The room was dark, almost too dark to see. It hid the details of those seated around the table.
“I have summoned you all here,” Hei-Fen spoke quietly, “to inform you we have made contact with the Lucky Bones.”
“He did it!” someone announced with a little too much joy for Hei-Fen’s liking.
Her brows furrowed slightly. “No, ‘he’ did not do it. In fact, my Ears report he – Varl Wrex – is dead.” Hei-Fen let that news sink in, and waited for the quiet murmuring to begin before continuing. “Along with our agents.”
“We don’t yet know,” Hei-Fen snapped. The attendees realised her temper was rising and fell silent. “But I know, through other means, they have found the Lucky Bones and accessed its vault. Our vault.”
Now only silence, as the others waited for direction. Eventually Hei-Fen spoke, some having to lean forward to hear her words. “I have arranged a meeting with the one who gained access. My Ears will discover who they are. Until then, as much as it pains us, we wait.”
+ + +
Across the ocean, another meeting was taking place. This one occurred in an atrium. A glass roof sheltered a number of rare and exotic plants, some climbing toward the sun, others creeping across the tiled floor. Several chains of perfumed red flowers trailed down from large glossy leaves above, shading a simple satinwood chair. Upon the chair sat an elderly woman.
A young, blonde woman with deep blue eyes made her way through the plants toward the seated lady. A tendril from a passionflower caressed her shoulder but the woman absently brushed it aside.
“Mistress, I have information on the Children,” she said, coming to a standstill in front of the seated lady.
The lady gestured for her to take a seat opposite, and poured her some tea while she did so. “In Draconic, please, Rili,” the lady requested.
Rili paused for only a moment before switching her language to the ancient language of dragons. The words were difficult to pronounce but Rili spoke it with ease.
“The Children of the Ash have found a new hideout. Even now they gather strength in an underground complex in Old Kintargo.”
The lady nodded. “Good. Infernal.”
Rili changed flawlessly, now speaking the language of Hell. It was a concise language replete with homophones, but Rili conveyed her message precisely. “The Children saved Archbaroness Aulamaxa from Lady Ambria Sarini’s assassination attempt. I think they will approach the Archbaroness for an alliance, much like they did with Lord Aulorian and Lictor Sabinus.”
“Ex-Lictor,” the lady corrected with a wry smile. “Very good. Speaking of the Order, what of Sir Rogatus? Elven.”
Rili once again changed, this time to the poetic sounding elven. “He has left the city, this time headed to Citadel Enferac.”
“So they intend to go ahead with the ritual. Interesting. Thank you, Rili, you may go.”
As Rili left the lady leaned back, holding a sprig of mint under her nose, lost in thought.
+ + +
Rogatus spurred on his horse, hoping the last few miles passed quickly. His destination was close, he could see it. In fact, he couldn’t miss it. Citadel Enferac, home of the Order of the Gate, the only order of Hellknight dedicated to employing magic to enforce its vision of law.
From the outside, the mountain’s habitation was clear. Towers, smoking chimneys, iron balconies, and fortifications of black stone protruded from the snowy slopes. Over the decades, the citadel had grown from a single structure to encompass the entirety of Mount Nyisaid. Legend had it the citadel didn’t simply cover the mountain, but also filled it: the Order of the Gate had carved vast caverns within the mountain, halls, barracks, meeting chambers, some with fortifications and structures all their own.
Ahead of Rogatus, a massive flight of stairs rose from the valley. There’s always a catch, he thought. Dismounting, he passed the reins to an stablehand. Taking a deep breath, he began his ascent.
Legs aching and breath coming in ragged gasps in the mountain air, Rogatus eventually reached a mighty crimson door. Two gargantuan iron statues of Hellknights flanked the gate. Although motionless, Rogatus had no doubt they would animate if necessary.
He reached out for the large knocker but the door opened silently before he could touch it.
“Welcome, Sir Rogatus,” a grinning man in a crimson robe greeted him.
Rogatus waited a moment to catch his breath. “Sir Hybriano… Greetings… It’s been… a long time.”
Hybriano grinned and ushered Rogatus inside. “I forgot how tiring the stairs can be,” Hybriano said as he led Rogatus down a hall. “You know we rarely use them.”
Rogatus had by now caught his breath. “I don’t suppose you could provide me a way of passing them by next time, a magic carpet perhaps?” he half joked. It was his third time at Enferac, and the climb had definitely not become easier with age.
As he passed down the hall he noted the murder holes and arrow slits lining the walls. He couldn’t help but compare Enferac to his Order’s own keep in Kintargo, humble – no, meek – beside this marvel.
With a grimace he remembered that humble abode was now the possession of the Order of the Rack, thanks to Barzillai Thrune’s proclamation.
Hybriano opened a door to a small meeting hall as two Hellknights walked by, dressed in the crimson robes and vortex-patterned armour traditionally worn by the Gate. They turned to Rogatus, perhaps wondering who the stranger was, though their expressions were hidden behind steel face masks.
“Water, wine perhaps?” Hybriano offered as Rogatus slumped into a chair.
“Wine, thanks,” Rogatus replied. He took a long drink, rubbed the exhaustion from his face, and turned to Hybriano, who had also taken a seat at the table. “I suppose you know about the Torrent?” he asked.
Hybriano’s expression remained neutral. “Of course. Word travels quickly.”
Augurs of fantastic potency, the Hellknights of the Gate cast their gazes across the world, witnessing crimes and presaging chaos. There was little that escaped them, and Rogatus had no doubt that word might have travelled quickly but in no mundane way.
Hybriano spoke cautiously. "It is unfortunate, but know there are many in Enferac whom sympathise with your plight.”
“It’s temporary,” Rogatus offered with a grin, but it slowly faded as he contemplated his position. Although outlawed from Kintargo, not even the Lord-Mayor had the power to completely dissolve the Order, so he was safe and welcome at Enferac. Planning to overthrow the lawful government of the city, however, was probably beyond the pale for the Order of the Gate. How much they knew about that Rogatus wasn’t sure, but he had no intention of mentioning it.
Considering their power of divination, however, they did know, in which case they had provided their unspoken blessing for the rebellion – for otherwise Rogatus would already be in chains.
“Do you know why I’m here?" he asked.
“You need us for a summoning. I’m happy to report Paravicar Astratius will do it himself.”
“Excellent!” Rogatus replied. That was the first good news he had heard for quite some time.
“Just as soon as your men assist ours, we will be ready.”
There’s always a catch.
Hybriano passed over a letter detailing the assistance required.
“Agreed,” Rogatus stated after reading it. He summarily threw it into the fireplace, having memorised its contents. “One more thing. This is more personal. The Lictor tasked me with finding Shensen, but all leads have gone cold. Perhaps you could help…”