Chapter Thirty

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Arc 4 - True Faces

“Forget about roaring flames and flashy theatrics. Magic is all about logistics. Casting a lightning bolt down from clear skies rarely accomplishes something that a dozen arrows couldn’t. But it’s getting those arrows to where they need to be, that’s what magic excels at. It is a shortcut. And where there are shortcuts, there are economic opportunities.”

Karadash sipped wine from an elegant silver goblet before continuing.

“Old World was built on this. A network of teleportation circles linked the globe. Commerce thrived. Now, of course, that’s all but impossible. Teleportation has become risky, unreliable, for reasons we don’t need to go into right now. That’s not the problem, though. If every fifth shipment doesn’t arrive, that’s just the cost of doing business.

“No, the problem is that there’s barely anyone to do business with. New Valenar is the greatest metropolis in the known world, yet it is hardly impressive by the Old World standards. About ten thousand people live here. Twice that number lived in the original Valenar alone, and elves weren’t particularly populous to begin with.”

“Is that why you had lord Jahrimir send Daddy away? To find someone else to trade with?” demanded Isabel.

She hated coming here. Hated the tower, hated the lessons, hated the chair she had to sit in, hated Stefan for bringing her, and most of all, hated the marquis.

“That was one of the reasons, yes. I have in my possession maps predating the Last Battle. While mostly useless, they may still offer hints as to the relative location of places of interest. The New Gods preserved the world in a rather slapdash fashion…”

“But this wasn’t the only reason?” interrupted him Isabel. Karadash smiled unkindly.

“Of course not. It is a reason your lord found sufficient, however, so your precious Daddy didn’t have a choice, and neither do you. Do not interrupt me further.”

“Or what,” asked Isabel, defiant, “You won’t dare to hurt me.”

Karadash chuckled.

“Hurt you? Whatever gave you such a ridiculous notion? I am but a marquis, not some… beastly murderer.”

Isabel chortled. “I know what you are,” she almost blurted out. She suppressed the urge with an angry growl.

“I see,” replied Karadash, “The topic of economics doesn’t interest you today. A lesson in politics is in order, instead.”

He refilled the goblet while Isabel fumed. She could walk out. Slam the door, order Stefan to take her home. Except he wouldn’t. He had to obey her, naturally, but he was also left with orders from Daddy, orders he would follow first. Like taking her to the marquis for her tuition. No, she had to endure the full hour.

“You’ve committed a cardinal mistake just now,” resumed the lecture Karadash, “You’ve shown me your true face. Never show your true face unless it is the last thing your enemy will see. And everyone is your enemy, do not doubt that.

“Which is not to say you should always lie. If you do that, it only takes being caught once for your words to be worthless. No. Lies are a tool of the last resort. Tell your enemy truths they already suspect, and they will trust you. Tell the truth, but never the entire truth. Never show your true face, your true intentions.

“If they know what you want above all else, they will be able to offer it or threaten it. Due to your outburst, I know you want your precious daddy back, and dislike me immensely. Pathetically predictable, but still useful. Now I can threaten I’ll find more expeditions for your lord to send him on, if you don’t stop misbehaving. See, no need for violence. Of course, I may well do this anyway.”

“Doesn’t that mean I’ve given you the truth you already suspected? And aren’t you lying right now?” sneered Isabel.

“You didn’t give it. I took it from the emotional wreckage of your face. You could be playing a subtler game, of course. You could be pretending to be just a child missing her daddy, letting her fear control her mouth. If you could pull that off, if you could fool me into thinking I found your truth while all I got was lies, that would be quite a coup. Tell me, granddaughter of the dragon, are you that savvy an opponent?

“And as for my lies, I assume you’re referring to what a certain urchin told you. How is that association working out for you?”

Isabel pouted. Her pout only grew with Karadash’s smug chuckle. It would be so satisfying to slam the door on her way out. Throw a tantrum. Refuse to ever come back, smash something breakable against a wall, claw something to shreds. But Daddy would be back eventually, and then she’d be in trouble. If he ever came back. He should have already been back.

