It was a lavishly furnished room. The walls were adorned with tapestries and paintings, all aligned perfectly not just to hang level but also for proper symmetry with each other. Ornaments were lined up according to height on top of the mantelpiece, the shortest in the middle and taller ones on either side in a mirror formation.
At the centre of the room comfortable chairs were spaced evenly around the oval top of an exquisitely crafted oak table, upon which maps and tomes were spread in a disarray much contrasted to the neatness of the room itself. The bookshelves, again ordered to match, were likewise laden with disorganized contents.
Ared was absent-mindedly adjusting the ornaments atop the mantelpiece, as was his usual habit when something was bothering him. Moreth was sitting in a comfortable armchair, massaging his hip with a an annoyed grimace clouding his face. It was not the ache which had him concerned, however, but rather the news from that backwater village.
The description was too similar, too vivid, and too accurate. It had to be an agent of the Master, someone new seeking to curry favour. The question was who, and how had they come into the Master’s service without Moreth finding out.
“Did that boy look familiar to you?” Ared’s voice drew Moreth out of his reverie.
“The boy with the magistrate, he reminded me of someone. The trouble is that I cannot seem to figure out who.” Ared pursed his lips, clearly vexed by the matter..
“Oh!” Moreth waved a hand dismissively. “He had a passing resemblance to Lord Silverblade, if you remember him.”
Ared’s frown turned into a scowl. “Of course. He was something of a troublemaker at court, despite his lack of fortune. Did we ever catch his killer?”
“Troublemaker indeed,” Moreth mumbled, his mind dwelling for a moment on the past. That had been during her reign… He let out a sigh and forced himself to focus on the present. “Much like I fear these events in Wyrm’s Wood might prove to involve.”
Ared tilted his head slightly, gazing impassively at Moreth with those unsettling, unnatural eyes.
“It is not my doing, I can assure you. Someone else is feeding the Master, someone likely living in that ruin in the Wood where the villagers sent those adventurers.”
“Ah, I see,” came Ared’s predictably noncommittal reply.
Moreth grunted as he reluctantly pushed himself out of the comfortable seat, accepting Ared’s offered hand without acknowledging the assistance. He hobbled over to the table and began shuffling through the maps and scrolls in search of a particular note he had made some time ago.
“Shall I dispatch the initiates to investigate?”
“No…” Ared would ask no explanation, but Moreth felt the need to think out loud. “If this is a rival, then it is quite possible they are more akin to… him. Dedication in all honor, but there comes a point where adhering to the wishes of a deity becomes slavish zealotry rather than a, ah, mutually beneficial arrangement. If this is indeed caused by a fellow disciple, they might well offer our acolytes a closer connection to the Master than we do.”
“That…” Ared paused, again pursing his lips. “…would be bad.”
“For now, let us trust in the duly appointed magistrate to handle the matter effectively. He has the backing of the Royal Guild now, which will open a few new doors for him. Instead,” Moreth pulled out the sheet he was looking for with a smile of triumph. “We should keep an eye on that farm boy of yours. He clearly has connections in the city, and if he were to use them to investigate this matter I would prefer we learn what that yields before he does.”
“Then I shall assign someone to watch him.”
“Make it someone uninitiated. A Cloak, perhaps?”
“Naturally. Why do you think he might find anything out?”
Moreth looked up from the diagram he was bent over, staring blankly at Ared for a few moments. The tall man arched an eyebrow in unspoken query.
“No, nothing like that. You need but look at his eyes to tell that is not the case. And yes, I looked for magic upon his person. There was none. He is what he appears to be, I am sure. I am thinking that his antecedents might include a certain minor noble, who had many friends.”
“Then I shall assign one of his enemies.” With that, Ared strode out of the room and descended the stairs into the palace proper.
Moreth, meanwhile, allowed himself to sink back down in the armchair and soon lost himself in dreams of the past.