The Darkmage Conquers, Chapter 26. The end of the book.

This is the end of this book. The next one starts next week.
“The Red sun dawns?”

Chapter 26.
The Imperial Palace.
The Darkmage looked at the message that had been handed to him by a servant from one of the key estates on the border of the Fellowship. The message read, “The red sun dawns.” That meant that the long planned steps in the project were starting. He hoped that his children would forgive the fact that their efforts had been by and large a huge diversion. If they succeeded in the end, they would push the effort forward, but their success or failure had never been a key part of the project. The securing of the key to the huge mana source in the peninsula had always been the key part of the plan as well as the disruption and destruction of the Blasted lands countries. If the Blasted Lands fell, the new Empire and its glories would be possible. If the Blasted lands held, the new Empire would be pressed by changes forced on it by outside forces. That had been evident to his father after the brutal defeat in the mage wars, with the mistakes that had happened then. The fact was that the scourge had actually helped the Blasted Lands as the lack of mana had not allowed many of the resources available to work. The project to take advantage of the lack of mana to create Prospects of high potential had been both a success and a failure as the Prospects had proven to be as strong as could be desired, but too many had escaped and insisted on having minds of their own. The Darkmage thought about all those things as he turned to his sons, waiting at the portal and said, “I leave the Empire to you both.”
Once he said that he ported through to the Retreat.
Narbeth looked at the report in his hands, at the unusual Justiciar that had created it and said, “This is better than I actually expected. I thought that you would find proof of the fact that my mother murdered my father, but this goes far beyond that. You got every scheme and plot she has ever been involved in and all the players. You even managed to get her right hand to betray her. How did you manage that?”
Gander grinned “That was easy. I just said that if he didn’t spill, I would let him go after a time and spread rumors that he had. My very leaky staff, you know. Always chatting with dragon reporters and having drinks with disreputable goblins. I must have a meeting about leaks at some point.”
“I suspect that mother was rather frightened of Alissa. That was a surprise.”
“That is my wife. What she sees in me is more than a bit of mystery. But most people in the Lower City know better than to attempt to mess with her.”
“Very few people have ever frightened my mother. For that matter, my mother’s maid is not unskilled and she was very frightened by your wife.”
“My wife’s family taught her certain skills. Her uncle and Esgalwathanar have started in on Myrdin, but that has been stopped by circumstances. On the other hand, my grandmother can get her mitts on my kids now and that may have consequences.”
Narbeth laughed. ‘My mother set aside, we have another problem. We will need somebody to take the Justiciars over.”
“Are you offering it to me?”
“Not at present. The problem is that Inchel is one of the picks that mother and my sister are allowing me to have in exchange for the council picks she demands and that means that when the Conclave reconvenes and cleans house again, Kelvahn will have to take over and that leaves the Justiciars open. Since many of the tasks have devolved to your department, you are the logical choice to take over when that happens.”
“Not Alen, Haramara or Evin?”
“All those would be good choices, but the fact is that you are now the face of the Justicairs.”
“I have hardly been a full Justiciar that long.”
“No, you haven’t. But that hasn’t changed the fact that since you have been a full Justicair, you have handled the delicate cases and been seen doing a very good job. You have influence both in the Cloud City and the Lower City. That incidental cleanup has already made you friends in amazing places and you have rather eclectic group of people working for you.”
“That was Kenia’s fault.”
Narbeth laughed. “Kenia’s fault?”
“She brought Tom over and set Naexi on him, encouraged Siora to join my department and arranged things with Elenaril and Julien. It was the same way with the rest of them. So there I am, stuck with a bunch of competent and efficient officers who in no way resemble the typical Justiciar. That Doyle Conan character is going to be upset with me.”
“Doyle Conan?”
“He’s an author and playwright who wrote a bunch of rather ridiculous things about Justiciars in the Empire. It’s high elf comedy at its best. We had a movie night at Alwin’s and watched the lot of them. We all laughed our heads off.”
“I missed that movie night.”
“It was a special showing for the Justiciars and our families. Most of the Justiciars had been hearing about those plays from those of us from the Republic talking about the things and Alwin rented the lot of them and sent a discreet invitation.”
“I will have to see about a showing myself. Now I have a rather unpleasant task to think about.”
“I hope that your mother agrees to leave the scene calmly and discreetly. You can tell her that Lymseia and my grandmother were looking over my shoulder for almost all of it as well as Robin and if she tries to go after me or the others, my staff has instructions and a signed writ for her very public arrest and to make public all the charges and everybody involved. You can tell your mother that you have ordered me to not make a public scandal of the affair and that I wanted to make the point that even the highest were not protected from me. Frankly, this is so ugly and things so unstable right now that a huge public scandal will tear the Empire apart. I will let you handle it, up until she tries to play games. Her people already know that my people are better than they are and if she plays games, she won’t like what happens.”
