Northeastern Ordia, Several Weeks Ago
I watched the tips of the pine trees through the window of the carriage. Across the fields, the dark green points stood all in a line like soldiers before a battle. Overhead, gray clouds hung low in the sky. It’d rain soon.
I always liked the rain back in Ardath. I could sit inside and feel cozy while the world seemed to slow down around me. When the clouds broke and the sun came out, the mist coming off the fields was always so pretty. I even liked the snow, too. If rain slowed the world, snow made it hold its breath and wait.
I was never bored on those days as a child. Not when I had everyone around me.
The carriage hit a bump and I mumbled a complaint.
“You know it was generous of High Inquisitor Mordwell to send a carriage for us, Lor.” Markus sat across from me. The large man looked out of place in nice clothing.
“I guess.” I sighed and turned away from the window. “I’m bored.”
Markus chuckled. “We’ll be there by evening.”
I folded my hands in my lap and looked down at them. “I wish it would rain.”
“Huh? Where’d that come from, Lor?”
I shook my head. “Nowhere, I guess. I used to like the rain when I was a kid.”
“Did you splash around in it?” Markus smiled.
I scoffed. “Of course not! I sat inside and played games with my family.”
“That must’ve been nice,” Markus hummed.
“Yeah, it was.”
We arrived at Mordwell’s estate that evening. The sprawling, remote property was almost a small town unto itself. Coming back here had always made me feel safe, but this time was different. There were several guards I didn’t recognize about the place, and the way they moved about seemed tense and professional.
We also weren’t the only people here. I saw another carriage I didn’t recognize in the stables. Maybe it was Great Uncle’s, but the mud on the wheels made me think not.
I quickly looked myself over before I stepped out of the carriage. My dress was a little rumpled from sitting all day, but I looked presentable.
A pair of the new guards led us to the front door of the main house. One was an older man sporting a vicious scar across his jaw. The other was a raven-haired woman who looked a little younger than me. She had a sharp air about her, and the strength of her gaze turned mine away. Both of them were wearing the iconography of the Church on their tabards. And both were very well-armed.
We reached the door just as the first raindrops started to fall. Inside, we were led to a very familiar sitting room. I took the chair I usually did by the window. The chair’s fabric felt familiar and my thoughts turned back. It’d been years since I was here.
Mordwell must have had a good reason to call us back here. The guards as well meant that something was happening. That demon and Yothariel were up to something, and my guess was that Mordwell wanted to put a stop to it.
I grabbed the edge of the chair harder. Had Great Uncle sent for me to keep me safe, or would he let me go and fight? I didn’t understand this Renna demon, and her fake innocence worried me more than I thought it ever could.
Tea and snacks were provided, and a few minutes later, a door leading further into the house opened. The man who stepped through had a familiar presence that seemed to fill up the room more than his tall, thin frame would suggest. High Inquisitor Mordwell, my great uncle. He was old, very old, with short-cropped white hair and piercing brown eyes.
I’d seen those eyes soften before, but they were hard and sharp today. From behind him another pair of people I didn’t recognize entered the room. Two men, middle-aged, dark-haired, and similar enough to be brothers. I wasn’t sure how old they were, as both seemed to have that sort of vague bearing that could put them anywhere from thirty to fifty. Neither smiled.
Mordwell took a seat at the nicest chair and the brothers sat on the couch across from Markus and me. The steaming tea between us felt much warmer for the chill that passed over the room.
“Lorelei. Mr. Tozell.” Mordwell spoke firmly, gesturing to myself and Markus. He gestured to the two men on the couch. “Inquisitors Marvin and Josef. Now that we’re acquainted, I’ll begin. I’ve requested your assistance with this matter because I intend to solve it without involving the Church as a whole. The traitorous Yothariel has returned and you are to capture her.”
“Capture her!?” I interrupted.
Mordwell held up a hand. “Quiet, please. Yes, capture her. If it cannot be done, then her death would be acceptable. As I have told the inquisitors already, she is with a greater demon of wrath. The demon should be killed, but I want to know why it is traveling with Yothariel. Am I understood?”
The two inquisitors nodded. Markus did, too. I raised my hand.
Mordwell sighed. “Yes, Lorelei?”
“Are you not concerned about the demon’s unusual behavior?”
The high inquisitor put a finger to his temple. “That is why I have asked to know why it is traveling with Yothariel. Are you even listening, Lorelei?”
I frowned. “Yes, but I meant in terms of its pattern of non-aggression as a wrath demon. Even when we were on the island before Yothariel would have been able to—”
“Enough, Lorelei.” Mordwell silenced me with a tired look. “Do you, or do you not want to be a part of this endeavor? I was unsure that I wanted to risk your well-being, and you are making me doubt my decision to grant you permission.”
I lowered my head. “Understood, sir. I wish to be a part of this mission.”
The high inquisitor nodded. “Good. Now, in the next few days, more will join us. Yothariel is headed this way over the mountains to the north and will be here within the week at her current pace.”
How does he know that?
I didn’t want to speak up so soon after being admonished. Markus also looked like he wanted to say something. I’d been translating into Cavenish for him, though I knew he could pick out most of what was being said.
