It was too late to save the doppelganger.
The knights had no idea where the first aid kit was, despite standard training protocol, despite Theodore’s shouting. It fell on him to find it himself. The knights ran off to alert their commander of what happened. By the time Theodore returned, the life had gone out of the creature he had known as Ella.
“A doppelganger? Here!?” Governor Farbend squeezed past the guards to reach the crime scene. “It’s true then. Mother’s mercy.”
Theodore slumped in a chair. There was a blur of knights on the periphery of his vision all moving and working. He watched the pool of blood creep farther and farther across the floor of the vault until sawdust was dumped to absorb it. Questions were asked. Forensics notes were taken. It all felt so distant, like it was happening in some far away country. He was staring at his hands when the governor shook him from his stupor.
“Look at me, lad!” The governor’s familiar calm was gone. “Tell me what happened!”
Theodore tried to speak, to focus, but felt like his mind was wading through molasses. “Your secretary. Ella, she… She was some sort of spy.”
Mr. Farbend looked at the lifeless, faceless body as it was wrapped in canvas and carried away. “I don’t believe this. I’ve known Ella for years.” His slack jaw tightened. “This is a massive security breach. Did it say who it was working for? Feymire? Korveil? What are we up against?!”
“I don’t know.” Theodore’s eyes felt sunken and dry. “I don’t know.”
Gregory Farbend heaved a frustrated sigh. “An easy answer is too much to hope for, I suppose. What happened?”
“I… I asked her to let me look at the records.” A lump choked his throat. “She attacked. I killed her.”
“Fine work. Your father would be proud.” The Governor patted Theodore on the back, crushing him. “Hopefully whatever secrets the creature stole died with it. We cannot allow an intelligence breach of this magnitude to go unchecked.”
Theodore nodded, trying not to break. He wasn’t allowed to sniffle. He pushed those feelings down and straightened his tie. There was a kingdom to think about.
“Ella was using her necklace to communicate with a superior,” Theodore said. “You should examine it.”
One of the knights flipped open the pendent. “Hello?”
The gemstone inside flashed red and exploded in the knight’s hand. He screamed as his arm was scorched black with burns. The man was lucky the medical kit was still at hand.
“You idiot!” Governor Farbend said, wringing his jowls with his hands. He pulled a Knight Captain aside. “I want a full sweep of all government agencies! Check all personnel with adder stones and weed out imposters.”
The Knight Captain grimaced. “We only have a couple of stones on hand.”
“I’ll have my secretary put in an order—” He caught himself. “Devil damn me. I still can’t believe this. No, I’ll draft the work order myself. The University will supply your men with the stones.”
“Yes sir,” the Captain said. “I’ll prepare a squad at once.”
The governor turned back to Theodore. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Grayweather. I’ll expect a full report. We need anything you can tell us about who might be behind this. The safety of Laien may be on the line.”
The feather was still on the reading table. A single black raven’s feather. Whisper’s feather. Theodore pushed himself out of his chair and picked it up, his breathing still shaky.
“I don’t know who’s behind this, but I know how to find out. Get me an aura tracker and I’ll have something major to report.”