My Lady’s expression turns difficult at my answer, visibly trying to find the arguments to convince me. Steps resound in the hallway outside, only a single pair as far as I can tell.
“You know that it’s not possible to regenerate an arm, right?” I speak up. She shakes her head in denial. I look down at my left limb. “This got burnt the same way that girl‘s arm was, except my companions had the decency to take a risk.” I giggle madly as her face contorts in pain, as her slender fingers tremble.
“I… no, I don‘t. We don‘t know exactly what’s possible with flow.” She says in a shaking voice.
“Lady Lance?” Edusa’s voice interrupts us.
I grip my hammer and slam it against the floor, scratching the boards with the end of the blade sticking out of the head. My Lady doesn’t react, but I hear the young Lady startle on the other side of the door. A few seconds later, she opens the door by herself and rushes inside, sword in hand.
“Stand down, there’s no danger.” My Lady tells her, not even turning to speak to the woman.
“I beg to differ.” I say with my head inclining sideways. “Perhaps attacking you would finally convince you that I’m not her.”
I assemble a full-powered lightning construct, leaving it anchored inside my hand to avoid revealing my flow‘s color. Edusa’s sword blocked a normal one, but the Templars couldn’t handle Celyz’ so there must be a limit to the defense they have against it.
“I won’t fight you, Elizabeth.” She tells me in a firm voice.
“I will!” The young Lady speaks up, trying to step forward but my Lady blocks her by extending an arm.
“Put that away.” She orders, waiting for the youth to obey. Edusa does after hesitating for a short while. “Do you have anything to report, Lady Edusa?” She asks over her shoulder, facing me still.
“A small group of four attacked a library last night, city archives were stolen.” She answers while glaring at me over the arm blocking her way.
So it’s them, and they have a plan. That’s worrying but I don’t know what more I can do to help. I have things to do anyway. Like finding out what the Lordling has been up to myself.
“Any ideas on what they’re looking for?” I ask.
“That’s restricted information.” Edusa replies in a harsh tone.
I shrug, it’s their problem now. My Lady frowns but doesn’t push the matter.
“I’m going to check up on the matter I told you about.” I tell her.
“Stay with us, it could be dangerous.” She replies, stepping towards me. “We can do it together.”
I shake my head, stepping back to maintain the distance between us. Can’t give her the opportunity to talk the faction out of rebelling, the Lordling needs to go and so does Button.
The smell of the food on the table intensifies my hunger, despite my meal at Alana’s tavern early in the morning. I grab my plate of eggs on the table. My Lady cooked it for me after all, I can’t just let it go to waste.
“If this knocks me out later, we’re going to have words, Lady Lance.” I speak up.
“It won’t, I swear.” She answers, hand to her heart.
“I’m going to gather information while you deal with the mercenaries.” I say, staring her down through the thin opening in my helmet, challenging her.
“Okay. Please, be careful.” My Lady yields.
I nod, walking past her and Edusa. I unravel my lightning construct and reabsorb the flow into my reserves. I engage in the hallway towards the next flight of stairs, going down several floors until I reach the main room.
Sitting around polished oak tables are several officers in uniforms and a richly dressed old woman with a servant behind her holding a large ledger. A merchant, I suppose. They turn to me as I go down the last steps, interrupting their conversation.
I head towards the exit, ignoring their gazes. I spot a few more clients, all richly dressed, also follow me with their eyes. I sigh. The fact that I was here is going to end up all over Meria.
I open the door by hooking the handle with my hammer, walking into the street. I’m surprised that no one complained about the plate I’m taking with me. I shrug, putting some distance between me and the inn.
I find an alley with empty crates, hiding behind one to take my helmet off and have my meal in peace. Horses pass by the alley a few minutes later, likely my Lady and Edusa leaving.
I cut a whole egg yellow off from the rest in my plate and gobble it down, savoring it while remembering the image of my Lady cooking for me. I greedily devour the food, one bite after another. Once done, I set my helmet back on but remain sitting down to think.
Meria can’t fall the same way Castle Lance did. The city is too large for a battle to be won without heavy casualties on both sides, and there are too many soldiers all over the walls for me to breach them even if I had the option.
No, the mercenaries must be stopped simply because I don’t know what they’re up to. I made the right call. The battle in the plains has shown me one thing, the snake’s head must be cut off or controlled for the human army to surrender before it’s too late.
Meria needs to be toppled from the top, I can’t let Nobility order their soldiers to fight to the death while they evacuate. I have no doubt that they would as there is no risk to their own lives to do so and it hurts the Rykz which will make it easier to defend Caeviel.
There simply aren’t enough boats to ferry the army or the population across to the mainland once the city’s defenders get overwhelmed. People are likely aware of it on some level, that if things go badly, the Nobles will abandon them.
Once the rebel faction becomes common knowledge, Nobility will lose the people’s trust and put additional pressure on the army. That will come into play when I pressure them into surrendering.
