The SocietyMature

The Captain woke before the sun had risen to an insistent pounding on his office door. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up with a groan. He considered telling them to go away, but he knew they would only wake him up this early if it was something important. He pulled his uniform tunic from the back of the chair he'd draped it over. He pulled it on, but didn't bother to button it before heading across the room. "What is it?" he asked, pulling open the door. 

"There was an assassination attempt on Prince Konrad," the Watchman behind the door reported. 

"What?" The Captain's sleepy brain took a moment to process the fact. An assassination attempt? On a Prince? Something like that hadn't happened in a very long time. "When?"

"We just found out. Lieutenant Mercer left with a detachment of men to search the area."

"Then I take it Konrad's guards didn't kill the assassin," The Captain mused. "How is the Prince?"

"Alive for now. He was wounded," the Watcman reported, "But to what extent we don't know."

"Alert the other Princes' guard detachments," The Captain ordered. "Use the crystals. I don't want them caught off guard if there are other targets." He walked out into the hallway. "Somebody get me a horse!"

Konrad's estate was buzzing with activity when The Captain arrived on the scene. The Princes' house guard, as well as his Watch detachment, were everywhere. If the assassin thought to come back and finish the job, he'd find it very near impossible. 

"Where's Lieutenant Mercer?" he asked the guard at gate. He dismounted and handed the reigns to a second guard.

"In the main hall," the man answered. Without a second word The Captain strode purposefully into the estate. He found Mercer right where he was supposed to be, at the center of activity. 

"Lieutenant," The Captain greeted his subordinate with a quick salute. 

"Eh?" Mercer turned and noticed his Captain for the first time. "Ah, hello sir," he said with a return salute. "You got here faster than I thought you would."

"If there's one thing that warrants speed it's the assassination of a Prince," The Captain told him. "Or the near assassination, I hope." He raised his eyebrows in question.

"Oh, don't count Konrad out just yet," Mercer said with a grim smile. "He's stubborn. They had him on a couch over there when I arrived. I've never seen such a mess. But he was still breathing. Gods above know how or why, but he was. I brought a couple of medics with me, one of them went with the mages and took Konrad upstairs to his room once they'd stopped the worst of it. The other is looking after the other wounded."

The Captain looked at the couch Mercer had indicated. There was an unsettling amount of blood staining it's cushions and the surrounding floor. "Will he last the night?"

"The mages assure me he will."

The Captain nodded in acceptance of the fact. "What do we know?" he asked. 

"The assassin entered through a side gate. He killed a watchman on duty there, hid his body in some bushes. From there it looks like our assassin went in through the entrance to the servant's quarters. Here's where it gets... tricky," Mercer looked annoyed.

"Tricky?" The Captain prompted.

"Aye. Konrad was having some sort of meeting downstairs in the basement. That's where the attack happened. By the time we got here everybody who survived was up here in the main hall. They won't let us downstairs to have a look at the scene, though."

"They don't get that choice," The Captain said. "Somebody tried to assassinate a Prince. If they try to get in your way, arrest them. I don't care who they are."

"That's the thing, sir," Mercer explained, "It's warded. The mages who put it up are keeping Konrad alive."

"Warded? Why would the Mages Guild want to keep us out?" The Captain asked, but Mercer shook his head. 

"Wasn't the Guild, sir."

"What?"

"One of the mages up there is from out of town. She was here for Konrad's meeting."

"What about the other one?" The Captain asked.

"Oh, he's Guild alright," Mercer responded. "But before they moved the Prince he said he wasn't the one who put up the ward."

The Captain narrowed his eyes. "Why was he here?"

"For the meeting, probably," Mercer suggested. "And before you ask, I have no idea what the meeting was about. None of the survivors will tell me." 

"Just how many survivors are there?" The Captain asked.

"Counting Konrad and the two mages, four. Two of them are hurt pretty bad, though." 

"Just how many people were at this meeting?"

"All told? About a dozen," Mercer said. 

"Fine," The Captain rubbed a hand through his hair. "We'll get the why's sorted out later. Did they manage to kill any of their assailants? With two mages present they couldn't have gotten away unharmed."

"Oh, didn't I mention?" Mercer asked apologetically. "Sorry, I meant to tell you right off..."

"What is it, Lieutenant?" 

"The one thing they will tell me is that they were attacked by demons. The Summoner did this, sir. Seems he's after Princes now."

The Captain nodded slowly, taking in the information. "Send men around to get the Mages Guild out of bed. I want all of them over here as soon as possible. I already ordered the other Princes alerted via crystal," he told Mercer. "But they need to know it's no ordinary assassin. Raise their guard detachments and tell them it's a Summoner they're watching out for." 