“Thank you for being discreet, both in how you approached the matter and how you want it resolved. Many would have made a big splash out of this, or on the other hand, backed off from my mother when she pushed, as almost all have.”
Richard turned as his father called out to him and said, “Dad, why are you here?”
“I wanted to let you know that Brouzen and I are sailing to the Hidden City.”
“Why?”
“General Headbasher moved two corps to Redsville.”
“That is not good. I was hoping that he would retire before there was another war. It sounds like he wants one. There hasn’t been any war talk from the Fellowship, other than wanting the supressors shutdown.”
“General Headbasher was probably working with the Darkmage the entire time.”
“That would explain a lot of it. We were so concerned with the Empire that we never thought what the compulsions would do in the Fellowship and with radio out as well, the general will have an army that doesn’t care about its casualties and the war he has wanted since Bloody Ridge. The Darkmage set his kids up when things started to cover this up and get something he really wanted. That explains why he was digging all those seemingly useless things up in the Empty Lands. With the source at Ishendell available, those things could do a lot of damage. Of course what he really wanted was the supressors. That was probably the key that was in that book we sold him. Once he had that key he could pull this off. We were so sure that the Blight was the focus of the whole thing and never saw what he was really up to. After all, he let Herdir manage the Blight and launching it, and Herdir didn’t need the diary to launch the Blight. But they did need it to run the suppressors. They needed the diary and they needed to allow the mana in the Blasted lands to regenerate somewhat, so they used the Blight to keep the Empire unstable.”
“What are you going to do?”
Richard smiled. “Do the last thing that General Headbasher will expect. I will need a sheet from you, ordering General Ironcutter, if he is still in charge to make an immediate retreat and evacuation to Ishendell. Then I will send every truck to the Peninsula that I can grab. They will need time to set up and an excuse for starting the war. The General won’t want to just start things up without something as a cover. General Ironcutter, who was my boss back in my service days is too sharp to not see the build up at Redsville, but he won’t move anything forward unless he get orders or sees enough that looks like an attack. On the other hand, he isn’t going to just retreat from the prepared positions without orders and I think that he will have to.”
“Why?”
“General Headbasher will love compelled soldiers because they will obey orders and not care about casualties. The Senate won’t like dealing with the consequences, but by the time they can get somebody to stop this, the mess will be too big unless Ironcutter retreats to Ishendell. I’ll send Cory with Vinny down in a truck to the peninsula with the message. We can run my trucks in with all the other trucks that Headbasher has running to Redsville right now.”
“You will probably lose the trucks.”
“I know, but if this spreads, it will come right back here and get my people. The Darkmage will be looking for reinforcements and guess where he will be looking. I need time and if the casualties are kept low on the Peninsula, I can pull the compulsions here in the Empire before the Darkmage starts to order my people south into a meat grinder. I feel like a fool for letting this happen.”
“That happens to all of us. I will have the message for you when today’s Conclave is over.”
“This is the last day, I think. We have just a few council picks left and then we all go home and the knives come out. Fortunately, my people were prepared and getting a darkmage into one of my towns, or Versryn’s, Folmon’s, Esgalwathanar, or some other people’s places is not going to be easy. I need to go.”
Shaerra was with her staff making plans for her end of the Conclave fete when the Empress and the Emperor entered the room. Narbeth said, “Mother, we need to speak privately.”
“Can it wait until I finish this?”
“No it cannot. Gentlefolk, if you will excuse us.”
The staff all left and Shaerra said, “What is this about, Narbeth?”
“Mother, you know that I had Justiciar Dawkins investigate some matters. You also know at this point that they involve you.”
“What of it? I imagine that he was not able to find very much from his Seat here in the Conclave and he has been here the entire time for the most part. He has been annoying some friends of mine about small matters and I had his wife in for a chat about that, but that was resolved.”
“Gander was here. His staff was conducting the investigation for the most part. I think that you never looked into how the Office of Investigations was different from the Justiciars you were used to, who operated independently. Justiciar Dawkin’s office was created to provide certain services to the other Justiciars in the pursuit of their duties and provide those services to the Crown and the military at need. So Justiciar Dawkins maintains a staff of investigators who were placed on the matter at hand. Mother, I want you to go to your dower estate and stay there for the rest of your life.”
“I will not! This has been my home and I will not tolerate being thrown out like a trollop.”
“Mother, you can fight this, but you will lose. I had to ask Justiciar for the favor of allowing you to retire to the estate for the sake of the family. When I asked him to investigate father’s death, I did not realize what he would find. I just had some unresolved mysteries. What the Justiciar found was rather unbelievable. Mother, how could you be involved in such things? Addicting young folk to Clear to cause their deaths? That rape club? The exotic parties with rather exotic servings. Was there nothing you would not stoop to?”