“You can ask your question Mr. Tozell,” Mordwell said to Markus.
Markus nodded and sat up ramrod straight in his chair. “Yes, sir. With all due respect, how are you aware of Yothariel’s location? Did you know she was alive because you knew where she was?”
Markus motioned for a silent servant at the back of the room to come forward. “I am aware of her location because of this.” The older woman carried a plan-looking wooden box forward and set it on the low table away from the tea.
Mordwell nodded to the retreating woman, who turned and left the room. He carefully opened the box and pulled out a large glass orb mounted on a brass stand. Inside the orb, a long, burned feather was suspended in place, horizontally.
“Think of this like a compass,” Mordwell said with a small smile. “Truthfully, I did not know if this would work when I had it made. And it didn’t until the day Lorelei and Markus had their encounter with Yothariel.”
I raised my hand, but one of the brothers did as well. Mordwell indicated to him instead of me and I put my hand down, struggling to keep a neutral face.
“Sir,” the man—Josef I was pretty sure—said carefully. “Is that one of Yothariel’s feathers?”
“Indeed,” Mordwell replied. “I had this made when we did not find a body. Yothariel has hidden herself somehow for thirty-three years. She just recently reappeared. I had wondered if perhaps I was wrong and she would not come for me before age took me. I was not wrong.” The high inquisitor gently took a cup of tea from the table and took a sip. “We will set an ambush once we know which route she will take to get here.”
“What are their abilities, sir?” Josef asked.
Mordwell calmly took another sip of his tea and looked toward the ceiling a moment before replying. “Yothariel is adept at both holy and wind magic. Her main forms of attack should be blades of wind and beams or lances of holy light. Do not underestimate her. She is easily capable of feinting a gust or changing her strategy at a moment’s notice. For mundane weapons, she is a master swordswoman and archer and is trained in the use of shield and heavy armor. Her tactics will doubtless have changed to ground-based combat as I am certain she no longer has her wings.”
I looked at Markus who was taking notes. Marvin was paying close attention, but I had the distinct feeling he knew most of this information already. Surprisingly, I’d not seen him or Josef at the estate before, but Great Uncle kept a lot of company I knew nothing about.
When Mordwell finished, I raised my hand. “What about the demon?”
Mordwell gave me a hard look.
“—Sir,” I finished.
Mordwell nodded approvingly. “The demon is a greater wrath demon capable of fire magic. If Yothariel is bothering to keep it around, it must be decently powerful. Do not underestimate the demon either. I imagine it is quite strong physically as well as capable of manipulation of anger. Remember your training. Even though nearly all demons are capable of small shifts in one’s emotional state, the stronger your emotion, the more power you are potentially giving them. Particularly in large groups.”
Markus raised his hand.
Mordwell held up a hand. “Mr. Tozell, you and Lorelei will receive accelerated training to cover your deficiencies. I trust you will not share the techniques you will learn.”
“I will not,” Markus replied solemnly.
Mordwell looked to me.
“Of course I won’t!” I replied indignantly.
Marvin glared at me.
“Your word choice could use improvement, Lorelei, but that will do.” Mordwell sighed. “I do not anticipate the demon to present a problem compared to Yothariel herself, if it is even still with her. However, it pays to be cautious. Now, are there any other questions?” The high inquisitor looked around the room.
No one spoke up.
“Excellent.” Mordwell set the half-finished cup of tea back on the saucer. “We will meet again in the morning.” He turned to me. “Lorelei and Markus, you will receive training starting tonight.” The high inquisitor looked around the room at the four of us. “Remember, you are to take Yothariel alive. Am I understood?”
“Understood, sir,” the two brothers said at the same time.
“Understood,” I repeated.
Markus said the same.
Mordwell leaned back in his chair. “Good. Now, I want all of you to get some rest. You will meet with the others when they arrive, and Marvin is in charge of this assignment. Be ready to move at any hour of the day.” With that, Mordwell dismissed us.
On our way out, Markus looked at me like he was about to say something, then thought better of it and shook his head.
“What is it, Markus?” I almost called him ‘Marky’ before I saw that Marvin and Josef had followed us out the same way.
“It’s nothing, Lor.” He shook his head.
I narrowed my eyes. “Really, what is it?”
Markus sighed. “Why are you still fixated on that demon’s behavior, Lor? It doesn’t think like a person does. You know as well as I do that it’s all an act.”
I thought back to Renna on the Swordfish. I’d caught her with eyes red from crying one night, but she’d excused herself and gone to bed. Why would she fake that? There had to be a reason, and I wanted to know why.
“If your conviction isn’t strong, we won’t risk taking you on this assignment.” I didn’t recognize the voice until I looked over at Marvin who was staring intensely at me.
“Brother, we should trust the high inquisitor’s judgment.” Josef spoke much more softly than his sibling.
“Of course, Brother.” Marvin met my eyes and turned away. “I won’t tolerate weakness, Lorelei. See to it that you are prepared to give your life to see the demon dead and Yothariel captured.”
“She will.” Markus responded for me.
I nodded in agreement, and steeled my voice as best I could manage. “I will.”