The Omlos field office was relatively comfortable. Narcia had historically been fairly friendly to Retrein – which made their relationship unique among all the Ganlean nations. Still, the sad thing about intelligence work was that you had to keep secrets from your friends as well as your enemies, so “The Crow’s Nest,” as it was called, still required its thieves to go through a fair amount of rigmarole before they could get in.
There was a field office in each of the major Narcian cities – the Crow’s Nest in Omlos, the Bat’s Cave in Reben, the Bee Hive in Carathon, the Wolf’s Den in Gensdon, and finally Lock & Key in the capital, Entraht.
The Receiver was a squat man, bespectacled, and mostly bald. Nascine, who would be living under the alias of “Valerie Justinian,” and her communications officer, who was going by “James Tarson,” checked in with him.
“Out. She’s buying groceries.”
Nascine nodded. She and Tarson went upstairs. There was a small apartment there, enough for a few people to live in relative comfort. Both she and Tarson went for the teakettle instinctively. Tarson stepped back, allowing her to turn the stove on.
“So who is she?”
“Her name is Jaroka, Rosanna Jaroka. She’s an assassin who works primarily with the Stag’s Head Cult. She was implicated in the bombing that happened two years ago that killed the Bone King’s Ambassador down in Entraht.”
“I thought that turned out to be the Machinists?”
Nascine nodded. The incident had caused a lot of strife between Narcia and the Bone King, resulting in even a few military skirmishes along the border. For now things had quieted down to a degree, but the whole world had been watching in terror, hoping that the cease-fire would hold.
“Yes, the evidence does seem to point toward the Machinists, but the Rookery has evidence suggesting that Jaroka and her associates were contracted to kill the ambassador as well.”
“Seems like one hell of a coincidence. Two assassination attempts at the same time against the same person?”
“That’s what we thought. The Stag’s Head wouldn’t have much to gain from killing the ambassador. They don’t have much love for the Bone King, but then, they don’t have much love for anything other than that dead god they worship.”
“On the other hand, what did the Machinists have to gain?”
“Nothing. Same as the Stag’s Head.”
Tarson furrowed his brow. The whistle on the kettle began to blow. Nascine poured a cup for each of them. He sat on the sofa, one leg folded under the other. “Two religious organizations, hiring assassins. So what do we want with Jaroka?”
“Well, she’s a wanted criminal, and she’s from Retrein.”
“I would guess it’s more.”
Nascine took a sip of her tea. It was like life flowing back into her after the exhaustion of travel. “Go on.”
“Queen Elona herself gave you the mission, so there’s a unique element in play. You said Jaroka usually works for the Stag’s Head?”
“But if both of these attempts were planned for the same day, that would seem to imply that whoever was actually behind the assassination had a hand in both. Was the ambassador holding any sort of public event?”
“It was the day they ordained the new Priestess of Kerahn, but that was earlier in the day. No, he was killed within the embassy.”
“It’s subtle. Plausible enough that two groups would choose to kill him on the same day, but these are both religiously motivated groups. They’d want it to be public – a demonstration.”
Nascine smiled. “They did blow up an embassy.”
Tarson took a sip of tea. “True, but they could have killed him some other way, while the cameras were rolling. Incidentally, ow. I just burned my tongue.”
Nascine smirked. Tarson had a certain charm to him – guilelessness that was fairly uncommon in most of the thieves she knew. Then again, this was his first assignment. “He was a walking skeleton. Maybe a bomb was the only way they could be sure to kill him,” she said.
Tarson got up. “No, wait, think about it. This was all a very, very subtle operation. The ambassador gets killed in a way that looks very much like it’s religiously motivated. The killers set up one bluff – the Stag’s Head, to make the second bluff look like the real thing.”
“You don’t think the Machinists were behind it?”
“It’s the country’s second most popular religion. I’m not ruling out that some Machinists might have been involved, but if you ask me, I think it’s more of a smoke screen.”
“It would seem that Queen Elona agrees with you.”
“She does?” He thought it over for a few seconds. “Of course she does. What would have happened if the Stag’s Head was convicted in the general consensus? Maybe the Bone King would have cracked down on them, but more likely it would have just been written off as the acts of terrorists who can’t be controlled. But you saw what happened – Narcia almost went to war with the wastes. A much bigger effect, and probably the intended one.”
“So it would seem. But who would benefit from such a thing?”
Tarson opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it. “I have no idea.”
“Exactly,” said Nascine. “But if we’re going to find out, we probably want to talk to the only living person involved in the assassination attempt”
Nascine was about to reply when the receiver trotted up the stairs. He was out of breath by the time he reached the top. “Sorry to interrupt.”
Nascine put her mug down. “What is it?”
“You should leave. Soon. It’s Kilarny.”
“What about her?”