"Yes sir," Mercer responded. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"I'm going upstairs. Those mages and I need to have a talk as soon as Konrad's no longer knocking on the gates of the underworld." 

The morning sun had established itself in the sky by the time the mages were satisfied that Konrad would survive. They emerged from his room, robes stained with blood, and left him in the care of the Watch's medic. The Captain was there in the hallway, waiting for them. "Ganner," he greeted the mage he knew. 

"Captain," Ganner said tiredly. It was clear from his face that he'd known The Captain would be there waiting for him. He glanced briefly at the other mage. "What can we do for you?" he asked. 

"You can tell me what the hells is going on," The Captain responded. "And your friend here can tell me why she felt it necessary to keep the Watch away from a crime scene."

"Ah, yes. Captain, this is Esme," Ganner introduced his companion. "She's head of the Mages Guild of Parl, here at Prince Konrad's request."

"Which answers neither of my questions. Forgive me for not being more courteous," The Captain said, "But as you can tell this is a very serious situation."

"There's no need for apologies," Esme replied, "I understand completely. To answer your question, I placed the ward on the stairway for our own protection. I didn't mean to keep your men out, I mean to keep my fallen comrades in. I recognize the magic that was at work when the Summoner attacked us. In some cases it can be used to allow demons to possess the recently dead. With Konrad in such dire straights, and with the Summoner still on the loose, I didn't have time to ensure the bodies wouldn't become his puppets. So I warded the stairway. If they did rise, they wouldn't be able to get past it."

"I see," The Captain replied. "And now that you're no longer occupied with keeping Prince Konrad alive?"

"If your men are prepared to deal with whatever might be down there, I will gladly remove the ward," Esme responded. "But Captain... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your actual name."

"Just 'captain' will do," he told her.

"Oh... of course. As I was saying, there is something you should know about Prince Konrad."

"Esme," Ganner interjected, "I don't think it's our place to say anything about that."

"Ganner," The Captain fixed the mage with a serious stare, "A demon summoning mage just tried to kill Prince Konrad. If this has anything to do with why then I need to hear it."

"May we?" Esme asked, gesturing down the hallway towards the stairs. At The Captain's nod the three headed downstairs. "I know Prince Konrad has a reputation as a member of the old guard here," she continued. "A follower of the old ways. It's well deserved. There are those of us who believe the gods are still with us, that their lack of interaction is but a test. As belief in the gods fades across the land we few believers came together to form a society. We gather to contemplate what it is the gods want of us, and to worship them so they will know that we haven't forgotten."

"I don't understand," The Captain said as they descended the stairs. "This is a secretive society? The old gods aren't as popular as they once were, it's true, but there's no reason to hide your devotion." 

"Not here in Marsten, perhaps," Esme said with a wan smile. "Elsewhere there are cults who do terrible things in the name of their chosen god. With the church dead in all but name any heretic can claim to do the work of the gods. Very often their deeds simply drive more away, and cement the perception of their worship as a bad thing. In some cities any organized worship of the old gods faces severe scrutiny and suspicion."

"Is that the case in Parl?" The Captain asked.

"It is," Esme nodded.

"So that's what you were doing here?" The Captain demanded. "Worshiping the old gods? Why come all the way from Parl for that?"

"Because that's my job within the society," Esme told him. "I go from city to city, keeping us connected and relaying any information that everyone needs to know."

"I assume this attack will be something everyone needs to hear about?" The Captain asked. 

"Of course," Esme said. "It's my belief that the Summoner attacked us here, during this meeting, specifically because we worship the old gods. Others of the society need to be warned in case this is part of a larger movement against us. What if there are other Summoners at large? There could be another Incursion on the way."

"I find that unlikely," The Captain argued. "Thus far the Summoner has been mostly interested in killing random citizens and drawing arcane symbols with their blood. What demons have been seen were used to limited and specific effect. Whatever he's up to, he has a very particular goal in mind within the city. It may be that he sees the old gods as a threat," The Captain allowed. "One of his earlier acts was to terrorize a temple." 

"Perhaps I should stay then," Esme mused, "And learn more about this Summoner and his goals."

"I wouldn't object to having another mage around," The Captain admitted. "What about the Mages Guild?"

"Ah," Ganner cleared his throat, "I have no doubt that they would welcome a visiting mage." 

"Good." The Captain said, considering the matter settled. "Now, about that ward?"

The End

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