Anise frowned, turning thoughts over in her head and a medallion over in her fingers. She'd seen its like before, in fact, she owned one herself… presented by Queen Jennah on the day that Anise had taken up the burden of being Master Exemplar of the Shining Blade. Varich Stalven. The name was not familiar, but it should be, if he'd been granted this by Jennah's father.
"The White Mantle is after Ulrich." She marveled, glancing at her desk. A folded sheet of vellum rested there, but she'd read it enough times to commit it to memory. She'd replayed through both Ulrich's rather fuddled and drugged memories and Pierce's clear ones. The note, the medallion, both sent to Ulrich. The assassins had targeted him; it had been no distraction to pull her people off of Jennah. Ulrich had been their target.
"Here." Salia finally stated. "Varich and Suilia Stalven. They're certainly in our hidden rolls, but not in our public ones."
Anise grimaced. There was only one reason for people to be in one, and blatantly missing from the other… covert agents. "And." Salia breathed, "They had a child, a son."
"So he's ours." Even as she said it, she shook her head. No, his parents had belonged to the Shining Blade, but he belonged to the Seraph. It answered certain questions, but gave birth to a thousand more. She knew who was missing their all too fine example of young Ascalonian male now, but she knew the silence from Salia was not a good thing. "And his parents?"
"We don't know. Contact was lost with them…" She flipped pages, "Thirteen years ago. Last message suggested that they had been compromised by the White Mantle."
"Coming to finish a job only partially complete."
"Looks to be."
And they'd been willing to send a dozen assassins to get it finished, and had deployed them right under the Queen's door. "Recall Thackeray." She stated smoothly. Ulrich and the Queen were his personal responsibility; he could come help deal with this as well and she'd just feel a little safer knowing he was back.
"Your Excellency." Ah, Salia's partner, Mehid. He had been in the Plaza during the attempt, and had taken responsibility for the assassins' remains. "It is as we thought. They definitely seem to be White Mantle assassins." The man stepped into the light, and Anise reined back her usual smirk. The man's hair was… unique. He had to spend a whole lot of time, and gold, to get it to behave in such an unnatural way… and he obviously thought it, and he, were the cat's meow. Anise had spent way too much time with commoners such as Thackeray; she now saw such affectations as pompous and silly. But Mehid was a good man, dedicated, smart and loyal. Hopefully, however, he'd suffer a near miss from a centaur with a very sharp axe at some point in the near future.
"And their target was definitely Ulrich?"
Fascinating. She loved being proved right. Logan had gently teased her over it, but she'd known the moment her eyes fell on that one that he was no simple guttersnipe. His parents had been Shining Blade agents, good Shining Blades agents, who had presumably died in service to their king. Ulrich belonged in the secure grip of one of the Orders, and Seraph was good enough. She sighed, and waved Mehid to go away and leave her to her thoughts. He did so, and she remained in the calming silence of her office, drinking in the peace. It was false, it was fleeting, but she'd take it while she could.
A shadow grew large in the doorway, and Logan stalked out of it, hand on the hilt of his brother's sword. "Trouble, Anise?" He growled.
"The White Mantle is at work in Divinity's Reach."
Both of his brows shot up, and he jerked upright, losing the entire I am ominous, I am threatening! aura he had surrounded himself with. "Eh?" He demanded, dropping into the nearest chair able to support his harnessed weight and stared up at her. "Within the City's walls?" He echoed thoughtfully, nodding. Of course that made it his concern.
"Within the walls." She chuckled darkly, "In fact, within the Central Plaza itself."
He surged back to his feet, ignoring the chair he'd been in as it fell over behind him. "The Queen?"
"Is…aware…that there was an assassination attempt earlier tonight within the Central Plaza. She was not the target, however, and was never in danger."
"Again, aware, but not the target."
He glowered at her for a long moment, replacing the chair on its legs, but choosing to sit much closer to where he knew she'd eventually settle at. "Who?" He finally asked softly.
"We, the Shining Blade under Jennah's father, had two agents deep in the Mantle. Thirteen years ago, we lost touch with them after they sent a final report that they believed they'd been uncovered. Their names were Varich and Suilia Stalven." She was expecting his vague shrug, if she hadn't known them, then he certainly wouldn't.
"Varich and Suilia were married, and they had one child, a son. His name was Ulrich."
"He was apparently four then. Would make him seventeen today. Descriptions of Suilia that we've uncovered state that she possessed lovely reddish blonde hair. Varich is described as less than average height, brown eyes, lithe to the point of being almost scrawny."
