When Cassius Melchar, better known as The Chained One, returned to Parik, he was met immediately by fawning supplicants seeking his praise and blessing, falling to their knees before him. This adoration did little to assuage his anger, but enough that he didn't decide to slaughter them out of hand.
Dragging his anchor tree behind him, Cassius floated to the town center, where he knelt down in meditation, mulling over his own alien thoughts. What manner of inner dialogue did such a creature experience? A strange kind, no doubt.
Lieutenant Kitek, the tereko officer who'd accompanied the attack on Craeton's Bay, went out among the other specters and randomly butchered two of them, feasting on their corpses after ripping them apart with his claws and tentacles. The kennin warrior at Craeton's Bay had been a worthy foe, more than worthy, and he had been robbed of the chance to really test himself against the dog-faerie.
General Quintus cautiously approached his master, ready to accept any anger he might earn for disrupting his meditation. "Master, I have news from your absence." The Chained One said nothing, but twirled one finger to say 'out with it'. "While you were away, lieutenant Darius had an elven pollster caught on his way here brought before me. I found out from him that he was here to perform a pre-election vote tally for Counciman Stahg. This is his province, you see."
Cassius raised his head inside his hood, the blackened, dessicated skull that was his face barely visible in the shadows thereof. "What sort of politician is this Stahg?"
"A crafty one," Quintus muttered. "He's corrupt, but always able to cover his tracks."
"Hmm, your tone, Quintus. I take it you do not care much for this man."
"I have voted against him the last two terms. He cares more for grandstanding and his privileges as a member of the High Council than for his people."
"Hmm, yes. Yes, I see it now, of course. General," The Chained One snapped, his tone now one of command. "Take you thirty of our staunchest soldiers and twenty specters, except for lieutenant Kitek. March north and west of here, to the village of Turen. Give their people my offer; serve or die. When you have slaughtered those who refuse me, bring back those who pledge themselves to mine chains."
"Will you be accompanying us, master?"
"No. I have one more grand work to care for before it becomes known to King Ovin that we are here. Obey my will, general, and you will be richly rewarded." Cassius Melchar resumed then his meditation, gathering power to himself. Quintus had his task, and it was one he would do with great joy. Turen was a pro-Stahg township, and with any luck, the gods would not smile on the fellin politician much longer.
Quintus set off to rally his troops.
When Daggeuro, Kathy and Byron had returned to Celia the morning after defending Craeton's Bay, they had all gathered at Selena's inherited home, taking ease and comfort in safe, familiar surroundings. Tigger was overjoyed to see Kathy again, chattering incessantly about the diferent breeds of catnip grown in Ether and how wonderful he felt partaking of them.
"There's one I used just this morning, and Kathy? Do you know what red tastes like? Well I do," he yammered, clearly on something at that very moment. Byron and Kathy giggled at Tigger's stupor, rubbing his belly and listening to him chatter on about everything his feline mind found fit to discuss.
Daggeuro and Selena excused themselves to their bedchamber, where they showed one another just how much they'd missed being together. Kathy and Byron opted at one point to take a walk with Tigger so the sound of the faerie couple going at it didn't scar them for life.
Kathy let Tigger ride half-tucked in her backpack, as he tended to prefer. She and Byron stopped at a small merchant wagon, where a gnome gentleman was selling assorted jewelry and clothing accessories. Byron spotted a tribal wooden necklace, a small turtle its main piece.
"What's this, then," he asked the merchant, snagging the necklace and turning the turtle over, looking at it carefully. He showed it to Kathy, who squinted at a set of tiny markings on the turtle's underside.
"Ah, that, my friends, is a fine hand-carved necklace made by a skilled devar craftsman," said the gnome.
"Devar," said Byron. "The turtle-men?"
"The very same," said the merchant. "Said it reminded him of his youth or somefin'. Nothing magical or enchanted about it, nor most of my pieces. But it was made by a devar. They don't do too many things like this." Byron met the merchant's eyes, seeking the hint of shrewdness that would speak of a huckster. Thankfully, he didn't see it.
"Five drakes, lad." Byron gladly handed over the black coins, turning to Kathy.
"Dear?" She clapped her hands and squeeked happily, turning around so he could put the necklace on her. The tiny turtle hung just over the neckline of her shirt. "Hey, looks good! I just noticed this, though," he said, tapping the turtle's head, which hung at the bottom point. "He's got a permanent view of your cleavage."
