“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Damien. This servant of the Empire goes by the name of Sir Marcus Dawson.”
Damien did his best to remain expressionless. But it proved to be somewhat difficult, especially facing this unexpected guest, now standing opposite of him in the office.
It’s hardly been two days since Derrick and his son, Kain, left for Somerset. The family judged it to be prudent to have the only male heir to the Lomax name away from home, at least for the time being, while the suspicious Agent of Special Bureau was nearby.
But he didn’t count on the man in question, seeking him out on his own accord like this. He got caught off guard, so to speak. What a blunder that was.
Regardless, there was still a matter of keeping decorum. He couldn’t be rude to an official of the Empire. No need to give the opposition an inch, lest he might try to take the mile instead.
“Welcome to the village of Riverfield, Agent Dawson. I do ask for your sympathy in this time of urgency, as I’m drowning in work. Please, tell me of your business here in haste, if you would.”
Damien coldly smiled, studying the demeanor of the man in front.
Even though he was balding on the crown, the aura exuding from Dawson was nothing to laugh about. Although obviously suppressed, this man would’ve been able to easily defeat several higher ranked Adventurers than Damien on the basis of his strength alone.
Even Damien was getting chills, just thinking about it.
Would I be able to fight against him on equal footing? He sure looks like a bad opponent to go up against. Derrick, you picked yourself one helluva scary fella as an enemy, didn’t you.
Damien could only ruefully smile.
“I’ll be brief, my lord.” Dawson smiled thinly, his eyes unreadable. He then slowly reached into his robe, producing a rolled up scroll that had seen some usage. “Sir, under orders, I’m currently in pursuit of one Lady Valette of House du Francis. I believe you are well acquainted with her, Sir Damien.”
Damien was somewhat surprised to hear that name. Leaning forward, he shifted his focus onto the scroll.
“That’s a name I haven’t heard of, in donkey’s years. Well, at least not since I’ve been charged with the running of this village. That’s over seven, eight years ago.”
“That long? Haha. How unenviable a task I’ve been given.”
Dawson pleasantly chuckled. Again, there was no mirth there.
“I thought she retired to somewhere more scenic. Why are you pursuing her? Is it related to what’s on that scroll?”
The indecipherable smile never left Dawson’s lips as he placed the scroll down on the desk. “It seems nothing escapes your attention, my lord. Indeed, it does. Now, normally I can’t show this to anyone, but since you are a member of the Lucius Lomax….”
Dawson slid this scroll carefully toward Damien as if signaling it was okay to undo the strings and pore through its contents. For some reason, Damien had this premonition he shouldn’t even touch it.
He touched it nevertheless.
Only a single drawing was on it. But it was of something Damien recognized.
It didn’t take considerable willpower to pull a confused face, as that was what Damien did, after seeing the drawing. It depicted an object, cut into a shape of an octagon, and various unknown symbols were scribbled along its perimeters.
Momentarily confused at just how this Agent from the Special Bureau had a drawing of the mysterious object found in the hidden basement of his own home, Damien only then grasped at possible motives why Dawson was searching for Valette, the previous owner of this building.
Trying not to show any change in his expression, he returned the scroll to Dawson and asked in the best quizzical voice he could summon up.
“What is it? An ancient artifact?”
“Quite. It is indeed an artifact of tremendous value for the good of the Empire. My investigation has led me to your doorsteps, the last persons to see Lady Valette before her inexplicable disappearance.”
“So, you wanted to find out if I know where she might be. Is that right, Sir Dawson? Hoping that perhaps, she’s still in possession of this artifact.”
Dawson nodded, as he hid the scroll away. “That is correct, Lord Damien.”
“Well, it is unfortunate that I can’t assist you. As I said before, it’s been almost a whole decade since last I saw Lady Valette. I do not know of her current whereabouts.”
Damien shook his head as if he was regretful.
In his head, he calculated. Whatever that wooden block was, it must have been rather important. Why else an Agent as highly ranked as Dawson show up on his doorstep after all this time, trying to track it down?
Moreover, he grew curious as to what it could do, never mind what it actually was.
“What is this mysterious item anyway? I’ve not seen symbols like that before. Could it be…. from the lands of long-eared ones? Or, even beyond that?”
Dawson’s smile became even broader still. “The symbols are letters of an advanced civilization, from a realm higher than ours. That is all the information we have at the moment. However, it is certain that it contains powers capable of changing the world.”
Oi, oi, oi. Changing the world? Now that sounds very dangerous.
Damien had a flash of another unpleasant premonition. If that little octagonal wooden block held such a deep secret, then he couldn’t help but think he was hoarding a potential disaster right under the same roof as his loved ones.
The assault on his family almost five years ago seemed to make sense to him now – the intruder was searching for it, Damien determined.
If so, could it be possible, that it was an Agent from the Special Bureau that night? A lethal poison to commit suicide, infiltration technique that could circumvent the sensitive hearings of a Pantherikin, as well as combat skills to rival a Bronze ranked Adventurer while suffering grievous bodily injuries.
It is definitely possible.
Realizing the possibility, Damien felt his long forgotten anger swell up. He didn’t know whether Dawson was involved or not in that incident, but he sure as hell didn’t give a damn either way.
Holding himself back was difficult, but he had to do it. If he acted rashly here, the repercussions would be harsh. For one, he didn’t know who was Dawson’s backer, his superior. Plus, he had no evidence that it was the Special Bureau that night. Other than his gut feelings, he had no basis to form this opinion.
