Month 3, Day 17, Wednesday 8:00 pm
It was quite simple for Thaddeus to find a Verdant Stag enforcer and free-cast a compulsion spell on the woman to get information about Lord Stag’s whereabouts. It was somewhat of an anticlimax to find that, with the right timing, he could simply walk into the Verdant Stag’s inn-cum-entertainment hall and request a meeting with the man.
He flagged down a carriage to take him there. Discarded within lay a recent issue of The Daily Sun, a rather gossipy rag. However, with little better to do in the meantime, he picked it up. The headlining article was about the recent mess with the Gervins.
Dear Reader, you may have heard rumors about the arrest of two Crown Family members, Misters Malcolm and Randolph Gervin, both younger, non-inheriting brothers to the current lord of the Fourth Crown Family.
While Harrow Hill has not yet released an official statement, this reporter was shocked to learn that the true reason for their arrest was even more scandalous than some of the rumors.
Sources close to the Family say that the brothers were acting strangely for some time before the incident. Because of this and her concern for her cousin Alec Gervin, heiress Anastasia, currently a first-term University student, set out to uncover just what was going on with the help of an anonymous private investigator.
“I don’t think she expected something like this at all,” one anonymous source said. “But once she found out they were dabbling in treason, trying to make secret deals with the Raven Queen, she couldn’t stand idle. And then Lord Malcolm tried to kill her to keep her mouth shut while he destroyed all the evidence. I heard the fighting, spells flying everywhere, and afterward the room was completely destroyed.”
Truly, if young Anastasia had not brought along her two best friends for moral support while she confronted her uncle, Damien Westbay and one Sebastien Siverling (see our March 1st article for further heroic exploits), she likely would have been killed.
Usually, in an article like this, the anonymous “sources” were either servants, employees of businesses the nobles had visited, or common business associates with a grudge. Here, he guessed servants.
The article went on in a similar thespian manner, focusing on the heroism of Thaddeus’s apprentice, who fought the older man to a standstill with the help of his two friends before the coppers could arrive. They even provided a drawing, done by a “source close to the trio,” of Siverling sitting in a window seat, looking into the distance as the light from outside spilled over him. Thaddeus thought the artist’s rendition made the boy look rather more handsome than he actually was, though the expression of focused determination was accurate.
Of course, the details about the Gervin brothers’ treasonous collusion with the Raven Queen were half-speculation and inaccurate even beyond that, but Thaddeus couldn’t be sure whether that was because of shoddy journalism or the fact that the investigators on her case were so eager to be gathering evidence about her movements that they set logic aside.
In any case, it was true that the brothers had thought they were meeting with the Raven Queen, and not to further the High Crown’s interests.
Thaddeus skimmed through the rest of the paper to ensure that it held nothing of interest or substance, then refolded and rolled it up into a tube for disposal in the nearest fireplace.
As he disembarked in front of the building that bore the green antlers so proudly, Thaddeus smiled in anticipation. The establishment was already mostly rebuilt, though the seams where new met old were obvious.
He stepped through the front door, allowing his Will to sweep out with just enough grasp on reality to make his presence felt by those who mattered. He turned to the closest enforcer and announced, “I am Grandmaster Thaddeus Lacer, and I am here to meet with Lord Stag.”
The man looked from side to side as if hoping Thaddeus had been talking to anyone but him. When everyone else pointedly refused to meet his gaze, he swallowed audibly and stepped forward. “Err, can I ask what this is about?”
“A personal matter.”
The man shifted uncomfortably. “Nothing official, then? I heard you were working as a part-time consultant for the coppers…”
“I am not here in any official capacity, and even if I were, I am not employed by Harrow Hill and thus have no authority to make arrests on their behalf,” Thaddeus said, guessing at what had the man so worried. He did not bother to say that if he really wanted to arrest someone, there was little that could stand in his way, official remit from Harrow Hill or not. After all, he was still a special agent of the Red Guard.
The enforcer cleared his throat, gave Thaddeus a bow, and said, “I will pass along your request. Please wait here,” before hurrying off toward a side door with surprising self-control.
Thaddeus took a seat at the bar on the left side of the room and ordered a surprisingly nice beer, dark as coffee and twice as bitter.
When the bartender delivered it, she tossed a paper down beside it. “Hot off the press. Something better than that drivel,” she said, nodding to The Daily Sun still in his hand.
