I guessed at what Mother was talking about. “Do you mean his dark attribute magic? Yes.”
I added, “I didn’t know he was a mage.”
She studied my face for a bit, then nodded. “He isn’t really a mage, per se. To conceal his nature, he rarely uses his magic, because it is instinctual, like your Charm.”
No human’s magic is ‘instinctual’. Instinctual users are magic species… and monsters.
“Mother, are you saying Carson isn’t human?”
She sighed, then nodded. “The Duke would never have hired a human, but Carson and Benedetta served him for many centuries. I seem to have inherited them when the King gave me Pendor.”
I felt a chill. Tiana had known Mother’s butler and head maid her entire life, but she had never associated them in any way with her criminal father. “Carson and Benedetta worked for Lord Egon?”
She nodded, not showing any sign whether she noticed what kind of effect that news had on me. “They were his contracted elementals, dear. They’re both Darkness Elementals. Shades. So, Carson used his magic, and that was enough to overcome an asura? That is even more difficult to believe.”
I shook my head. “It was his coordination of his surprise attack with my actions that did the trick. He bided his time while he was down, waiting for a good moment, then bound her up in shadows just as I attacked. I don’t think we would have easily won if he hadn’t caught her off-guard in that instant.”
I was still struggling inside with the news that had stunned me. Shades are elemental creatures, like Jinns or Ondines. They have somewhat human-like minds and thoughts, but, just like fairies, they hold loyalties in ways very different from how a human thinks of such things. I honestly felt worried, knowing that these two had served my father.
“Mother… how is it you can trust those two? I mean, if my father was their contractor…”
Mother pursed her lips after taking a sip. She set the cup down again, and explained, “After that man laid his hands on me, Carson and Benedetta both chose to withdraw from his presence. They knew what a fool he was, trying to take possession of me, and they purposefully made sure I could act without their interference. They had been powerless to stop the evils he was committing, but they could make themselves unavailable at the critical moment.”
“A contracted elemental usually remains loyal to the contractor,” I noted, stating out loud the reason for my discomfort.
“There are plenty of known exceptions, when the contractor has become evil enough to compromise the bond. Elementals can never act against their contractor, but if truly pressed, they can do things such as what those two did. They now honor their contract with his successor, which seems to be myself. Or possibly, their real contractor is you. They don’t seem to be clear which it is, themselves. All they’ll say is that the contract was to the ninth generation.”
Mother took another sip. “Your lady’s maid has become quite skillful, dear. This tea is excellent.”
“Thank you,” I nodded, feeling that weird pride in Genette again. “I’ll pass your compliment on.”
“I would be obliged,” she nodded in return. “So, if the asura had information on your movements, where did she get it? Were you suspecting my precious Shades just now?”
“Maybe for a moment,” I admitted, “But you’re vouching for them, and I think fooling you would be difficult. It would be good to determine who among the staff knew where I was going, but the tip might have come instead from someone at the school. I’m going to speak to the investigators tomorrow.”
“Is it the city guard investigating?”
I shook my head. “They’re doing the initial legwork, but it was an attack on nobility, so they are handing it over to the Royal Knights.”
“Bring Benedetta with you tomorrow.”
“Benedetta?” I asked, surprised. “Not Carson?”
“I assume they have Carson’s eyewitness testimony, already, and I will have him investigating our staff. Benedetta can do things to help the investigation that Carson cannot do. Unlike Carson, Benedetta is not merely an elemental of darkness. She is a properly trained dark mage as well.”
# # #
I went to the barracks in the morning, as requested. I was there as a noble victim, not as a knight, so I dressed in the fancy style that the Orestanian upper class considered ‘daywear’. I was in a violet satin visiting dress that had a flounced skirt, yet again over several petticoats, with a tightly laced waist, a wide, frilly, low bust line, poofy shoulders and long sleeves, under which I wore wyvern hide gloves instead of my gauntlets. Since the outfit was meant for outdoors, they made me wear boots, which would be fine if my boots didn’t all have three inch heels. I honestly do not understand my mother’s mind, when she’s buying my clothes. You can’t even see my legs thanks to the skirt. What are the heels for, Mother?
Benedetta was beside me, which was a new experience. She was dressed in a dark tea gown with a high collar, rather than her maid’s livery. Tiana had gone places with Genette by her side, and with other maids before Genette became her lady’s maid, but the head maid is an austere and dignified presence that is very different from a typical domestic servant. If you told me that Benedetta was a senior priestess, or the dean of a prestigious girls’ school, I would believe it without hesitation.
I confess I was still uncomfortable with the two, now that I knew what they were. It wasn’t as much the fact that they had worked for my father as it was the fact that, regardless of how human these two looked and acted, elementals were known for giving the laws and customs of mortals little regard. Just like fairies, they had a tendency to ignore such things, frankly. But, just like with Mother, I had never known either of these two beings to behave like that. I really wasn’t sure how to interpret that fact.
A squire led us from the front desk of the public office for the Royal Knights into the offices, where he seated us in a private conference room. He returned to us a few minutes later with a tea service.
I didn’t think they would be too concerned about keeping me waiting, given my status as one of the junior-most knights, but the knight inspectors were quite prompt. We waited only perhaps ten minutes.
And it turned out, I knew both quite well. Sir Ozer had been Tiana’s instructor in command arts and several other subjects. Sir Pirstin had given her a beating in the practice ring early in her training that knocked any ideas of non-human superiority out of her head forever. Among humans he is easily the most dangerous fighter she ever faced, largely because he is the smartest.
We rose and and I greeted them, then gestured to Benedetta. “Sir Ozer, Sir Pirstin, this woman serves Pendor House. Her Grace requests you allow her to participate in the investigation.”
Benedetta performed a curtsey, and stated, “Good Knights, I am Benedetta, at your service.”
They both flashed puzzled glances at her, but Pirstin addressed me with their questions. “Lady Tiana, you can assure your mother that the Royal Knights are confident in our abilities.”
I had expected this barrier and discussed how to overcome it with Benedetta on the way over. Overriding my temptation to tell them she had a ‘very particular set of skills’, I simply smiled and delivered the very short response that she had suggested to me. “Benedetta has served Pendor very well for several hundred years, good sirs. We would feel more at ease were her magics assisting you.”
“Several hun…” Pirstin began and chopped off. Benedetta was visibly not an elve, the only mortal species with such a lifespan. That left only fairies, elementals and monsters with human appearances. In any case, it meant she had use of magic skills unavailable to most human mages.
Sir Ozer nodded. “Understood, My Lady.”
Once we were seated again, and I poured tea for the two like a good junior knight (which they seemed to have some discomfort with, since they were intent on dealing with me as a high status noblewoman), I gave them a repeat of all the information I had given the city guard upon our return yesterday, and endured a long series of clarifying questions, but the one question that couldn’t be resolved was…
“You are claiming it was an asura who attacked,” Pirstin noted. “I’m quite aware you are very strong, My Lady, but that’s a level of demon one doesn’t defeat one-on-one.”
“Good knight,” Benedetta responded before I could. “My husband was there as well, so it was two-on-one. You should have his testimony to the guard in your hands.”
It made sense that a male-female pair serving the same lord for hundreds of years were a couple, but did elementals marry?
Pirstin cleared his throat. “Even a two-on-one victory would be quite extraordinary. Please do not misunderstand. We are not doubting the attack itself. We are simply hesitant to classify the attacker as an asura.”
“Hasn’t a demonologist been sent out to the scene?” I wondered.
“She was only able to identify ghoul remains. She tried to find blood remains to analyze, but had no success.”
“Bring me there,” Benedetta stated. “I will find blood for you.”