"Ouch." He rested his ankle on his knee, ignoring the grind of armor plates as he did so. "I assume Ulrich is fine, since you used the term 'attempted'."
"He'll be fine. Two of my exemplars made it to him quickly enough. His fairly recent habit of not leaving the Upper City must have forced them into confronting him up here. Our guess is that he popped up in their view after he started working for the Seraph, but by then…"
"He was leery of getting himself shivved in an alleyway by someone out to avenge Two-Blade's death. That's one of the reasons I started him with an office job, and then made it really easy for him to stay put for awhile. Feed him, house him, and clothe him, why would he go down into the city until things calmed?"
"You're not as dumb as you look."
"Why, thank you! No, wait…" He grinned and nodded. "Good. Good. I'd rather have them out in the open than jumping at shadows and being told I'm being paranoid. If we've got dead assassins…" He glanced at her and she nodded briskly, "From the Central Plaza, the Ministry and the Ministry Guard can't deny that the Mantle still exists and that they're still a problem."
"We have eight dead assassins."
"Dead. My reports have some getting away. They wanted Ulrich badly enough to send a dozen."
"They're afraid of…" He got a thoughtful look, "A martyr? A champion against them?"
"Could be. They're difficult to make sense out of. Not really known for sanity, Logan. For all I know, the Mursaat told them that his bloodline must be eradicated at all costs."
He gave her a disgusted grimace, but no argument. There really wasn't an argument to that. The White Mantle did not worship any of the Six Gods worshipped in Divinity's Reach, in Kryta. They worshipped a shadowy and secretive group of gifted spellcasters called the Mursaat. And their motivations were not always clear, but did manage to be almost universally contrary to what Kryta needed. The Shining Blade had been organized originally to counter their actions, to save Kryta. Anise felt both soberly resigned to such a concrete sign that they were still in action, and a bit of a thrill that they'd showed themselves again. As Logan noted, better to guess they were coming. "As long as he's fine."
"He'll be fine."
Again the brow jumped, and she shrugged. "He was mildly poisoned. Like I said, my exemplars were on top of things."
"So who do I owe thanks to?"
Nobody. Just the knowledge that they had concrete evidence that the Mantle was active again was thanks enough. But that wouldn't be enough for Logan… "Mehid."
"Mehid?" He scrunched his face up, and put the back of his wrist against his forehead, fingers jutting before him like a vertical line of horns. "The guy with the rooster hair?"
"Yes. Mehid. The young man with the rather…er…ornate hairstyle." As much as she agreed with Thackeray in her heart, it just wouldn't do to denigrate a young nobleman's high fashioned style. "He's a fine exemplar." And hopefully, one of these days, he'd outgrow the pomp he liked to surround himself with.
"Never said he wasn't." There was just the hint of a smirk on the corner of his lips, not enough to call him on, and she glared at him. She'd heard way too many remarks from him that came perilously close to calling the Shining Blade too pretty to be effective. She knew, however, that it was his response to way too many calling the mainline Seraph forces too rough looking to be a disciplined fighting force. For every wing adorned Seraph gloriously guarding Divinity's Reach, he had ten Seraph archers garbed in plain brown out in Queensdale trying to pick off centaurs. "What now?" He asked, and she shrugged.
"We found some information on the bodies as to where they were from, and we know that the Mantle is not going to swallow their failure to remove Ulrich so easily. They'll pop up to try again. And now that Ulrich knows some things, he's the sort to pursue it…and I'd rather he pursued them under my watch, with an exemplar back up. Let him go look for his parents, with Mehid and Salia to help keep him safe."
"Agreed. If they were indeed agents of the Shining Blade, then we owe it to them to find out what happened to them. And we owe it to Ulrich to lay that part of his past to rest. He's not a street urchin…"
"No. He's the lost child of two of my Order's agents. I'll see him treated that way." She glared forward, feeling Logan's intent stare on her. "I know he's with the Seraph. You saw him through Shaemoor and taking down his gang, but that doesn't lessen my debts here, Logan."
"We're on the same side, Anise. I'm perfectly happy to have one of my people have ties to the Shining Blade. But yes, Ulrich will go hunting. I'd prefer he do so with backup, and a couple of exemplars work for me. The Mantle is nothing I will take lightly…"
No, definitely not. They might currently be after a young necromancer, but eventually they'd broaden their horizons to go after their favored target…the ruler of Kryta.