She waved him off. “Free with every purchase.”
Thaddeus raised an eyebrow, intrigued by the rather thin paper titled The People’s Voice.
Before he could get far into either the news or his beer, the enforcer from before returned. “Please follow me, sir.” He led Thaddeus to an open antechamber in front of a dark wooden door on the third floor.
Seeing that several others were already waiting, Thaddeus settled into one of the chairs with the beer that no one had dared tell him to leave behind, and returned to his reading.
Terrorists Attack Gilbratha to Free Criminals
Lord Stag, leader of the Verdant Stags, is quoted as saying, “I believe justice is the responsibility of all those who find themselves with power.” However, his organization has made it clear they have no intention to take dispensation of that justice from the hands of the Crowns.
As you know, many of the members of the former Morrow gang were defeated and captured by an alliance between the Verdant Stag and the Nightmare Pack, determined to improve the lives of people in their territory. After compiling their crimes and affording some measure of restitution to those who were harmed, the Verdant Stag, with the help of the Nightmare Pack, went about transferring those heinous criminals who once walked the streets with impunity to Harrow Hill for official sentencing and punishment. Unfortunately, some parties felt removing these tyrants went against their interests.
Hidden individuals with wealth and power had been preparing to strike against Gilbratha for some time, gathering resources for battle and hiring powerful mercenaries who had lost all sense of virtue. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, they struck out in an attempt to free the criminals and sow fear into the heart of Gilbratha with a display of magical power in our vulnerable midst.
Verdant Stag and Nightmare Pack enforcers fought against these terrorists on one side while the coppers approached from the other, allies by chance. Eventually, they managed to overcome the villains, leaving over a dozen mercenaries and their masters dead, and some of the land in west Gilbratha scarred.
The article went on to cover some of the details of the battle and the impressive might of the enemy in clear, concise detail that drew Thaddeus’s attention. Particularly, the description of an elderly thaumaturge who used a war array to great effect. He matched the physical description and particular magical capability of an ex-Red Guard member. A defector who had managed to escape retaliation, until now. Thaddeus would ask for confirmation, though he was unsure if his current clearance levels would allow him access.
No civilians were killed, though several enforcers working for the Verdant Stag and Nightmare Pack fell casualty to the terrorist attack, and a handful of coppers sustained injuries. *See the end of this article for names.
Despite all the efforts made to the contrary, over one hundred Morrow criminals were apprehended and are soon to face sentencing.
Little is known about the powers behind this attack, but it is likely they still walk free, plotting to strike once more.
As always at The People’s Voice, we asked for commentary from those involved in and affected by this event, with allowance for responses to previous statements.
Mary Crafford from Bett Street: “I’m not sure why no one is talking about how the Raven Queen stepped in and kept a whole section of coppers from being annihilated. She created an eldritch maw of darkness that reached straight out of the ground and swallowed a whole squad of those [terrorists] all up before they could do any more damage. She might be mischievous and whimsical, but she gets serious when it matters.”
Terrence Filibun from Madders Row, in reply to Mary Crafford: “Everyone knows the Raven Queen is territorial. Not with land, but with her people. My uncle Dominic was there, and he told me that he was just about to be hit by a spell when she acted, probably to protect him. He has a whole nest of ravens in his backyard that he keeps fed, which everyone agrees is why she likes him so much. He’s making offerings every single day.”
Bob from Brewer Avenue: “What I want to know is, how did some group of anti-Lenore radicalists manage to hire mercenaries and infiltrate Gilbratha without the coppers getting any wind of it? Don’t we have any people assigned to protect our interests from the shadows?”
Hamish Cordwain from Worlow Apartments, in reply to Bob: “If you’re wondering how something like this could happen, why anyone would want this, just follow the gold. I’d bet anything some of the Crowns are involved, and I don’t need to be anonymous to say it. Who else has access to that kind of firepower? I went down there personally and saw the clay shards of army-issue battle philtres, just the same as we had when I was a soldier.”
Grom from Calcifer Crescent: “My niece and I watched the edges of the battle from our roof a few blocks away. We saw that huge glowing rock in the sky that disappeared a whole building, and now she’s afraid to go outside. Does anyone know the details of making an offering to the Raven Queen? I think it might give my niece some reassurance.”