Isabel always worried when he went away. He’s the Lightning of House Jahrimir, he’d explain each time. He strikes at the enemies of the House. Except now, he wasn’t protecting the House. He was away on some errand the marquis had convinced lord Jahrimir would be profitable. That on its own would be bad enough, the fact that it was the marquis’ idea only made it worse. These lessons were also his idea. Daddy didn’t want to put her education on hold while he was gone, and the marquis “graciously” volunteered. Oh, how Isabel loathed him.

She couldn’t see what Lynn saw when she looked at the marquis, but she could still hear the startled cry Lynn had let out when she had glanced at Karadash for the very first time. The pure terror on her face.

And of course, Daddy didn’t listen to her. He said Lynn had lied to distract her. Lynn did lie about many things, Isabel knew. Lynn pretended to be her friend to rob her, and Isabel was so desperate for a friend that she fell for it. She knew better now. The one thing she could trust was Lynn’s fear.

Isabel had to do something, to protect her Daddy, protect her House, before the marquis had wormed his way even deeper into it. She’ll have to help Lynn expose Karadash for the monster he was, she thought once again. A recurring idea, a fantasy she’s had ever since her lessons started.

A stupid idea. Daddy would be back soon. He’ll know what to do, if anything. She was still a child, what did she know. Isabel bit her lip. She looked up to find Karadash studying her with a smug smirk on his face. That was it, then. She’ll do it.

“I’m sorry,” she said, eyes down, “You are right. I worry for my Daddy, is all. I know better than to believe someone who had already betrayed me. I won’t lose my temper again, please continue the lesson.”

Isabel endured Karadash’s condescension for the rest of the hour. She’d long since mastered the art of appearing obedient. She didn’t need the marquis to teach her to hide her true face.

She remained quiet on the way home, plotting. Once there, Isabel informed Stefan she would be practicing on the harpsichord and was not to be disturbed. The bodyguard nodded, the scales tattooed on his brow creased with… suspicion? Isabel ran up the stairs to avoid his gaze.

Once in her room, she closed the door and pulled out a toy she’d long since abandoned, a music box with a dancer carved out of some poor animal’s bone spinning on top while it played. It didn’t sound quite like the harpsichord, didn’t sound like it at all, to be honest, but Isabel hoped Stefan wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. He hadn’t been tortured by the infernal instrument for the majority of his life, after all.

Isabel opened the music box, and the dancer sprung up, smile painted on her face, always ready to please. That’s why she abandoned it in the first place, remembered the dragonkin girl. Not that music boxes were all that riveting to begin with. This one, however, reminded her too much of herself.

From memory, it played for a couple of hours. Dinner was in about three. With any luck, no one will open the door into her room until then. Isabel had that long to… Do what, exactly? First, she’ll need to find Lynn, and see how far she’s gotten. And to do that she’ll go… somewhere.

Lynn lived in Lower Valenar, of that Isabel was certain. She’ll just have to improvise. Ask around. She’ll need a disguise. It was all very exciting, a hero embarking on a quest to save all she valued from marauding knights. Isabel settled on a cloak that could at least somewhat obscure her features from onlookers. In it, she’ll pass for a lumpy-headed human, as long as no one looked under the hood.

Isabel picked matching gloves, found the coins she had stashed back when she still had an allowance, and, after some hesitation, took the dagger Daddy gave her for her birthday. He’d have her head if she lost it. It was, in a word, sinuous. The hilt was an ornate serpent, its mouth open impossibly wide to form a crossguard, the tongue long and curvy and very, very sharp.

Of all the souvenirs he had brought back from his missions, this was her favorite. This wasn’t a toy though it may look like one, Daddy had warned her. Isabel had to promise, over and over, that she’d take it seriously before she was allowed to have it. Taking the dagger with her meant this was serious.

Isabel stood near the window, gathering her courage. Counted to ten, then opened it and climbed onto the roof of the ground floor, quiet as a mouse. A clawed, scaled, half-dragon mouse. A few quick steps, a jump, and she was on the street. Isabel looked around, but no one saw her. No one knew she was here. She was free. Isabel giggled. Back in her room, the dancer spun, smiling.

  1. Smurfton says:

    “But this wasn’t the only reason?” interrupted him Isabel.
    Isabel interrupted him

    I am glad to see you bringing back Isabel.

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