“I provide entertainments that the folk desired, yes. That was to cement certain relationships. The family has benefitted from those relationships.”
“At what cost mother? In any case, I want you out of the palace and on your way by the end of the day.”
“Or what? You would hardly want all this to come out. The scandal would be terrible.”
“Yes it would. Unfortunately, Justiciar Dawkins doesn’t care. Too many of your victims were from the Lower City and he feels that he has a duty to his neighbors. If I am not seen as taking action against you, the report will be released to the public and the press. I imagine that you and all those friends that you built relationships with will be looking at guild contracts.”
“The scandal could ruin the Empire.”
“The Justiciar is aware of that. That is why he is giving me the chance of a discreet way out.”
“I could deal with the Justiciar. It would hardly be the first time.”
“Really? You sent that “invitation” to Lady Dawkins and she scared Faylen to drink. Erle just disappeared. Actually, he spilled everything he knew, as did quite a few of your suppliers. The whole sordid mess was in the report. Even if you managed to get to the Justiciar, there were quite a few of your enemies that were looking over the Justiciar’s shoulder or trading for the information in the report and if something did happen to him, certain people will spread things around. How many enemies can you afford, mother?”
“You betrayed me! You set this up from the beginning!”
“Yes, I did initiate an investigation when it was clear that you were maneuvering me into a seat that I did not want. My dear sister is going to find out that she said a bit too much. I did not know where the investigation would go and the Justiciar was very careful not to reveal anything until he was certain of your guilt in the matter of my father’s death. The rest of it came about as the investigation developed. Once the Justiciar started to look, the mess just kept getting bigger, even if you excluded your conspiring with the Darkmage.”
“You have been quiet, Itireae. No gloating at my expense?”
“No, none of that,” Itireae said. “On the other hand, I cannot accept the risk to my household if you stay here. So you must go, one way or another. I do not want to risk my husband’s life or the lives of my children and grandchildren to your machinations. It is far better for the scandal to be exposed than to allow a viper like you in my House. This family has suffered enough at your hand and that must end.”
Narbeth frowned. “Mother, either you leave for your dower estate under guard by the end of the day, voluntarily or I will reveal the entire contents of the report to the Conclave and ask for a writ of execution. That is my duty as Emperor. Good day.”
The pair left and when Faylen looked in to bring the staff back, Shaerra said, “Send a message to my daughter to attend me and another to the guildmaster. I have a very valuable contract after the Conclave is over.”
“If it is what I think, there is no way that the guildmaster would accept. The guild does not go against its own and certainly would not take any action that would annoy the guild’s royal family. In any case, the guildmaster has instructed me to tell you that our relationship is at an end and that I am to leave your employ. Good day, milady. I will arrange the message for your daughter before I leave. I will also tell the staff to prepare to move to the dower estate.”
Faylen left the room, leaving Shaerra to fume.

Redsville.
Opaugh Headbasher looked around at the table of officers and said, “The time has come to redeem ourselved at last. I doubt that the Pugs have a clue.”
That sent a ring of laughter around the table and General Headbasher laid out the plans for the peninsula. He ended with, “At least our own people haven’t started to ask questions. If we do this right we will change the balance in the Blasted Lands forever. So we don’t mess up. We don’t make the same mistakes that we did the last time. Yazzar, what are those dirty Pugs going to do to us poor innocent Fellies?”
Yazzar Chainarm, the intelligence and dirty tricks man for Second Army grinned. “Mrs. Steelmaker messed up and her man Paeris is going to be seen by one of our patrol boats in those new boats he has, after he raided Flinders Island, took all the secret code books and everything else we had there, killed everybody in the station and burned the place. The victims will have been bound and alive before the place was burned. We have pictures of Paeris’s man Wiz at the Hidden City going to meet with Mrs. Steelmaker. We also have evidence of a suppressor operating on the peninsula, with pictures. So obviously the suppressors are a Pug plot and they are planning something.”
“That will work, at least for a cover. How did you come up with it?”
“I stole the idea from some of the things going around the Hidden City. The Paeris Zylvyre working for Mrs. Steelmaker and the rest of it has been going around certain circles for a moon now at the Hidden City. It looked like a reasonable scheme, so I lifted it. Everybody knows what the Great Captain is like and going for a quick grab for his boss would be the sort of thing that he would do. I even arranged a sale of the code books to a Pug agent so that they would have them. The navy is going to be rather annoyed that their codes were compromised.”
“When does the raid go off?”
“In a five day. The patrol boat will be on its way back with pictures of the Great Captain’s boats racing away and the rest of the evidence. We should have it in ten days or so.”
“Then the day after we move up to the frontier. Just as a precaution, of course.”

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