I get up and leave the alley, taking the street and heading north towards Patrick’s mansion. The lack of blood on my helmet and glove seems to make me attract less attention on the streets, but those facing me do notice the hammer and part to let me pass.
It’s a short way from the western wall to the northern quarter of Meria. As usual, this part of the city is almost deserted and constantly patrolled by soldiers instead of city guards.
When Patrick talked to Button, he mentioned that he could use the troops he commands as a way to prove that he’s a better partner than Telnur would be to the Rykz. No doubt talking about his father’s men, but some may be more loyal to him as the heir than to the aging Count Thrin.
The Nobles he gathered around him may have their own soldiers to add to the count. I should be careful, I want them to fight but I can’t let myself get caught in the middle of it when the Duke acts on this either.
The question is, where are all the Nobles supporting him? He wouldn’t be so obvious as to invite them all at once in his mansion, but he’ll need to gather them together at some point and that’s when I need to point Lance at them to do the most damage.
I turn at the corner of the Lordling’s street, finding a single carriage in front of it. I wonder if Lance ordered someone to follow me. I glance behind myself and around the crossing, finding no one specific apart from a few patrols.
As I approach the mansion, his butler opens the door. She is wearing the same impeccable outfit and her expression is as serious as ever as she steps outside, bowing.
“Good morning, Lady Elizabeth.” She says as I walk up.
“Thank you, Sacit.” I reply, recalling her name at the last moment.
She closes the door behind us, taking the lead to guide me through the hallways towards the wing where the Lordling’s office is located.
“Who is Lord Patrick’s guest this morning?” I ask.
“Lord Baron Button, Lady Elizabeth.” She replies smoothly.
“We haven’t met.” I lie.
“The Baron is an avid hunter and a fervent businessman.” Sacit confides. “Perhaps you could start the conversation on these matters, Lady Elizabeth.”
“Hm.” I reply noncommittally, reminded of Cecil’s comment about the woman being a gossip.
I stop in the middle of the hallway. Sacit does too a second later, turning around and bowing reflexively.
“Is something the matter, Lady Elizabeth?” She asks.
“Come over here.” I open a door and grab her by the shoulder, pushing her into the small storage closet and following to stay out of sight.
“Lady Elizabeth!” She protests, almost squeaking.
“Settle down, I’m just going to give you some advice of my own.” I tell her, whispering.
“R-really? T-that’s it?” She stutters, taking a step back with her hands up. I let her put some distance between us, rolling my eyes.
“Why do you work for Patrick?” I ask directly, doing away with the title.
“Lord Heir Patrick remunerates me fairly.” She replies evasively. “I am content in his employ.”
“But he’s an asshole.” I add in her stead.
“I wouldn’t dare say such a thing, Lady Elizabeth.” She worriedly glances left and right, looking for an escape route in the closet.
“You wouldn’t divulge his matters behind his back if you were satisfied.” I comment, implying more than I what I was actually told. Her eyes widen in fear, her reaction tells me all I need to know. “Calm down, I don’t care about any of that.”
“I haven’t said a word about his current scheme to anyone, I swear!” She says hurriedly.
“I wouldn’t care if you did, Sacit.” I shrug. “What you need to know is that he made a mistake himself and attracted the Duke’s attention.” I lie.
“Oh, no!” She exclaims, and taking rapid breaths of air.
“Countess Lance herself told me, barely an hour ago.” I add.
“What do I do?!” Sacit asks herself in a tiny voice. I open my mouth to answer but a flurry of words escape her panicked lips. “I’m going to get hanged. I knew this was bad news but I couldn’t tell anyone! They would’ve condemned me with him! They’re executing people for every little crime lately! Oh, Emperor, I’m going to be hanged. He was so confident that the Duke wouldn’t find out until it was too late! I knew it was reckless. Emperor, I don’t want to have my head cut off!”
Her tirade is cut short by lack of air. She starts panting rapidly, trying to regain her breath. She snaps her eyes back to me, the panic in them fades, replaced by a shred of hope.
“Why are you warning me, Lady Elizabeth?” She asks, recovering some of her composure.
“Because I need information.” I tell her flatly. “Tell me what you know and I’ll help you avoid punishment.”
“I’m not allowed in the room while they discuss matters.” She admits but keeps talking. “But I know that two nights ago, a group of mercenaries met with Lord Patrick in the garden. I didn’t hear what they talked about but they had blood on their boots!”
“How many?” I ask.
“Four mercenaries, Crows.” She replies instantly.
“Shit.” I swear under my breath.
It wasn’t Celyz, it was fucking Patrick. He has a much longer reach than Hurb and his companions, he could do a lot more damage with these schematics. Which means that my Lady’s search probably won’t go anywhere.
“They came back again early this morning, Lord Patrick actually woke up to greet them.” She tells me.
“What else?” I press her.
“I’m not sure.” Sacit takes a deep breath. “Lord Button kept leaving and coming back these past few days.”
“What did Patrick say that you’re afraid would get you condemned to death?” I frown.
