Jackal Among Snakes

Chapter 219: Monitors

Chapter 219: Monitors

“What have you done?” was the question that greeted Argrave when he stepped out of the mystical elevator to the top floor of the Tower of the Gray Owl.

It had been a long, long way up to the top of the Tower, his feet fixed to a slab of stone as it maneuvered around other passengers taking similar rides, each going to the various floors in the tower. The ride was wondrous when one wasn’t expecting an interrogation at the end of it.

Argrave stepped out of the elevator and onto the top floor. “What was that?”

Castro stood before him. Whatever warmth his face usually had was gone, and his lips were drawn thin in a stern scowl. It was intimidating only because Argrave knew what the man before him was capable of.

“You killed Induen? You killed the crown prince, and you come here?” Castro pointed to the ground beneath him. “Do you have any idea the consequences—” Castro trailed off. “Why am I asking? I know you do. You have to know how much trouble this would cause for me, because it’s trouble that you’re deliberately placing at my feet.”

Argrave stared down at Castro for a few seconds as the old spellcaster stared at him in a fury. Then, he nodded. “Yes. I know.”

Castro let out one incredulous, shocked laugh. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Thank you,” Argrave smiled.

Castro turned and walked away in shock and awe, raising his hand to his forehead as though to ward off a headache. Argrave took the time to better examine the place.

Each of the lower floors accommodated dozens of rooms, with one central room connecting them all to the elevator. None of the rooms were especially small, and there was plenty of space within the tower everywhere; it was wide at all portions. The top floor, though… it had no other rooms. It was one grand apartment: the abode of the Master of the Tower of the Gray Owl.

Castro had decorated it to his whims. The back walls were all covered by bookshelves, and barring a giant bed well beyond king-size, everywhere else was filled with tables filled to the brims with oddities and riches. It was incomprehensibly disorganized, resembling a hoarder’s stash more than a grand wizard’s vault, yet everything within spoke of practicality instead of luxury.

In the very back, there was a small cluttering of things where he could faintly see a shadow moving. The shadow was a person’s, but the person was hidden behind a stack of objects.

Ingo is here, Argrave noted. Then Castro doesn’t think I’m dangerous.

“What is this they speak of?” Castro stepped back to Argrave, drawing him from his observations. “A legion of ghostly snakes? And don’t think to lie to me!” Castro shouted, his voice containing power belying his age. “I’m at my wit’s end with you!”

“It’s a spell. Can I demonstrate?” Argrave held his hands out, and when Castro didn’t protest, demonstrated [Electric Eel]. “An eel, not a snake. I can see how people might be confused.”

“An elemental spell. Work from the Order of the Rose,” Castro identified at once. “They always fancied using animals, other grandiose constructions like knights or… or mythical creatures.” Castro stepped away, shaking his head in exhaustion. “Argrave, you… you will be the death of me.”

“You’re a healthy man. You’ll live a while yet,” Argrave quipped.

His quip incited anger, and Castro stepped up to him. “Do you feel no remorse, no shame for so blatantly using the Order for your own end?”

“No,” Argrave said at once. “Because what I use, I’ll return tenfold.”

“Hah!” Castro laughed. “You made my tower a proxy for a struggle of power with King Felipe. How will you return that tenfold? Will you make ten kings my friend? I am not sure ten exist on Berendar, and if they did, not a one could compare to the influence Vasquer wields! Some… some thesis, you think that will compare at all? The locations of some fortresses from the Order of the Rose?”

Argrave reached into his coat and pulled out a packet of letters, handing them to Castro. “Anneliese and I put this together. It’s a collection of evidence that leads to irrefutable proof of something you’re just beginning to look into. They’re all leads you can follow up to find out the truth.”

Castro took the packet and held it up. “I don’t care what this says, Argrave.”

“I guess we’ll all die, then,” Argrave smiled.

Castro frowned, then looked back to the packet. “Wait here,” he commanded, then walked away to go read the document.


“I am not sure what this has to do with helping Argrave…” Nikoletta noted as they walked around the lower levels of the Tower of the Gray Owl.

“It has nothing to do with that,” Anneliese confirmed. “Stain and Durran will collaborate to control public opinion in whatever limited capacity is possible confined in this tower. Galamon will go along with Elias and Mina as they talk to various Magisters in the tower, using his influence as the heir to House Parbon… and I hoped for your insights as to the constructions down here,” she said, turning to look down at the woman. “What do you know about the Tower’s enchantments?”

Nikoletta crossed her arms. “Argrave said to speak to you about what to do to help his cause.”

“You might go with Elias,” Anneliese said calmly. “Add the name of House Monticci alongside Parbon and Veden, sway yet more opinion. But considering you hoped to learn more about all of us, I thought it would be more fitting to bring you along with me here in my own endeavor.”

Nikoletta froze. “I…”

“I will not betray any of Argrave’s confidences, but I will answer what questions I can. And in return… you will tell me about this place,” Anneliese looked around, where towering stone statues projected purple light throughout the walls.

“How did you know?” Nikoletta asked at once.

Anneliese smiled. “Curiosity is an emotion, you realize. Deliberate curiosity with a motive is easy to read. From there… I tracked its source, deduced things. Your forthright support was the largest giveaway. Yet none of you are insincere, and that is the important part.”

Nikoletta nodded, impressed by Anneliese. “Okay, then… let’s do that. Your arrangement.”

Anneliese smiled. “Then, please.”

“Right,” Nikoletta nodded, crossing her arms and gazing at the stone statues all around. “This place… it’s a catacomb. When a Tower Master dies, or a notable Magister, their bodies are interred here. Old enchantments allow them to draw magic from the surroundings, keeping their bodies preserved while still constantly refueling the enchantments.”

