purchased and placed the crystal to capture their joining dance and the coming celebration. The man and his lady were bringing the man’s mother to the celebration when mage Zanis started the attack.”
“Is the man still living?”
“Yes, but I will say no more. He handed the original crystal to me and it is under seal. This is a copy. The original has been played twice, once by the owner and then by me with chief Justiciar present.”
The next question was, “Why does the Empire have a mortal as a Justiciar?”
Gander smiled. “Let’s save that for later. I want to address the questions about the matter at hand before blowing my own horn.”
That sent laughter around the room and Gander took questions about the location, the events and possible motives. The last question was, “Why was mage Zanis allowed to leave?”
“The reason that I allowed Zanis to use the portal and leave was that the time we knew that Zanis was part of something larger. He freely confessed to his actions, but would not reveal the location of his fellow mages or other missing mages, not even to the Grand Master, who can testify to that. Because Zanis was injured, he had to use the portal at the Sanctum to escape and we had Adiun Beinan set the portal so that an attempt to erase a portal trace would automatically cause a portal reset and trace. Using an unauthorized portal key triggered that and we could use that to discover where the rest of the mages had gone and where the Ravathyra and others were hiding their activities. If that is the last question, I will go back to the question asked earlier. Since my boss is Naexi’s father and she plots with my wife, she can answer the question better than I can.”
Naexi grinned and said, “His wife Allisa insisted. My father has been trying to convince Gander to let himself be raised to Full Justiciar for some time and he has refused. Finally Allisa and I forced it on him. As to why the Empire has him, you can thank Admiral Zylvyre for bringing him over and Allisa for making sure that he stayed.”
The room broke out in laughter and Gander shut things down. At the reception afterwards, King Aestaeros approached with the Grand Master and said, “You handled that very well. You didn’t attempt to pretty it up and you gave people something to think about. I imagine that letting Zanis go was not an easy decision to make.”
“There are related issues that I can’t discuss and no, it wasn’t easy. My instincts were to lock him up and throw the key away and I secretly hoped that he would try something when I was interviewing him so that I could cut him up in tiny little pieces. At the time, though, I and some others were aware that there was something bigger involved than a brutal mass murder. This was not a mage acting on his own in a fit of rage. You can see it in the crystal. There is a coldness to the rampage, as if Zanis was just doing a rather ugly job and if you heard him speak about it, that was exactly the way he treated it. The fae were in the way or put whatever he was doing at risk, so they had to go.”
“Do the related issues have anything to do with those girls being kidnapped?”
“There are some related issues, yes. Considering that there are open cases involved, I can’t mention the details.”
“You are very good at this, Justiciar and I think that having you make the presentation threw some people’s Impression of what a Justiciar is out the window.”
“What, a stiff and demanding high elf throwing writs around like confetti and swiping around with an executioner’s sword at any excuse.”
“You’ve seen the plays.”
“I have seen the plays. I grew up in the Republic. Of course the plays have nothing on reality. You’ve seen Naexi, who should fit the image of what a Justiciar is supposed to be and doesn’t. She tried to play that game on poor Julien on the trip here until he caught her with Tom making nookie under a tree. We had a young lady that one of my cohorts tried to recruit and she thought that we were all crazy until she visited her boyfriend’s House.”
“What happened?”
“I will let Esgalwathanar tell the story, since it was his house where it all happened. He set it all up.”
“That’s Gwynn’s story,” Esgalwathanar said. “It was just coincidence that I arranged for Kulgha Ironaxe and I to have a chat, suggested to Bellflower that Saevel probably stole her clothes and left the pretty dress and told my sister that I was giving the servants the day off the same day that the rest of us were all going to be out of the House. How was I to know that the young lady would run into all of them?”
“Myrden told me that there were other things lined up that Gwynn never saw because Lavidia took her over to Rebecca’s.”
“You two do know that you are destroying my childhood impression of the Empire,” Aestaeros said. “The Empire in Mr. Carran’s books.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Esgalwathanar said. “I worked hard to give my new granddaughter in law a perfect fairy tale introduction to my home, complete with orc.”
“An orc barrister, one of the most well known people in the world. I suppose that you had his partner in crime there as well.”
“Bob Harper? No, not at that time. Gwynn ran into both of them after she left the House and went home. They were looking for her cursed brother with Marshall Tomali and Gander here. Gwynn fed them her magic chicken.”
“Was the chicken magic, Gander?”
“I’m not going to say or my wife will get mad at me until Gwynn gives her the recipe.”