Thaddeus’s brows slowly rose higher as he continued through the civilian commentary, which was a mix of ridiculous, myopic, and insightful, but altogether quite amusing. Creating a curated forum for discussion through a free newspaper was an interesting approach. If Lord Stag was behind it, as seemed likely, the man was cleverer than Thaddeus had given him credit for. He would be one to watch.
As the next person left the room beyond, Thaddeus stood and entered, heedless of whether he was technically the next in line or not.
The room was slightly ostentatious, but simple enough. The office of the one man in Gilbratha with an obvious connection to the Raven Queen, who, if the rumors were to be believed, could facilitate a meeting with her, for the right price. “I am Grandmaster Thaddeus Lacer. I wish to meet with the Raven Queen, and understand you may be able to facilitate this,” he said, not bothering with time-wasting pleasantries.
The man behind the desk, a featureless mask obscuring his expression, stared at Thaddeus through artificially shadowed eye holes. “You understand the need to prepare a worthy tribute?”
“Yes. That will not be a problem.”
“Even if the Raven Queen accepts, she may not meet you in person, as she has been known to send raven messengers in her place.”
Thaddeus did not smirk, because that would be obnoxious. “I believe she will meet me in person,” he said simply.
Lord Stag stared at him silently once more. Finally, he said, “Very well. I will inform her when she deigns to grace me with her presence. I cannot guarantee any sort of timeline, and if she accepts, she will choose the location.”
“That is acceptable.” With that, Thaddeus left, pleased that the whole thing had been much less trouble than he expected. When he returned to his cottage, he made himself a cup of coffee, using the more luxurious, slow-roasted, low-acid beans with pine nuts for flavor that he saved for when he wanted to savor the experience rather than knock back a bitter cup of energy-infused liquid. Swirling the cup gently as steam wafted from it, he looked over the papers and personal research stacked neatly across his desk.
His research was making progress, despite the time he was forced to spend in classes or grading inane homework, and the more recent distraction of the Raven Queen. It had been worth it, to take the Red Guard liaison position at the University.
But his thoughts strayed from translating pre-Cataclysm textual relics and toward the mysterious woman who they called the Raven Queen. He made his way to the room at the back of his cottage, setting down his mug of coffee atop the warded vault before moving to his bedside table, where he had personally warded a secret compartment.
He opened it, pulling out a small lead box.
Within, nestled snugly in velvet, lay an old ring. Clear celerium made up the stone, while the silver ring itself was a simple artifact, which could be activated to create a small anti-awareness field along with a minor chameleon effect. He had stolen the ring on a gamble, slightly surprised at the time that she had not already done so herself. Of course, it was possible he had taken only a competent replica, much like the one he had left behind in that idiot Gervin’s vault.
But if the ring was real, as Thaddeus believed, he was sure the Raven Queen had discovered his forgery and replacement by now. The original heirloom would be a fitting tribute to request a meeting with her, and to express his lack of hostility.
As he stared into the celerium depths, which held only a tiny flaw, a warm and visceral excitement shuddered through him. He could not wait to meet her.
The story continues in A Practical Guide to Sorcery Book IV: A Foreboding of Woe
Preorder it now: https://books2read.com/ForebodingOfWoe
If you would like access to:
• Illustrated excerpts from Siobhan’s grimoire and portraits of the characters
• Exclusive short stories/bonus chapters/deleted scenes not available elsewhere
• The chance to read the latest pre-release chapters of the upcoming book as I finish them
• And other story-related goodies and opportunities…
Consider supporting me on Patreon:
Edit 2/9: The Honeymoon Suite novelette is now finished with 7 chapters. You can read the first for free here: https://www.azaleaellis.com/bonus-story/the-honeymoon-suite-1-blackmail-chapter-140-concurrent/
Or on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/posts/77795640
12/22: I’ll be back next week with the first chapter of A Foreboding of Woe, but the week after that I plan to take a break. There’s a lot of admin and marketing stuff involved with a launch, I’ve been working “overtime” for weeks now, and I’m tired.
I’ll also be taking some time over the next week to get posted chapters updated with their revised and edited versions.
Want to get an email with links as soon as a new chapter comes out on my website, or get monthly Inner Circle news about my writing? Sign up for your preference here: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/q4b8d8