“He spoke of taking the Izla from the Duke’s weak hands and criticized the King, Lady Elizabeth, that’s treason!” She exclaims. “I know that Lord Button did many orders from my Lord Heir yesterday because they had tea! A long time!”
That makes no sense to me. I glance down, noticing that she’s gripping her hands together so hard that her phalanxes are turning white from the effort. She’s controlling her expression rather well, but she’s probably scared to death underneath. I made a mistake talking to her right now, she’s too incoherent to fool even Patrick. I don’t need to know everything, I’ll just send her to my Lady and find something to tell the Lordling.
“Take a deep breath.” I tell her, waiting for her to do so before continuing. “Do you know where Lord Button keeps going?” I ask.
“I don’t.” She looks down, panicking once more. “I’m sorry, all I know is that he heads south but doesn’t take too long to come back.”
“It’s okay.” I say in a soothing voice. “What’s your best guess?”
“I think they’ve bought a large mansion!” She says with wide eyes. “Yes! It makes sense, my Lord ordered me to find a merchant that sells furniture and give them a letter!”
“Near the castle?” I ask.
“There are some there, yes.” She nods frantically. “The merchant was excited, that’s why I think it was a large order!”
“Alright, that’s all I needed to know.” I should be able to find that mansion if Patrick doesn’t take me there himself. “You should leave now, I don’t think you’re calm enough to meet your Lord.”
“He’ll be suspicious, Lady Elizabeth.” Sacit shakes her head. “I can do my job.”
“Are you certain? I can tell him that I sent you on an errand.” I say.
“I wouldn’t depart without warning Lord Patrick, my Lady.” She counters.
“Alright.” I acquiesce, noticing her resolve. “Whenever you feel that you can, go to the castle and ask to be brought to Lady Lance on my behalf. Tell her everything you know and she will protect you.”
“I will.” Sacit nods and I step aside to clear the path to the door.
“Take the time you need to focus.” I tell her.
She takes a minute to compose herself, unwinding her fingers and setting her hands flat on her thighs. She walks past me, gracefully. That’s some recovery.
“Hm.” I say appreciatively.
“This way, Lady Elizabeth.” She speaks up in a formal tone, leading me around a corner and in front of the door to Patrick’s office. She lightly knocks on the wood.
“What is it, Sacit, I’m busy?” Patrick asks in an irritated tone.
“Lady Elizabeth Vil to see you, Lord Heir Patrick.” She replies in a calm tone of voice but I can see her hand shaking on the handle.
Two people get up inside the office. Their chair’s feet scrape against the floor. Sacit makes a grimace at the sound and takes a step back. I hear them approach and open the door.
Patrick is dressed in a red outfit with embroidered golden ornaments, Button behind him is wearing a long brown tunic with a silver scarf. I almost scoff at their attires. They picked royal colors, so obviously trying to use their symbolism to bolster their appearance.
“Lady Elizabeth, welcome. I shouldn’t be surprised that you found out what’s happening tonight on your own, but I do hope you were discreet with the knowledge.” Patrick speaks up.
“Of course, Lord Patrick.” I bow slightly without missing a beat.
“This is my second, Baron Buton.” Patrick steps aside to give me a clear view of the man.
“Pleased to meet you, Lady Elizabeth.” Buton tells me with a small salute.
“Likewise.” I retort before turning back to Patrick. “I do have to admit, Lord Patrick, that while I am aware that you are taking a step forward tonight, I do miss the crucial details of it.”
“Ah, we are not that obvious after all!” He exclaims, laughing. “Come inside, we were about to have tea.”
I nod, walking in as Patrick and Buton return to their seats to either side of his desk. Sacit steps in, taking a chair resting against a wall and setting in down for me.
I sit down comfortably, relieved that the butler is successfully acting normally. I lay my hammer against my armrest, within easy reach in case something goes wrong.
“I want to hear all about your progress, Lord Patrick.” I say.
Patrick rolls a large piece of parchment and uses a string to tie it up, putting it away inside a wide drawer. He was very careful in how he handled it, not allowing me to take a single glimpse at it. I hear Sacit leave and close the door behind herself.
“I’ve spoken to every Noble I can trust to be discreet and most have accepted to gather tonight. I am confident that they will agree on a common course of action with me as their leader.” Patrick says, proudly sticking his chest out.
It’s good that I advanced my plans if this maniac is this confident and secure enough to actually order a murder. I should be careful myself, he won’t hesitate to eliminate me if he thinks me a hindrance.
“That’s good news.” I say, inclining my head. “I assume that you wish to speak to them on your own, secure your leadership and set a good example before you introduce me.” There’s no way I’m entering a room filled with maniacs like the Lordling.
“Those were my thoughts, yes. I’m glad that you see the necessity of it.” Patrick nods. “You have a clarity of mind that goes beyond that of a simple brute like you call yourself.”
“It means a lot coming from you, Lord Patrick.” I utter carefully, swallowing my disgust.