"Of course." They walked arm-in-arm down the street, heading back for Daggeuro and Selena's house. When they got inside, Selena roped Kathy into going with her to the florist's shop to pick out arrangements, and Daggeuro invited Byron to learn the ancient faerie game of pok-chi. Tigger, opting for peace and quiet, zoned out on the living room couch, watching his own tail flicker seemingly of its own accord.
The other shoe was soon to drop.
Kathy had left her cloak and backpack behind at the house, muggy as the day was in Celia. She found herself looking at everybody they passed in the street with suspicion; the men and women they had fought against in Craeton's Bay had looked little different than most fae folken she'd come to know. Goblins, orcs, trolls and gotrin, these she had already come to expect the worst from. But most of the chain soldiers she'd fought were elves, the most prevalent of all the faerie in Ether. It had resulted in the formation of a mild paranoia.
Selena was trying to get her attention, she realized, coming up short. She looked the elven woman in the eyes and sighed. "I'm sorry, Selena. I'm still kind of out of it. It's been a busy visit this time around."
"I know," Selena said, trying to smile. "I'm sorry you've been through so much, Kathy. But things aren't all bad, are they?" Kathy raised an eyebrow. "You know, Byron?"
"Oh, that," Kathy said, a nervous giggle in her throat. "Yes, he's delightful. A little weird, but I like that. He's different, you know?" Selena nodded, taking Kathy by the hand.
"I do know, as a matter of fact. That's how I put it when I first fell in love with Dag. Now come along, Mr. Vekolovic has given me an appointment for viewings, and I won't be late or risk a cancellation." They headed into the florist's shop then, ladies taking joy in the classically lady-like.
The game had been going in earnest for perhaps sixteen minutes when there was an authoritative knock at the door. "Wait here," Daggeuro said to Byron, heading for the door. When he opened it, before him stood Sir Borent, a giant faerie creature composed of morphing dark red stone. He wore his Royal Guard serape, and held another member, an owl faerie, by the bunching of his robes. "Borent! What's all this, then?"
"We only received word of your return an hour ago," rumbled Borent, shaking the other Royal Guardsman roughly. "This one has something to tell you." Borent roughly dropped the owl-man to the porch, where the smaller man began groveling. Daggeuro puffed up his chest and stamped his right foot.
"Up, man, on your feet!" He did so, shamefaced, looking downward. "What has happened?"
"It's the Awakened I was assigned to protect under asylum," said the owl faerie. "He's dead."
"Dead? Who was it? How did this happen," Daggeuro raged, on the verge of sprinting to his and Selena's bedroom for his armor and weapons. "Are we under attack?"
"No, sir. He was poisoned yesterday morning," said the Guardsman miserably. Daggeuro's features went slack, his eyes half-lidded. Both Guardsmen knew this expression well, for both had been on the receiving end of it once before. The entire order had been, at one point or another. As terrifying as Borent was to most, even he stiffened at the sight of Daggeuro's face in that moment.
"How was he poisoned, Sir Erwick," he asked the owl faerie flatly.
"A blueberry danish, purchased at Kloff's Bakery."
"You know this how?"
"Papers the owner presented us in the afternoon by a health inspector. These," said Erwick, producing the papers from inside his robes. Daggeuro took one look at them, found the signature at the bottom of the inspector's report action invoice, and crushed the papers in his hand.
"The inspector, how was he described?"
"A slick-looking gotrin with a Rinchak accent," said Erwick. "The baker said the man moved like a thief instead of an official. Why?"
"Because that was no health inspector," said Daggeuro, tossing the crumpled sheets at Erwick sharply. "For the gods' sakes, the bastard signed his own name!" Erwing uncrumpled the papers and looked at the signature.
"Um, sir? Who's Senta?"
Herbert Stahg prided himself on his calm, his ability to remain stable when things seemed to be falling apart around him. The last time he'd been rattled, aside from when the assassin had pressed a knife to his throat, had been four years earlier, when his carriage had overturned while traveling to Linsa from Ryalt during a snowstorm. His usual driver was a skilled magic wielder whose facility for manipulating snow and ice had always been a boon during winter travels. But he'd been at home with pneumonia at the time, and his stand-in had been too inexperienced to properly maneuver in the weather.
Yet now he was being rattled yet again, this time by his turnout numbers. Tallies had yet to come back from several villages on the outers of the province, where he held a lot of support, and the current totals showed him down by a hundred and seventy-three votes. It was feasible that he might lose his Council seat.
