Cold Storage

- Dalen Capital, Valade Estate, Mid-Morning, 3 DSTR -

“If you feel we need to, then I agree. I can just say I did not like him,” Kline said of the Count. “He and I have a history. You saw how quickly he vanished when his services were needed. It would not shock me if he worked with those people.”

“Oh I very much doubt that,” Kalena replied. “The Queen values Chiren's council and trusts him, and as we've discussed before she's quite a good judge of character. I don't know what sort of history you two have, but as far as my own experience with him, let's just say that to be my friend, honour is not necessarily a must, and his knowledge and intellect tend to make up for any of his other failings. Of course in my old line of work it was to my benefit that I got on with all kinds of people. Saints. Sinners. And all those in between. If everyone were the same it would be a boring world, would it not?”

“I will trust your advice on this,” Kline said.

A cough at the door had him turn around to look and see the priest from the other night. He stood, draped in his vestments thick, his bald head covered with a teardrop shaped hat. The robes marked him as a high priest of the Light, a general religion that followed all the gods of good. Kalena was brought up to pay homage to Diwa, the sovereign goddess of the divine assembly, but due to her travels she had never got into the habit of making sacrifices to idols and other religious observances; and she felt she got along just fine without them.

“Baron,” said the priest. “There is the matter of your man’s body.”

“His name was Van.”

The priest nodded. “Yes, of course, sorry, but you must do something with his body. It cannot stay at the temple as the soul was defiled and he cannot be put to rest with those who have moved on. His body should be burned, if you wish a suggestion and his ashes spread out so they cannot be used for evil magic.”

“I will see to his body, you will not be burning it.” Kline growled the words and Kalena was reminded of the previous night when he nearly throttled the little priest to death. She did not understand his objection to the suggestion. Her own people burned their dead, but she knew other cultures were different the world over. Lafayette's people buried theirs in deep underground crypts, and the Vakalians by tradition left theirs out on the ground to be eaten by scavengers, something she found more than a little distasteful herself.

“I would suggest disposal before the next sunset,” the priest said. “In case of another soul taking possession of it.”

Kline waved him off with one hand and his other had gripped his sword.

Once the priest was gone, Kline pinched the bridge of his nose. “You would not mind if I kept him here, for a time? Until I can take him back to his family?” he asked Kalena with his eyes shut.

She squeezed his shoulder. “Of course not. We could put him in one of the cold rooms. They're really quite remarkable. A kind of dry slush is pumped through a piping system back and forth around the rooms, and the flow of this extremely cold solution maintains a frigid temperature. Perun tells me it was devised by an alchemical engineer. I thought I encountered the same thing when Lafayette and I discovered Hemlock imprisoned in one of Sarx's basement cells. It seems they were literally keeping her on ice. We still need to carefully debrief the woman; we need to learn everything she knows about the Emerald Scarves' intentions, and it would be best to do that before we meet with Chiren.”

A servant entered then and handed Kalena the letter from the aforementioned Count. “Speak of the devil,” she said, smiling. It was in an envelope of quality paper sealed with the Soldor seal. She broke the wax with a painted nail, perched on the edge of her desk, and began to read.

To Kalena Valade,

It has been brought to my attention that a crisis of upmost importance for the Kingdom has been brought to our attention. I believe it would be best if we could discuss the matter at my estate involving all concerned parties. Since it is too late to plan for a dinner party I suggest we have coffee and cake around 9 p.m. to ease our stress as we resolve to solve our pressing discussion. Since space may be an issue I suggest we have our meeting at my Auditorium just outside my mansion. I will have my attendance make the preparations as this letter is delivered. I look forward to resolving our issues in a just and timely manner.

She frowned at some of the phrasing and at his handwriting that seemed a little different than she remembered. She looked to her servant questioningly. “Am I to understand you received this missive directly from the Count at his home?”

“Yes, milady. At his home from His Grace personally,” the servant confirmed.

Kalena nodded, dismissing any concern that the message was fraudulent and handed it to Kline to read. “Well, it looks like he's already a step ahead of us. He wishes to have a sit-down with us all at his house. I wonder if he's heard of the royal warrant already and is not liking the fact that the Queen placed you in charge when he was well into his own investigation of the matter. Technically a count outranks a baron, and he's one of the most senior officials in the whole kingdom. I know you don't like him, but we can only benefit from an alliance between us all. His inside information I expect will be essential to our success, and it won't hurt to have a mage with us too. We are a bit lacking in such expertise.”

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