Read The Inquisitives [4] The Darkwood Mask Online

Authors: Jeff LaSala

Tags: #Eberron

The Inquisitives [4] The Darkwood Mask (6 page)

“But … does Aureon
tell
you all this? Can you hear him speak these things?”

Tallis smiled sadly at the woman’s words. He’d asked Lenrik the same questions long ago. What, indeed, did the Sovereign of Law and Lore relay to the elf during his daily prayers, that he could be so sure?

“Not in such words,” the elf answered. “The gods find better ways to be heard. Words are the clumsy tools
we
use when we can’t find that better way ourselves.” The elf gave a gentle laugh. “But yes, in many ways, I do hear him. You can, too, Mova. You just have to
let
him be heard.”

Not so easy, old friend, Tallis thought. What will you say if she asks you about Dolurrh? Do you give her the beliefs of the Order or your own?

Tallis crept up the last few stairs to peer around the corner into the shrine of Aureon. The sanctuary was large—the holy Octogram of the Sovereign Host carved in relief upon the marble floor and the white stone altar sculpted into the open book of Aureon’s symbol—but the adjoining worship hall of the cathedral proper dwarfed the whole shrine. There were only two people sitting together in the pews.

“I will … try,” Mova said. She looked matronly, with gray hair and tired, red-rimmed eyes.

She reached out to embrace the slim figure in the dark green cassock who sat beside her. The elf’s face was youthful, but Tallis knew Lenrik was more than twice the old woman’s age. Mova pulled slowly away, her hands clasping the elf’s shoulders as if he were a dear son of hers. “Thank you for listening to me again.”

“My pleasure,” Lenrik said. “May Aureon and Boldrei preserve you, Mova.” Together they rose. For one moment, Tallis thought she saw
him
watching from the stairwell.

We can’t have that, he thought. Tallis turned back and returned to the room and closed the door. He walked to the wall mirror and stared back at his own disheveled image. His shoulder-length black hair showed only a pretense of order and the stubble on his chin was considerably coarser than he last remembered. What time of day
was
it?

He crossed to the corner where his and Lenrik’s game of Conqueror awaited. He examined Lenrik’s latest move. The elf’s king was only three squares from Tallis’s chancellor, who in turn shielded his own monarch from Lenrik’s legionnaires. Tallis pondered his strategy for a long moment, then moved the chancellor out of the way. A bold ploy, to be sure, but Lenrik’s king would not be able to advance directly.

Tallis turned his head and found himself staring into the wall tapestry, as he always did when visiting his old friend. It had been woven by Lenrik’s own great-grandmother in her youth, the only relic of the elf’s childhood in Aerenal. A sorceress of uncanny skill, she’d woven magic into the violet, red, and gold threads that allowed the delicate work to endure for so many centuries. As Tallis lay there, the hypnotic patterns calmed his mind, allowing his thoughts to return inevitably to Haedrun. Why would she set him up? Did she even know what she’d sent him into? Where was she now?

Haedrun was a member of the Red Watchers, an organization dedicated to purging the taint of undeath that still pervaded Karrnath. It was this focus that had attracted Tallis to the Red Watchers when he’d first learned of them. Their interests were much like his own, but when Haedrun and her superiors had offered him membership in their secret society, he had politely declined.

Haedrun had been hurt by his refusal. Though he had tried to give her reasons, he’d been unable to satisfy her need to understand. In the end, the Red Watchers were an organized network. He did not work well within such hierarchal confines. Never had.
He had to do things his own way.

Yet Tallis had maintained contact with the Red Watchers. Their shared objective kept him in touch, and he frequently exchanged information with them for mutual benefit. Haedrun was his only remaining contact among the Watchers, and after that incident with the Deneith mercenary, she’d grown cold even to him.

Lenrik entered the room, unadorned as usual except for the holy symbol of Aureon that he always wore on a leather cord around his neck. He greeted Tallis with a sad smile, eyes concerned but utterly without judgment. It was a look that Tallis had needed many times, but never more than now. The memory of the previous night was still too close.

Lenrik closed the door quietly behind him. “Will you tell me about it?” he asked, sitting in a stiff-backed chair.

Tallis hesitated, then pointed to his leg. “Thanks.” Lenrik waved his hand dismissively. Tallis had heard him explain it many times before. There was no longer a need to. It was Aureon’s will to heal him, the priest always insisted. Tallis wasn’t so sure he was doing any god’s work, but they hadn’t argued such theology in a very long time.

“Murder at the Ebonspire,” Lenrik said. “You were involved somehow?”

“How did you know?”

“The incident is drawing quite a bit of attention. A chronicler from the
Sentinel
was nosing around among the flock this morning after worship, asking questions of everyone. There is talk of an assassination.”

Tallis groaned. “When and
how
did I come in here last night? I’m a bit muddled on that part.”

“You entered through the side door, making no small amount of noise when you did. Had you come one hour before that, you would have interrupted a visit from Alinda.” He offered a weak smile. “I’d say we’re cutting it very close this time, Tallis. You
must take this one seriously.”