He sat at his home office in Celia reviewing these records and shaking his head. He was somehow losing ground in Linsa, ahead now by only five-hundred votes in his territory's largest city. Somehow, Warren had rallied the city's mayor to put her support behind the Watchman. Stahg reflected upon his last meeting with that woman, one of the rare civilized arachos, spider-people from the western Ether nations. She had been pleasant enough with him, but she was extremely liberal politically. She represented a massive shift in policy outlook in Linsa among the public.
He was about to take a break from his analysis when a heavy thud came at his office door. "Whatever it is, it can wait," he barked, hands rubbing at his temples. A moment later his door crashed open, and before him stood Sir Daggeuro, a man for whom Stahg wished all evils to befall. "What do you want, High Knight?"
"Sir, I am here to escort you to the Ether door to Ryalt," Daggeuro said, stomping over to one of Stahg's travel trunks, kept empty against the wall for when he needed to get away from Celia in a hurry. He kicked it open and approached the desk. "The Awakened who was nearly killed in your office when applying for asylum was assassinated yesterday morning. We have reason to believe the killer may come for you next," the kennin High Knight said evenly. "So, get your necessary papers and suchlike in that trunk and get out into the hall. You have five minutes."
Stahg stared at the spot Daggeuro had occupied for his warning, and felt the tickle of mad laughter bubble up at the back of his throat. He choked it down, began grabbing papers and books, and got packed. "When it rains it fucking pours," he muttered to himself.
That evening, as Kathy, Byron, Selena and Daggeuro sat around the kitchen table with their meal before them, the mood was high-spirited. Byron led most of the early conversation, talking about the history books of Selena's he'd picked up when Daggeuro took off that morning on Royal Guard business. He was fascinated by Amermidst's background, particularly with the long reign and influence of King Ovin.
When he had exhausted himself, Selena looked to Daggeuro and asked, "So, what did you have to do today?"
"A great deal more than I expected," the kennin warrior said. He tucked a forkful of salad into his mouth, chewed and swallowed roughly, making a face, tongue lolling out. "Rabbit food," he grumbled. "Anyway, it began with reviewing and signing off on a report that one of the Awakened was killed yesterday morning, poisoned by an assassin while under the watch of one of our own Royal Guardsmen, Sir Erwick. I then had to process his dismissal from the Guard and write him a recommendation letter to the Unified Scholars' Society, per his final request."
"Geez, that's rough," Kathy said. "Was he not doing his job right?"
"Whenever someone under asylum protection of the Royal Guard purchases food not prepared in front of their very eyes, the Guardsman assigned to them is supposed to sample it in the event it might be tainted. All such Guardsmen keep several antidotes of various types on their person for just such an incident. Additionally, Sir Erwick had been on notice already for fouling up an investigation under the jurisdiction of the Watch."
"Oof, double whammy," said Byron.
"Indeed. Had he not been on notice, he would have been placed on it. The poison was virulent, would've killed him regardless of his antidotes. After escorting him to the barracks to clear out his locker, I had to go fetch Councilman Stahg, because the gotrin who assassinated the Awakened was the very same one caught in his office."
"Wait," said Kathy, lowering her fork, "do you mean that guy we talked to in the Red Room?"
"The very same. I feared he might go after Stahg next, since he was present at the first attempt on the human's life. We rushed him off to Ryalt. He went willingly enough, what with his campaign and all." Daggeuro took a chunk of steak down, savouring the morsel. "Mmm, your skills in the kitchen never cease to leave me happily mystified, dearheart," he commented to Selena. The elven woman blushed and demured. Daggeuro continued, "After taking care of Stahg, I went through my Watch reports and came home."
"Well, Kathy and I agreed on arrangements," said Selena. Kathy wolfed down a piece of her own meat, getting up and heading to the counter, bringing back a thick booklet with painted pictures of floral arrangements.
"We thought these would go best with your color scheme," Kathy said, pointing to the page she opened to. It showed a set of gold and black flowers, delicately assembled in a tall, narrow white vase. "What do you think?"
Daggeuro peered at the page and nodded. "How do they smell," he asked. Kathy rubbed the picture with her thumb and pressed the booklet toward him. Daggeuro sniffed, sneezed, and shook his head rapidly, snuffling. "Powerful," he wheezed.
"Oh, darling, I'm sorry," said Selena worrisomely. "I didn't think about your nose!"
"It's fine, it's fine, just, is there any way to dampen the aroma?"
"We'll think of something," Selena said, holding Daggeuro's hand atop the table. "Don't worry." The remainder of their meal and chatter was light-hearted and peaceful, leaving Kathy and Byron both waiting for the next crisis.