He didn’t show his inner turmoil, remaining calm and nonchalant outwardly. Damien wondered if his little acting fooled Dawson or not.
“I’m well aware that you haven’t had any news of Lady Valette. I’m here for another purpose. When you became the lord, Lady Valette had left the village by then. Records indicate that she left just about every belonging of her behind. It is a long shot, but I’d like to take a look at them if they are still kept here.”
Hearing this, Damien frowned. It was true, that Valette did leave almost everything behind as if she had to leave in hurry. Her collection of armors, prized spears, the expensive jewelry and literature were all left where they were stored as if forgotten.
Over the years, Damien was forced to sell some of them in order to acquire funds for the village. The poor financial situation was mostly because he tried to reinvent the wheel called farming and most of that didn’t turn out as well as he’d hoped. Well, he did learn from his mistakes, so there was a silver lining at the end of it all.
Anyways, the items of Valette weren’t complete. Surely, this would raise a certain amount of fuss – first of all, they weren’t his to freely sell off, and secondly, they were evidence if a foul play was suspected of. And he had gotten rid of more than a few. Some might call that suspicious.
It was natural for him to hesitate.
As if knowing the problem beforehand, Dawson offered some help, with a clear sly smile.
“I’m also well aware of the financial hardships this village had to go through. And so, it’s inevitable that there were… certain concessions made to alleviate those said hardships. It is understandable, truly. I do not ask for much, my lord. I’d be satisfied if it were just the remaining articles.”
Damien didn’t know whether to laugh or frown. He felt like he’s been had, for some reason.
“Fine. I’ll arrange it. You might take some time to go through them all, however. Have you arranged a place to stay the night?”
“Oh, it is quite alright, Sir Damien. I’ve arranged an alternate accommodation for myself and my subordinates. But thank you for your consideration.”
Dawson stood up from the chair and bowed slightly.
Feeling a little relieved, Damien also got up, while rummaging his desks for the keys of the locked storage next to the stables.
That’s when Dawson snuck in the next question.
“Hmm, it is peculiar. I was under the impression that Sir Derrick was staying here with you. But I can’t seem to sense his imposing aura nearby.”
“….He’s out on a personal business. He won’t be back for quite some time.”
“Oh, I see. How regrettable, indeed. Oh, and when I was in Lafayette, searching for clues to the mystery of Lady Valette’s disappearance, I ran into your son. A delightful chap, he was. I didn’t see him today as well.”
Damien’s face grew cold. He stopped his search for the keys and sent out an icy gaze to his guest.
“What are you playing at, Agent Dawson?”
“My apologies, Sir Damien. I did not mean to offend you and touch upon a sensitive topic. Please forgive this servant for his slip of the tongue.”
Even though he said that, Dawson didn’t look one bit apologetic. If anything, he seemed untroubled by the cold stare from Damien.
There was a period of silence between the two men. The first one to break it was Dawson.
“If I may be so bold, allow me to offer a small advice, an insight if you will. During my investigations, I encountered a group of men in Lafayette who were, shall I say, quite hostile towards the Lomax household. Out of my loyalty towards the Empire, and for Her stability, I eliminated one or two of these despicable men, but the rest escaped.
My advice to you, sir, is this. My lord, you should seek aid from your family. It isn’t too late for reconciliation.”
“I’ll take that under advisement. Now then, shall we?”
Damien coldly pointed towards the door, signaling that Dawson should start moving.
Ask help from Father, huh? Right, as if. I will never let Kaleena or Kain near that bastard. I’ve suffered enough. Dukakis suffered enough. Mother has suffered, my sister has suffered. Too many went through hell because of him. My kids will not go through that.
Simply recalling his wretched childhood brought another tide of anger and resentment towards his father. He wanted nothing to do with that man at all cost, and that was why he was on the opposite side of the Empire, here in Riverfield.
Although he felt a little bit of guilt, thinking that he’d abandoned his siblings, but in the end, his siblings were grown-ups. They should be capable of wiping their own bottoms. And from what Damien heard, they were doing quite alright.
If he were to seek aid from someone, might as well be that geezer Marquis Phillips. At least the feelings between the two of them were much more amicable, even if they parted ways under a bit of smoke.
As Damien accompanied Dawson out the door, he sensed movement from afar, outside his house in fact. There was a rider on horseback, steaming in towards his residence.
Dawson too sensed the approach and frowned. He couldn’t tell the purpose of this rider, although he felt that it was an incoming message of sorts. As to whom it was intended for, now that roused his intrigue.
The answer came soon enough. The rider arrived at the front door of the house, jumped off in one breath, and produced a sealed envelope that Damien was familiar with.
“An express delivery, for Sir Baron Damien Lucius Lomax, from his lordship Count Dukakis Lucius Lomax!!”
For the third time that day, Damien was struck with another unpleasant premonition.
Receiving the envelope, he checked for the wax seal and felt its weight. A single letter, and nothing else. The seal was genuine too.
Under interested gazes of the rider, Dawson, and Delilah, he slowly broke open the wax and read the contents, only to be stunned into silence by it.
As he expected, it was only a letter, small enough to consider it as a memo. On it, only three lines were written.
Father’s terminally ill. Please return home right away. Dukakis.
Before Damien could sort out his jumbled bag of feelings, a raindrop fell on the letter, staining it. And soon, more drops fell, signaling the beginning of another Monsoon season.