Anneliese looked at the statues in a new light. “Are they kept alive?”

“No,” Nikoletta shook her head at once. “Only their bodies are preserved.”

“Yet the statues…”

“Those aren’t the bodies,” Nikoletta shook her head. “They’re deeper down. The doors only open for important rituals, like naming a new Magister or Tower Master.”

Anneliese nodded, looking to the floor. “Argrave told me necromancy was forbidden in the Order, and illegal in all Vasquer.”

“It isn’t necromancy. It’s something else,” Nikoletta shook her head.

“Have you confirmed that personally?” Anneliese tilted her head.

“I… no, no I haven’t. But—”

Anneliese held her hand out to stifle defensiveness. “I do not accuse, worry not. I am merely questioning.”

Nikoletta gave a slow nod after a few moments of uncertainty. “Then, no, I haven’t confirmed it personally. But everyone who is down here are hailed as heroes, and they agreed to be interred to further the Order. Even if it was necromancy, I don’t suppose it matters.”

“I see. Noble, to surrender even your body to the Order,” Anneliese noted, then resumed walking down the catacomb.

Nikoletta nodded, then looked up to the elven woman as they walked. “Then… I’ll ask now. What does Argrave actually do?”

“He has told you,” Anneliese pointed out. “He is trying his best to ensure this world is prepared for Gerechtigkeit.”

“What does that entail?” Nikoletta pressed.

Anneliese tilted her head. “Well… he preserves life, mostly. The Veidimen invasion, the plague—both prominent examples.”

“But why does he do it? What exactly set him on this path?”

Anneliese turned to her. “We share that curiosity. I do not know what set him on this path, but he travels it willingly.”

Nikoletta was surprised at that. “Has he not told you?”

Anneliese fidgeted with her hands. “Argrave never keeps me in the dark, not anymore.”

Nikoletta processed that. “Then… he doesn’t know,” she deduced.

“Infer what you will,” Anneliese responded simply. “The elevator in the center. Is it powered by this catacomb?”

“No, that’s actively maintained by a select few Wizards,” Nikoletta shook her head. “High-concentration, diligent work that requires a lot of activity.”

Anneliese sighed. “I wonder if I might try it…”

Nikoletta wondered if Anneliese was being serious, but she could not find any trace of anything besides earnest curiosity on the Veidimen’s features.

A question came to Nikoletta, yet she hesitated to say it. She swallowed, gathering her courage, and asked hesitantly, “Is Argrave really your…?”

“Fiancé?” Anneliese smiled. “We have had no ceremony. I am unsure of this custom’s proceedings in Vasquer—in Veiden, these arrangements need only be mentioned to a chieftain to be made official. But… he is unwavering on this matter. Sometimes I wish for him to be pragmatic, such as the matter with your betrothal, but I cannot deny it makes me selfishly happy whenever he expresses his unwillingness to compromise. He makes me happy. He has done much for me. I think he would do too much for me… if I let him. I have never had someone who is unwaveringly supportive before.”

Anneliese spoke her feelings so unabashedly Nikoletta was the one who got embarrassed.

“Is…” Nikoletta trailed off. “Is Argrave bluffing about the civil war? Lying to make us all feel better?”

“No,” Anneliese answered at once. “He does have plans in line with what he mentioned.”

“Good plans?” Nikoletta pressed.

“We are all Argrave’s companions, but we are not sycophants, nor are we eager to follow him to his grave,” Anneliese stated plainly. “He has had bad plans before, bad ideas—we counsel him against those, and he listens. He has had plans that surprise me. And now… now, I feel that once we get out of the Tower, things may well go very smoothly.”

Nikoletta looked at Anneliese for a long while, her pink eyes meeting the elf’s. Then, she nodded steadily. “Think it’s your turn for a question,” she said levelly.


“We understand that your time is precious, Magister Yurent, and I assure you that this meeting will be worth it.”

A man sat with his arms crossed. His features were incredibly eye-catching, perhaps because they caught the light. His nails seemed to be made of gold—nothing covered them, but rather, they grew from the finger gold. His hair, his eyebrows, his eyelashes—they all grew gold as well, shining against the light from the window as true as any ring or necklace might. His A-rank ascension focused in earth-elemental magic, and he willingly imbued gold into his features. He was, quite literally, a walking gold mine.

“I only entertain you because the time spent listening to you is less of a loss than offending Parbon would be,” Magister Yurent noted, with a deep voice that seemed ill-fitting on his soft, fair features. “Why should I entertain your pet bastard, a kinslayer hiding in the tower? His fate is not a good one, I can promise you.”

“We can both ensure that this will be more than worth your time. Argrave is many things, but wasteful he is not. I am absolutely sure he’s fully prepared to give you much and more for your time,” Mina pleaded diplomatically.

“I just… don’t see it,” Yurent shook his head. “You give me nothing solid. Empty assurances.”

“Please, Magister, I—” Elias began again.

“This is a waste of our time,” Galamon cut in. “The last thing Argrave wants is some copper counter. Let us find someone who will not wring us for all we are worth, so that someone worthwhile might be advanced in the Order.”

Elias looked to Galamon, then nodded and made to leave. Mina followed just after.

“Hold on,” Yurent called out. “I… fine. If it is only a meeting, I suppose learning firsthand about Induen’s death cannot be a loss.”

“He’ll find you when he’s ready,” Galamon answered, then shut the door behind him.


“That’s three of six,” Elias noted. “Much better turnout than I thought. Magisters, they’re prickly things.”

“She gives good direction,” Galamon looked to Mina.

Mina shook her head. “You carried the whole thing twice now.”

“…you learn things in people’s company. The months with Argrave…” Galamon shook his head. “There is more to do. We talk needlessly.”

“Right,” Elias nodded. “Let’s get four of seven.”

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