Jacek frowned, and furrowed his brow in annoyance – two things he’d found himself doing with increasing regularity over the past few years, which was, in itself, a cause for annoyance.

He stood out the front of the old abbey, looking down the terraced hill at a view of the Branthend Mountains. The early morning sun cast his shadow in front of him, although illuminated those peaks to his west in a crisp, clear light. He tried to ignore the grasses, which stirred despite the lack of a breeze to move them. Doubtless in other times the view would’ve been enough to sooth troubled thoughts, which was perhaps in part why the monks had settled there. But these were not other times; he had matters on his mind, and the view would have to wait.

It doesn’t make any sense, he thought.

No, stop. That’s not right. Think clearly. Start with the foundations of your knowledge, and build from there.

It seemed that Ray’s intelligence had been incorrect, the witch having been misled. At least, that’s what the available evidence appeared to point to: Jacek had detected no deception from either Ray or the wererat Gaitan. And there certainly wasn’t any suggestion that alchemical weaponry of mass-murder had been developed or stored here. This place was a false flag. But why?

Consider the facts. Irovetti must have known that, hearing of this news, I’d react. Maybe there are other such operations. But what did the Pitaxian want?

He tried to force my hand. If I believed that the weaponry was near to completion, I’d have to do something. Which I did. Either hastily assault Pitax, in which case I appear as the aggressor, and Brevoy’s support of Pitax becomes politically more palatable. It builds into our foes’ biased narrative about our nation. He gets his war, which he’s prepared for, and it seems like Ursundova is at fault.

Or, come here. Knowing that either I or members of my Council would investigate, he has his guards wait to try to kill us. It’s a gamble, but he has nothing to lose by it. If he slays one or more of us, it is a blow which will hurt us in the coming conflict, and might, again, provoke me into aggression. The haunt in this place may be an incidental bonus for him; it seems he chose the abbey as an out-of-the-way location, making a plausible cover. Perhaps Irovetti doesn’t even know of the haunt. And if the haunt were to kill us where his soldiers failed, again, a win for him.

Yes. I see it now. This place is a provocation to me. He doesn’t need alchemical weapons. He just needed me to believe they were here. The gambit costs him very little.

Given that:

Do such weapons exist, elsewhere? Possibly not; we cannot be sure.

Now that we have sprung his trap, and survived it, has some other part of Irovetti’s plan awakened? Again, we cannot be sure. But I will have to assume not, at least for now. Ray says we are not being scried upon. Has Ray been turned? Unlikely. And the Pitaxians were to deliver a report on our assault in person. If they’ve truly been here for several months, probably nothing is happening right this instant. And we’ve warned Kifu, so those members of my government who remain in the realm will be on alert, just in case.

So, these problems of the realm can be set aside, for a few hours at least. Which leaves us with the most immediate problem: exactly how can we rid the abbey of this haunt, if that’s what it is?

He turns, to see Leilania shouting down a well some distance away, Ray giggling while floating in the air near her. Oh, how I wish Davara were here.


kitsuki Andyr

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