(I will warn you that this bit suffers from being out of context as well as first draft. The situation being talked about isn't the main focal point of this novel. Never too early to start setting up sequels. *cue evil laughter*)

Julie had noticed we appeared to be heading for the Grapevine. "I thought you said they were on the other side of some sort of gate! We appear to be heading up the perfectly normal highway through the Grapevine!"

"Skepticism is fine for now, Honey. The transport network on this side is a lot faster. There aren't exactly interstates and gas stations on the other side! Trust me, you'll see!"

"So those stories you told me about your great-grandmother? She really was a shaman?"

"She really is a shaman, Mark. She's still alive, she makes crops grow better than anyone else, and doesn't look any older than I do. How old do you think I am?"

"I've always thought of you as being younger than I am."

"Mark, I was born over sixty years ago! My mother is well over a hundred, my grandmother is older than the United States. The gift diminishes with each generation removed, but some still remains."

"And your great-grandmother?"

"We think she's under a thousand."

"So these elves - right? - lose a war and find themselves enslaved. But it doesn't sound like they're slaves any longer?"

"They rebelled. And they got assistance, somehow. There was a journey - a long journey. It's all oral history from songs and tales around the fire. They ended up on an Earth that's like a changed Earth, and it's somehow touching our Earth. And there things stayed for a very long time. There were even colonies on the Earth side."

"And then one day, some regular humans appeared on Earth. We don't know how they got here - they didn't remember how their ancestors got here. But they sure displaced everything that competed with them. That's about all of the story I know, except that the Elves are concerned that humans have started crossing over into their world."

Empire and Earth is the concluding book of a 'tight' trilogy where each book takes up very quickly after the conclusion of the others, yet each book has it's own story, conflict, and resolution.

Excerpt:

In Empire and Earth, the background events warned of in the first two books come to a head, reaching a tipping point and escalating rapidly from there.I woke up to the thought that I can't keep doing this.
I couldn't keep fighting demons like that solo.

It wasn't that I was getting old. It was simply that I wouldn't stand a prayer against a basileus or one of the uniques that could dominate even them. I could maybe handle terostes, even nephraim, but against any of the great nobles I was toast. I had no evidence that there were any more demons on Earth, but I didn't have any evidence that there weren't, either. You think there weren't any more demons on Earth after my most recent victory up north? Great - now prove it. I couldn't prove it either. Even if there weren't any now, that didn't mean there couldn't be more arriving in the future. The stons might have been stupid and unfocused, but they were at least a credible threat to keep any demons that might be on Earth under some type of control. Removing them had removed that threat and that control.

Asking which came first, stons or demons, was not a productive line of questioning. Whichever had brought the other, clearly the demons now had some sort of access to Earth. I wasn't certain I understood Instance Portals; they were beyond what I could do thus far. I'd have Asto or one of the others explain more when I got back. Maybe I could handle an Instance Portal; it was just nobody had explained how yet. When billions to trillions of operant mindlords are building up the science of the mind over tens of thousands of years, don't expect to master it all in a few months, no matter how fast your mind works now. All those other Guardians have minds that work just as fast.

Speaking of which, progress on my real goal - insulating people from the coming government failure - was thus far going nowhere. Yeah, I was making a lot of money selling dogs in the Empire - even if the land for my dog farm suddenly became worthless, I was still in the black. But I couldn't reach the real goal by myself. I needed other people from the Empire helping me for that. One person may be enough for an underground resistance, but it's not enough to make it a viable replacement for the multi-trillion dollar economy the government was going to kill. I needed lots more people and lots more traffic for that.

Before I went back to the Empire, though, I had to catch up with the backlog of pickups. It had been four days while we were preparing to fight the demons, a fourth night to actually do it, and it was now after noon of the fifth day since the last time I had picked up any dogs from my suppliers. If you've got a farm, you've got to work it - doesn't matter whether that farm is crops in the soil or a supply chain. I had just had a gap in pickup of three weeks; I couldn't leave pickups another five to seven days until I was caught up and had prepared my suppliers. That catching up took me three days, by which I was time I was two days past my planned stay, and had to get back before Asto came looking for me. I let Ray and my suppliers know that I was planning to be back in six days, and shaped course back for the Empire with almost exactly six thousand dogs.

