Speculations and Accusations

-Dalen Capital, Night, 2 DSTR-

"I will accept a ride, thank you," Hemlock said.

“Why it's no trouble at all,” Kalena replied, her lips spread across her face in a harsh grin. “In fact I must insist that you come with us whether you would like to or not. You happen to be a material witness in a high-level corruption and murder investigation; you'll not be leaving my custody until you have satisfactorily related everything you know to me and to the proper authorities about your dealings with the Emerald Scarves.” She looked to Kline lying unconscious on the padded bench across from them and then to Hemlock. “You're a mage. Can you do anything for him?”

The ever-resourceful Lafayette examined Kline's wounds and took something out of a pouch. "Hold still. It will stink, but it will stop you from bleeding out until we get you a healer."

“I doubt he can hear you,” Kalena said. “Will that substance ward off infection as well? It looks like he was attacked by a rather large animal—a bear or a tiger or something like that.” She shook her head in frustration and let out a breath. “This whole evening has been utterly unbelievable!”

"Do you really think they are telling the truth, Kalena?" Lafayette asked, "Why would the Queen knowingly give you her hounds to hunt down her own men? Better yet, why would a group of trained infiltrates need such an elaborate plot if they worked inside the walls? I just think we should be more worried about what is actually happening here."

“The Emerald Scarves are most certainly not the Queen's men,” Kalena said angrily. “I don't care what nonsense Sarx fed us about being Her Majesty's loyal vassals. The whole lot of them are nothing but criminal parasites that need to be eradicated. But you're correct that there has to be a certain logic behind all this madness, something underlying it all that should be rather concerning. They staged this brazen attack in the heart of the royal quarter, left behind ample evidence to implicate themselves in the worst of crimes: murder and acts of necromancy. They stole the soul of an unremarkable young soldier, abducted a few worthless slaves, captured the Queen's prized hounds only to simply return them again, and then to top it off, Sarx practically throws it in our faces that the Emerald Scarves can flout the laws of the Queen and Dalen with impunity due to being so central to the Lower Quarter. It's almost as if they want to provoke Thalia into coming down on them like a ton of bricks, which, again, makes no bloody sense! But if you'll recall at dinner, Chiren mentioned the disturbing level of corruption that he's uncovered among the kingdom's nobles. Might all this be a crude ploy to distract the Queen's attention away from something else? A coup attempt, perhaps?”

Hemlock spoke up: "While in the tunnels did either of you happen to see a tiny fairy?"

“A tiny fairy?” Kalena said, scowling at the abrupt change in subject.

"Only about one cubit tall, black hair, translucent white wings," Hemlock went on, describing her friend. "While they were dragging me from my home her hutch was empty."

One of the slaves' faces suddenly went pale, and he shrank in his seat.

Kalena glared at him. “If you have something to say, out with it already.”

The young boy appeared nothing less than traumatized, and he fidgeted and clutched at the iron collar he wore about his neck. “Little Petunia was so nice and kind when we first arrived, and she told us that rescue was on its way – but then... they-they killed her... oh my gods, they killed her right in front of me!”

“This was another prisoner?” Kalena turned and saw the pain and shock that filled Hemlock's face. “Well, the Emerald Scarves have a lot to answer for, and I promise that this Petunia shall be avenged.”

“They pulled her wings off... and then the man ripped out one of her eyes and... and he ate it...”

“Yes, yes, you can spare us the grisly details,” Kalena said with a disgusted wave of her hand.

“It was him!” the boy cried, pointing at Kline. “He was the one. He did it.”

“Wait! What?!” Kalena sputtered.

“Him and the orc.”

“The orc?!”

“I swear by the gods, mistress!” The slave was breaking down in tears now and sobbing uncontrollably. “The orc ate her other eye... and then he... then he stepped on Petunia... crushed her under his foot, like she was just a bug...”

Kalena stared at the boy in disbelief... and fury. “You say Kline and Gularzob sadistically dismembered and mutilated this poor creature? Don't be absurd! They would do no such thing, and I'll hear no more of it!”

“I saw them!” the boy shrieked. “I watched them from my cage! They killed her!”

Kalena shot him a fierce look and reached for her dagger. “Shut your mouth this instant, or I'll cut out your lying tongue and feed it to the hounds as a treat!”

The boy gasped in fright and went quiet as the tears fell from his eyes.

Kalena turned to Lafayette. “That Sarx woman must have done something to their minds. Now these slaves will be no good to me at all. I'll have to sell them off and purchase replacements.” She put a hand to her face, massaging her forehead. “Can this whole evening possibly get any worse?”

The fine, black wood coach swerved around a turn and she looked up and saw they were nearing the royal residence. The immense palace was illuminated by hundreds of blazing magical lamps, making its marble and gold façade a magnificent and inspiring sight for those unaccustomed to seeing it at night. She ordered the driver to stop at the front entrance and grabbed Hemlock by the wrist. “Come along, you. We shall speak to Her Majesty about all this. You did claim to work for her, didn't you?” Kalena flashed a chilling smile, as if that story had very much better check out for Hemlock's sake.

“Lafayette, would you be a dear and take Kline back to my home and see he's made comfortable until a healer arrives? Perhaps you and Eliza can see what more can be learned from these slaves and any other witnesses as well. I'm going to try to arrange for the Queen's own personal physician to pay a house call. Only the best for our Baron Lowson. In the meantime, don't trust anyone except for Perun, Eliza, Chiren, and the Baron's men Lafford and Frogmore, who've served Kline for a number of years and are likely beyond reproach.” She lowered her voice to a whisper and leaned up to Lafayette's ear. “When you reach my villa, be sure to tell my guards to close the gates and seize the carriage driver before he can escape. If he works for Sarx there may be a few things the gentleman can tell us under interrogation.”

With the necromancer as a defacto prisoner, Kalena stepped out of the carriage. On the plushly carpeted floor one of the hounds yawned and looked around sleepily. Tugging on their long leather leashes, with both hands, she led the huge black dogs out and up to the armour-clad gate guards. Hemlock's attire and unkempt appearance raised more than a few eyebrows from the men. But as if fully expected, the royal hounds were taken back to the kennels by their handlers and almost immediately Kalena and Hemlock were escorted to one of the opulent parlours to await a private, late-night audience with Thalia, the Queen of Dalen.

<Tag Lafayette, Eliza, Laffy, Froggy, Chiren, Hemlock, and Thalia>

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