Grand Bursar Imel Nantiar’s mansion was almost completely silent save for the scratching of his quill. The storms that had ended Earl Elwyn’s life had moved on, leaving the land damper, yet poorer as well. The thought of what had happened to the earl caused Imel’s lips to tighten, and not because of the man’s death. He’d never liked the earl much to begin with, but his death had been a disaster.
“Fate has a cruel sense of humor.” Imel muttered, pausing to clean his quill and examine the papers in front of him unhappily.
He was working on figuring out the full consequences of losing the income from Phedreth’s port until the harbor was cleared, which would cost Tethlyn even more. It wasn’t looking good, if he was being honest, and what he’d heard about events in the earldom had him concerned. Earl Elwyn hadn’t possessed any heirs when he’d died, and while there were a few people with claims on his seat, none of them had a clear right to it… and they were agitating matters heavily. That wasn’t good when the pirates in the region were acting up, and they needed a leader to keep the navy moving swiftly.
When all of that combined with the disaster that had been the attack on Pharos’s Mage Association, Imel’s job had become immensely more difficult. They’d paid the mysterious cabal of magi who’d accompanied Northwood a fortune for their assistance, and had lost dozens of assassins and infiltrators. Worse, Pharos had reinforced the border heavily and curtailed Imel’s efforts to keep track of their intentions. It was almost enough to make him drink heavily. Almost, as something about the situation was putting up his hackles. Imel didn’t know what was going on, but when nothing had been going right of late, he had to wonder if someone was making it go wrong.
“If only I knew where that apprentice of Marin’s was. She’s proven to be far more dangerous than anyone gave her credit for.” Imel said, tapping the edge of his desk nervously.
“Unfortunately for you, I’m right here.” A woman said from behind him, and Imel stiffened as a blade touched his neck, cold as ice and razor-sharp. He had no idea how anyone could have crept up behind him, especially not without him hearing. He deliberately made certain the balcony doors creaked.
“What do you want?” Imel asked after a few seconds of silence, a chill running down his spine.
“What do I want? Oh, that’s simple.” The woman replied, and casually circled around to stand in front of him, and to his surprise, the knife held perfectly steady as she drew into his line of sight.
The elven woman was gorgeous, and instantly recognizable from the reports Imel had read. She had long, auburn hair, and features that would’ve drawn his attention even if he hadn’t been rather riveted in place by the dagger against his throat. She wore simple robes, ones which wouldn’t have been out of place among any number of scholars in the city, but that just allowed her appearance to stand out even more. Or it would have, if it weren’t for her eyes. Her dark brown eyes looked almost looked like coal-black pits to him, with barely contained rage burned behind them. Imel almost started to sweat as his concern grew stronger. He wished that he’d known that the woman was a High Mage before Northwood had left, as perhaps then things would have turned out differently.
“If it’s simple, perhaps something can be arranged. We may not be as wealthy as Pharos at the moment, but—” Imel began, but fell silent as the knife pressed against his neck a little harder in response to the woman raising a finger, not quite breaking the skin.
“What I want is Marin back. Something which is far, far beyond your power to give me.” Emonael said, her voice carefully controlled, and she glanced down at his desk derisively. “She is only one of a handful of people I care about, and your nation took her from me. It appears that it has cost you a great deal… but not nearly as much as you deserve.”
The icy edge to the woman’s voice sent another shiver down Imel’s spine, as he recognized the woman’s gaze at last. He’d seen looks like that in other people before, and a few of those who’d possessed similar gazes had been among his best, most driven agents. They were the sort of people who couldn’t be swayed, who would do whatever was necessary to carry out their goals. That scared him, because he knew there was nothing that sort of person wouldn’t do in pursuit of their goals.
So he licked his lips, hesitating, then asked softly. “What do you want from me? If it’s information, I have a great deal. As long as you let me live, I’ll give you whatever you want.”
The woman chuckled, and when she spoke, her words were in an odd, soft cadence, ever so slightly stilted. “Oh, you’re going to give me what I want regardless, Sir Nantiar. And I don’t even have to let you live.”
Imel tensed, but just as he was about to throw himself to the side away from the knife, his body… froze. He tried to move, and found that he couldn’t even control his breathing. Panic rushed through him, and he found himself looking at Emonael in shock as the woman gestured, summoning the thin, sharp dagger away from his throat and into her hand. He wanted to move, yet he couldn’t, as he found himself unmoving, like his mind was in a cage.
“I know more than you’d believe possible. Everything? No, of course not. But I know enough. I’ve identified the handful of people that I consider personally responsible for Marin’s death. And every. Last. One. Will. Die.” Emonael told him, her voice cold as death as she stared him in the eyes. “You’re intelligent, and that’s why you’re going to die early. Be glad, you won’t have the chance to see all that you’ve worked for destroyed.”
Fear rushed through Imel, followed by more panic, as he struggled ever-harder. He’d heard of mind magi, but he’d never experienced something like this in person. Worse, he’d often believed that no one from Pharos was ruthless enough to use it.
“Now, then. Pull out your dagger and commit suicide, Sir Nantiar. As though you were in despair over what you’ve determined.” Emonael ordered, solidifying Imel’s fear.
Yet despite every bit of strength he threw at the mental cage, trying to stop himself, Imel couldn’t stop himself from drawing his dagger.
Emonael watched pitilessly as the elven bursar and spymaster bled out on his desk, blood pooling around him. It was difficult for her to maintain the spell keeping her a fingerwidth above the floor along with all the other spells she’d cast, but that was good. It kept her mind focused.
She waited for several minutes, long enough that she was certain that Grand Bursar Nantiar was well and truly dead, then she nodded at last, stepping around his desk once more as she released the spell imprisoning his mind, murmuring. “Be very glad. I could have done much, much worse to you. Marin made me soft.”
And with that, she cast another spell to turn herself to mist and filter through the cracks between the balcony doors. The guards would never know she’d been there, which was quite fortunate for them.
The wrath of the king would likely be a wholly different matter, but he’d be distracted soon enough.