“I think that I must send a message to Lelayme and make a state or better yet, an incognito visit.”
“Kulgha and Bob are still there. Dan Harper went home. Rebecca and Folmon are in the Republic right now and so are Richard and Rosa. On the other hand they will all be back and we will have all sorts of things going on. I’ve heard rumors that the girls want to have another thing in Green and show the Great Ladies how to party on a budget. Since my son is in the boyfriend part of that set, I’m sure that the rumors are fairly solid.”

Chapter 16.
Lylalune, Fellowship of Peoples.
Ilbryen smiled as the ship was loaded. The coaster made a regular trip from here in Lylalune to the two fishing ports in the Retreat and one of Ilbryen’s tasks had been for a long time to ensure that the outside world did not know that the little ship was related in any way to the Retreat or the project. This trip was especially important because of the special cargo, the crossbow bolts that would be used to forward the project. The crates joined the other cargo and the small ship set off to the Retreat.
Lieutenant Lazg watched the little ship leave. He had hoped to have a sub available, but that had not worked out with the timing and in the end, it wasn’t truly important. The ship was well known by intelligence and the lieutenant knew perfectly well where it was going. The question now was where the crossbow bolts would meet up with the dangerous parts. The bolts by themselves were part of the problem. What the lieutenant and his boss wanted was the brew that became the Blight itself. House Qinvaris, had handed samples over with copies of the test that Dan Qinavis had run and the agriculture bureau had run the same test. The results were slower due to the lower mana in the Fellowship, but the end result was the same and much of the Fellowship’s grain growing regions were fairly close to the Qinvaris lands of the Empire. For that matter, the Blight had struck the Fellowship a century ago just as it had the Empire. One thing the lieutenant did know. If the Blight factory was found, orders had already been given to bomb the place flat and dump incendiaries on it, regardless of the potential collateral casualties or the political costs. The order had come from the Consul himself.
House Qinvaris Estate.
Dan looked at his brother and sisters, along with all the others in the rather crowded room. He started the crystal of the Blight in action and everybody watched as the crystal ran. After the crystal ended, Dan said, “That was my third try, this time using lime and cupric oxide as the fungicide. As you can see, it didn’t work. I’ve used up all the things that I can think of and none of them have changed things very much. That means that we need to find out what the other side knows about the Blight, how they create it and what they have to stop it. That means that we want the other side’s library.”
“Do you want the other side to know that we are looking, Dan?” Aien asked.
“Honestly, that is not important as long as we have what they know.”
“How do you want to play this,” Elred asked, “especially if we find the place that brews the Blight?”
“If we get lucky and find that place before they launch, everybody there dies and everything gets burned. Gloves off for this.”
“Has your father approved that?”
“Not yet, but if we find the place, don’t wait. I’m not going to risk potentially millions starving because I was squeamish.”
“There could be families that have no clue what they are actually doing.”
“There could be. I accept that. But if the Blight gets loose again, there will be a disaster. If I had five years to work the problem, I could have saving the mages and their families’ lives as an option because I would have options. Unfortunately these clowns are only giving us two, bad and very bad.”
“So what now?”
“I’m going down to the Fellowship to do some shopping, get robbed and perhaps put some tagged books where the other side has its library. Elred, your people play tag with the spider lady when she comes back and run Cory past her to see if she compels him. Of course we will neglect to mention that Cory was at the Sanctum, passed a test and for some strange reason, found a date.”
“It wasn’t strange. The girl was there at the Sanctum like the other girls, I asked her if she wanted to see the Lower City and we made a date. I didn’t know that she was fae and living in the Yllanan crazy house.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Dan, you don’t have the old man looking for mischief when you are there and your girl doesn’t have a fae brother, cousins or any of the rest of it. At least mom likes Nightrose and her parents.”
Dan grinned. “We can take Nightrose with us. Renestrae needs a girl with her any way.”
“I was planning on that. If nothing else I want somebody watching me in Zirgoccol. At least I went with you the last time. I can back Taenaran up the way I did the last time while dad covers the office here in the Empire.”
“You can also play the backstabbing and crooked young aide to young Lord Qinvaris, whose books you are selling. We did get lucky. It turns out that the House owns grandmother’s old estate, we have people preparing it for Nimue and Sylvar and they found House Naelana bookplates in the estate office. So we will have books from the House Naelana being sold. Of course Lord Qinvaris tags his books, but Cory doesn’t know that.”

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