I have never been anywhere as beautiful as the Cloud Quarter of Great Glade. It is the city’s seat of learning, and its academies and schools are beyond compare.
My private audience with Quove Lentis – the High Professor of Flight – went well. Corpulent and expensively dressed in academic robes of the finest spidersilk, his chins wobbled as he expressed shock at the news of the impending battle at the Farrow Ridges, and was mortified that someone had sent the mire-pearlers the extra phraxcannon. He suggested calling a full high council meeting, where my concerns could be raised, his voice querulous with concern and outrage.
However, I left his palatial rooms to find Luggins and Threnodesse – who had been waiting for me outside in the lobby – staring at me in absolute horror.
‘W… what’s wrong?’ I asked, my stomach knotting with misgiving.
‘The professor is not all he seems,’ said Threnodesse softly. ‘I listened in to his thoughts – and what terrible thoughts they were. Despite his apparent horror at the settlers’ plight, the news you brought filled him with glee.’
‘I… I don’t understand,’ I told her.
‘I read his mind. He is the main investor in something called the Farrow Lake Company,’ the waif explain. ‘It has been set up to take the sacred pearl of the great blueshell clam, and to annexe the caverns of the Five Falls and exploit them for profit. It was he, Quove Lentis, who ordered the extra phraxcannon to be sent to the mire-pearlers against all the rules his office is meant to uphold. The high council must be informed of this…’
My jaw dropped in surprise. ‘Why then, has he agreed to call a High Council meeting for me to raise these very issues?’ I asked.
Threnodesse reached out and took my hand. ‘He is assuming that you will not attend this meeting,’ she said darkly, but although I urged her to tell me more, she would not give any further details.
For the duration of our stay, we were given lodgings in the east wing of the School of Earth Studies, a beautiful cloistered building with walls of pearl-white Edgecliff stone. We each had a cabin, which was small but adequate to our needs, with a hammock and storage chest and a door out onto a balcony of carved blackwood that extended the length of the magnificent building. I’d slept well the first night of our stay, but with Threnodesse’s words ringing in my head, I could not get to sleep that second night. In the end, I arose and stepped onto the balcony to take the air.
With its twinkling lamps and gleaming spires, the sleeping city was a wonder to behold, and made all the more beautiful by the silvery full moon above. I heard a banderbear yodelling softly to its mate from the distant Deepwoods, and was wondering when I, too, would return to my beloved forest home, when I caught sight of a movement at the far end of the balcony.
It was a waif, and for a moment I thought it must be Threnodesse, also unable to sleep. Only when I noticed the long blowpipe glint in the moonlight as he put it to his mouth, did I realize my mistake. This was not my travel companion. This was a waif assassin – a waif assassin with murder on his mind. And I was to be his victim.
I heard a soft puff of air as the waif fired, and cried out in alarm as the dart whistled past my ear. It struck the balustrade behind me, and I turned to see it embedded in the wood, hissing and steaming. Poison! I turned back. The assassin was loading a second dart…
What happened next, happened so fast I could scarcely take it in. Before I could even throw myself to the ground, I heard a loud roar, followed by a heavy thud, and Luggins my brogtroll bodyguard was standing before me. He had jumped down from the balcony above – at the very moment the evil assassin loosed his second poison dart, which embedded itself in the back of his neck. A look of anguished pain passed over his noble features as the poison took effect, then his eyes went dim and he crashed to the balcony boards, dead.
Behind him, the waif assassin let out a wailing shriek and dropped his blowpipe. As he crumpled to the floor I saw that Threnodesse was standing behind him, a knife in her hand. It glistened in the moonlight with dark waif blood. Dropping the knife, she rushed over and knelt beside Luggins, and tenderly closed our faithful brogtroll companion’s eyes.
‘He has paid the ultimate price to protect our beloved Farrow Lake,’ her thoughts echoed in my head. ‘Tomorrow will be our test.’