Tallis sighed. Prelate Alinda Roerith was the head of Korth’s Cathedral of the Sovereign Host. She was Lenrik’s superior, a high priestess, and a politically connected heroine of the Last War. Sympathetic as the prelate would be to Tallis’s opposition to the Blood of Vol and its sponsors, an encounter with her would have been very bad for both of them.

No one knew of Tallis’s friendship to Lenrik, the esteemed caretaker of Aureon’s shrine. Aside from his flat in the Commerce Ward, this was Tallis’s only safe house in the city, and Lenrik was the only one he could trust unconditionally. Even if he evaded the Justice Ministry’s scrutiny, Lenrik’s religious vows would be called into question by the clergy and the prelate herself. Aureon was the god of law, and Tallis had been on the wrong side of that particular ethos for years. Mere knowledge of Tallis, much less actively sheltering him, could condemn Lenrik to excommunication or worse.

Tallis sat up. “I went there to take something—and that’s all—from someone. Just another well-to-do with too much gold and an unhealthy interest in the Blood. Apparently I was set up to take the blame for the massacre of a Brelish and his family. I saw it all happen, Lenrik. There were children …” Tallis stopped. The memory made him nauseous. “I’m … I’m taking this bloody seriously, don’t worry.”

Lenrik folded his hands. “I heard the name ir’Daresh.”

Tallis nodded, solemn. “It
was
him, Lenrik—all the more reason to think I’m being set up. He sure as Khyber
looked
different, but it was definitely him.”

“Gamnon became an ambassador after the Treaty of Thronehold,” the elf said. “Hence the political ramifications. Didn’t you know this?”

“Sovereign Host!” Tallis cursed. He’d long since stopped apologizing to the priest for taking the gods’ name in vain. “He became a politician? This is going to be complicated. What time is it now?”

“Fourth watch,” Lenrik said.

“I was out that long?”

“You needed the rest.” The elf looked around the room as though he would find an idea amidst the trappings of the spare bedchamber. “What will you do now? You could disappear for a while. Return to Rekkenmark, perhaps? Get away from this dark cloud.”

Tallis gave the thought only a moment of consideration. “No. I can’t just run from this one. I have to figure this out. The backstreets will be dark by the time I return. Besides, security’s going to get tight fast. They know who I am, and some of them saw me there. Getting out won’t be as easy as usual.”

“You could visit
her,”
Lenrik said with a grim smile. The way his friend made allowances for him warmed Tallis’s heart. The Midwife, the woman in question, was as illegal as they came.

“I thought of that,” he answered, “but even if I do, I can’t go tonight. She’s got rules about these things. And much as I love breaking rules, there are some people you just don’t cross. Besides, I’ve never gone to her for
myself
. It would be—”

“Odd.”

Tallis chuckled quietly for the first time since gaining consciousness. He fingered the frayed leather where the crossbow bolt had torn his boot. “I need to visit Verdax first, I think. I’m going to need every advantage in the coming days, so I’ll be clearing a few of my things out of here. Do some trading again.”

“If I can help, Tallis, I will, but I need to know what happened. Will you tell me?”

“No.” Tallis stood up. “You’ve done enough for me. Too much. I’m not going to get you involved in this, whatever happens. The less you know the better.”

Seeing the priest open his mouth to retort, Tallis held up his hand. “
No
. Not this time.”

Lenrik Malovyn watched his old friend go, slipping out of the west-facing sanctuary door onto the temple grounds. The grove
of firs afforded Tallis enough cover to hide him, but he’d left in disguise as usual.
Sovereign Lord
, he prayed,
watch over him now. He will need your vigilance to stay safe, and if it be your will, return him to me before long. His soul needs absolution
.

The elf returned to the spare room and gazed for a moment at the Aerenal tapestry. The magecraft his ancestor had woven into the fabric formed a subtle glamer designed to relax the mind. Centuries ago, in her time, Aereni wizards who served the Undying Court often used such works of art to steady their minds before attempting complex spellwork. Shortly after crafting this family heirloom, she’d passed into the next phase of existence—mortal death.

Lenrik considered what lay beyond the ancient tapestry. Tallis wasn’t the only one with secrets.

The hood was pulled over part of Tallis’s face, but not so low as to suggest he had anything to hide. He assumed the gait of an older man, an easier feat now that he was limping sleightly and his whole body was still sore. His left sleeve was folded up, fastened to his ragged cloak with a cheap brass pin. His arm was twisted behind him under the oversized garment, loosely bound in place and well within reach of his dagger.

Karrns were raised to respect their elders, and Tallis had no qualms about seizing any advantage he could. Add to that the uniform of a veteran and most would leave him alone. Those unfortunates who had tried to take advantage of this particular old man were inevitably dismayed to find the crippled veteran both vicious and suddenly able-bodied.

Thus disguised, Tallis exited the park and made his way across the grounds.

“Sovereigns, stay with me,” he whispered, a token prayer to the Host for keeping him alive yet another day. His faith was a shallow thing compared to a soul like Lenrik’s, but guilt kept him tethered to this place.

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