Episode 22 — Family Troubles

A week has passed. It has been a rather chaotic week. First and foremost, Charioteer Campbell, along with his ship, have disappeared. There one day, gone the next. More telling, port authorities at the Mount Athos starport have no record of Campbell, or his ship, ever being there (though after some asking around the starport workers will confirm having seen it). So until they can find a ride, the pair are stuck on Manitou for the moment.

An Imperial Eye agent code-named “Textbook” contacts Aquilegia. He explains that the Eye agents have to be extremely circumspect on Manitou, and are allowed to handle little directly beyond surveillance. In this case, he needs more, and so must act through an intermediary, and as a Questing Knight, Aquilegia seemed a good choice.

Textbook says that says an anti-Alexius Hawkwood noble is believed to be on planet. Known only as “The Scar”, he or she was involved in an assassination attempt against Alexius last year, and the Eye has been pursuing him ever since. There are indications that another assassination attempt is in the works scheduled for around the time of Alexius’s coronation.

It is believed that the anti-Alexius faction is operating out of Manitou because they are able to link with other anti-Imperial factions. There are known to be various groups meeting on Manitou, and Imperial influence here is limited. It is suspected that Claudio Masseri may have some sort of involvement in this operation. The Imperial Eye is still trying to lay their hands on him for his raid on the Imperial Mint, but his security is too tight here for any sort of attempt with the resources currently at hand.

Rumour has it that the Ukar anti-imperial faction, Bava, could be involved; Timoffeo Hawkwood, who is vehemently anti-Alexius and was banished to Manitou, is also a possibility. The Vau connection cannot be ruled out. The Favayana psychic organization and the Favian Institute are suspects too. The Eye has activated other contacts but will not mention which. Textbook would like Aquilegia to investigate Marquis Claudio Decados.

Duke Savin Decados is the only person known to have visited the Marquis and managed to leave. He then immediately started fortifying the border between his estate and the Marquis's. Duke Savin is wanted by the Orthodox Church and Temple Avesti for heresy – ancestor-worship. His particular approach includes eating people to absorb their knowledge, something that does not earn him many fans.

Aquilegia sends Duke Savin a polite and flowery letter of introduction, asking for a chance to present her respects. In return, she receives a terse note telling her that she will be shot on sight if she approaches his estate. She sends another letter of anxious apology, accompanied by gifts, but receives no other answer. Although she receives no answer, she continues to regularly send the duke pleasant letters and invitations.

She learns little more from the noble society of Anthos. She then introduces herself to Dame Bertha Torensen, Marquis Claudio's only other neighbour. Dame Torensen has carefully stayed out of the conflict between the Marquis and the Duke, and knows only that there is no observable activity on the Masseri lands. No one goes in or out.

Aquilegia decides to try to acquire lands adjacent to the Marquis's, and approaches the Manitou Trade Council, a slow and bureaucratic process.

Meanwhile, NeVaga is approached Taudwan (Banjak priest) Thiel Draka, a priest of Uysadda (the Masked God, and the Ukar trickster deity; also the god of balance, the great leveler, and the god of language), and representative of the Nadakira approaches NeVaga. The Nadakira is interested in learning more about the Banjak sect that rules Dwelthid Aph, particularly their acceptance of non-Ukar. Unfortunately, clergy of the Banjak sect are forbidden from entering the city or its environs, so a non-clergy Ukar is needed to explore the city and learn more of the sect.

NeVaga enquires with the local guilds about Marquis Claudio. She learns that no one knows how he arrived on Manitou, nor how he acquired his estate; he never met with the Council of Worthies, and he did not buy any of his security equipment from the Scravers or the local guilds. There is a lot speculation about whether he cut deals with the MTC, the Supreme Order of Engineers, the Vau, etc. The local crime bosses have sent a good half-dozen people to sneak onto the estate, but none ever came back. One was blown up by land mines, but no one knows what happened to the others.

Ms. Kelli of the Council of Worthies gives Aquilegia an interview to discuss the specifics of the estate she wishes to lease. Aquilegia eventually realizes that the Council has received instructions from the Joint Administrator's Guild to cover all the costs – and has granted Aquilegia an estate of unprecedented size, as large as a duke's private estate on other planets. This is especially unusual compared to the very modest size of the average estate accorded by the JAG, even for far higher-ranking nobles.

Aquilegia shares the news with both NeVaga and agent Textbook, but no one has any light to shed on this development. Aquilegia considers whether she might actually want to set up an estate on Manitou, perhaps to offer a haven for some of the persecuted people she has met in her travels. In the mean time, however, she sends another missive to Duke Savin to inform him that they will have a common neighbour. He finally answers, sending another brief note telling her to come to his estate and bring no one.

Aquilegia decides to risk it, telling NeVaga to come check if she is not back by morning. At the Decados estate, she is greeted by a single representative of the Jakovian Agency in his black uniform and featureless shielded helmet. He searches her, confiscating all weapons and even her duelling shield, then escorts her into an underground tunnel that becomes increasingly cold and dark with depth. After opening a pressurized hatch door, he tells her to go on until she reaches the second hatch and go through. The hatches slam shut behind her, one after the other, and she is left in complete darkness. The echoes suggest a vast area around her.

Then low lights turn on and she finds herself in a cathedral-like room filled with reliquaries, mostly of human bones and especially skulls, but also some alien bones. One skull glows and a voice resounds: “Why are you here?” Aquilegia explains that she believes that she shares the concerns which Duke Savin formed after meeting Marquis Claudio a year ago. Every reply and dry chuckle that comes in response comes from a different glowing skull, one lighting after the other.

The baroness learns that Duke Savin has not only been infected by the marquis's Symbiot spores but is also highly contagious; however, he refuses to do Marquis Claudio's dirty work and so keeps himself away from all other beings. He says, however, that when he met the madman over a year ago, Marquis Claudio told him to send Aquilegia to see him when she arrived on Manitou. The duke believes that the marquis' plans have not changed from the ones Aquilegia already foiled, but the Vau would not allow them to be deployed except in a “limited way.” He believes that this is an elaborate trap for Aquilegia by someone who is using the marquis as bait. They discuss the possibility of orbital bombardment of Marquis Claudio's estate, but neither has the means.

Aquilegia takes her leave, promising not to return or contact the duke unless he sends for her. She relates the interview to NeVaga and reports to agent Textbook again (although the latter is perhaps suspect since he put Aquilegia on this path in the first place. Either way, they find no indication that the marquis is behind The Scar's activities.


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