Episode 3 Chapter 9

The door opened. On the other side was a man dressed like a butler but built like a bouncer. His broad shoulders blocked the width of the door frame. He offered a mute sneer in lieu of a greeting.

“Hello,” Theodore said. “I’m Ranger Deputy Grayweather. I’m here to speak to Duke Ambergrail.”

“Let the man in, Mort,” a voice called from inside. “He’s expected.”

The servant stepped back, allowing Theodore to enter the foyer. It was a well-built manor, but it was very old and smaller than modern ones. Theodore guessed it was made after the Redsea Revolt, when the nobles were more practical and money was tighter. He wanted to call the carpentry beautiful, but every wall, floor and archway was scarred with runes carved deep into them. Glowing glyphs were everywhere, empowered to protect this place from fairies.

Theodore was ushered into a study. The room was cramped with antique furniture, busts, and portraiture of regal old men. Theodore was impressed with the tall and fully loaded bookshelves, until he noticed they were filled with dusty and redundant encyclopedia volumes.

Mort turned a wheelchair toward Theodore. The man seated was far younger than expected, no older than Theodore himself, but the steep nose and light hair matched subjects of nearby paintings.

“You must be the district duke,” Theodore said.

“Felix Ambergrail,” he said. “Sixth one to the name. Probably the last, while we’re at it.” He leered, his skin even more pallid and his eyes more sunken than the victims in the medical ward. “You’re the one they called in to hunt down the fey responsible for this blight? Great. Fantastic. Seems my time would be better spent shopping for a tombstone.”

Theodore paid no attention to the insult. “I’m gathering information about the attacks. Stillwell told me you were the first victim.”

“That’s right. It was about six months back. One of those creatures broke into my home and tried to enchant me. Mort here managed to kill the devil, but it looks like he magicked me first.” He held up a shriveled hand. “Been getting weaker by the day. Doesn’t seem to matter how damn long I spend under those magic lamps. I’m dying.”

“I’m sorry,” Theodore said, but noted the peculiarity. “The creature died, but you believe it is responsible for your illness?”

“The healers say it’s no natural sickness,” the duke said. “I was in perfect health before the bastard broke in. Now I can’t even stand on my own. You can’t tell me that is a coincidence!”

It was still conjecture. “The courts wouldn’t consider an assumption like this evidence. You felt it was basis to ban lawful citizens from an entire district of the city?”

Duke Ambergrail grit his teeth at him. “Did you come here to help people or to question my reasoning? Whatever you think about my decision, it was the right call! Every day more people are getting sick. I don’t want to think about how much worse it would be if I hadn’t taken action when I did.”

Jotting down more notes, Theodore flipped back to review what he’d learned at the university. “Stillwell told me the affliction isn’t any kind of spell. If it were, we could identify its effect and aura. How can we be sure it’s being caused by fairies?”

“The watch has captured more than a couple fey sneaking past the ban, breaking into homes. Not what I would call lawful behavior. Got them caged downtown, if you need to see for yourself.”

Theodore pocketed his pencil. “I’ll make that my next stop. Hopefully one of them will come clean, and then I can get to the bottom of this. Thank you for your time, lordship.”

“Hold a moment, Deputy,” Felix said before Theodore could leave. Mort obstructed the door, being the perfect shape for it. “I’m not sure when knight training got so lax that pointing a finger at beasts is cause to raise your eyebrows at me, so let me set something straight. Fairies are dangerous.”

“They’ve been our allies for hundreds of years,” Theodore said.

“That’s no reason to trust them,” the duke said, tapping the rings on his fingers. “Do you know the first thing about the fey? They’ll say and do anything to use their magic on us. That’s how they survive. Every spell they cast on us gives them Fates. You get that? Doesn’t matter what laws we pass, what treaties they sign. We’re prey to them, and if a man in your profession doesn’t keep that in mind then you’re going to wind up dead!”

“I’ve lived with fairies and ghasts for some time now,” Theodore said. “Maybe some are dangerous, but not all. Not most. I don’t understand where this attitude of yours is coming from.”

Felix clenched the arm of his wheelchair tight. Mort poured the duke a shot of bourbon, which seemed to soothe him. They offered Theodore a glass but he waved it away. Cradling the small, empty cup, the duke tried to find his voice again.

“Six years ago, the fey took my father. …Felix the fifth, if you’re keeping track. I didn’t see it happen, but I heard it. They kidnapped him in the middle of the night.” Mort poured him another glass. “Never found out why. I’m told important people are more valuable to them. They can draw more power out of them. All I know is that I never saw him again, and then I had to grow up fast enough to take his place.”

“That’s terrible,” Theodore said. The pain was clear in the man’s face. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not saying this so you can pity me,” he said. “I’m telling you so you step lightly. The fey are dangerous, Grayweather. Don’t let them take advantage of you.”

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