I dropped back into the Home Instance, and the first thing I got was Asto's sense of relief. It was almost funny in a way, and I suppose from his point of view it was a little scary: I find out my new husband's family secret - that they were really Seventh Order, not Fifth - and promptly go over-schedule. Think about the obvious conclusion to be drawn from that. Sorry about being late. There were some demons, and after I spent four days on preparing and fighting them, I had to catch up the business before I could leave. I was worried you'd come looking for me and we'd cross paths.

Anana told me I had to wait a full day, he replied, but then she and Parnit would come with me in case it was stons or another basileus. Imperial Home Instance Time ran about one quarter the speed of Earth. Neither one of us mentioned Iaren's splinter.

Sorry to cause you worry. I got feedback to the effect it couldn't be helped.

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A Guardian From Earth is the second book of Rediscovery, the middle book of a 'tight' trilogy where the events in subsequent novels take up very close upon the heels of the previous book. Nonetheless, each story has it's own beginning, middle, and climax.

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"M'ija, what have you gotten into?"

"I'm about to explain that, Mama. Do you have an empty tin can in your recycling?"
"I think so m'ija. I used a can of tomato sauce a couple nights ago. You want it for something?"
"A demonstration. I want to start out by showing you and Papi evidence of what I'm going to tell you. I want you to understand early that this is not something like anything you're familiar with. If I can get past that hump early, this will go a lot easier."
"I'll get it."
Meanwhile Papi was coming in the front door, Riley doing his happy wiggle, but tonight Papi had eyes only for me. "M'ija! I was starting to worry it might be the hallucinations of an old man, but you're still here!" I hugged him, hard, "Yes, I'm still here Papi. What I'm going to have to show you and tell you will be a lot easier if I can start with a demonstration, and have you examine a couple things with your own eyes. First, I asked Mama to get me a used tin can, and here she is." I took the sauce can from her, went out only the spaced tile walkway behind the house, set it down, then thought better of it, picked it back up and handed it him. "Take a good look at it. Decide for yourself whether it's a completely normal can with no abnormalities, or if you think it's in some way unusual, say so. And I can wait a couple minutes for you to say hi to Riley, too. Probably a good idea if he and Candy are in the house when we do this."
"Looks normal to me, hija. I'll go put the dogs in the house." It was a couple minutes later when he came out again, carefully closing the back door so the dogs wouldn't get out. "Set the can down on one of the tiles, Papi. Take a good look at where you set it down before you do." They were all identical, square masonry tiles he'd set down roughly eighteen inches apart in a line back to the patio near the back fence just after we'd bought the place. They were weathered, but solid. "Ok, but I don't understand."

"You will in a moment Papi." I took the hand blaster out of my bag, made sure it was on and aimed it at the can. Actually, I didn't know what the hand blaster would do to a can, but I was pretty certain it would do something. You don't blow a hole clean through someone's head with less power than it takes to shoot tin cans.
Actually, my first shot missed the can completely. Fw-crack! It blew a hole in the tile the can was on and cracked it from front to back, into two pieces. He and mama both jumped in alarm. "M'ija, what did you do that for?" Papi demanded, "I knew I should have taught you to handle a gun. This isn't the place!"

"Papi, look carefully. This isn't a gun. It doesn't shoot bullets. Stand back." Then I carefully squeezed off another shot. Fw-clink-crack! I hadn't dead centered it, but there was now a hole in the can, and it had moved just a little. The poor tile it sat on was now hopelessly shattered. I held the studs in back, watching the indicator go black. "The blaster is now safe. Examine the can if you will."
Papi knelt down. The first thing he did surprised me. He looked at the tile underneath the can, then the dirt underneath the tile. He felt around in the dirt, which had formed narrow divots. "Your shots appear to have pierced both the can and the tile. The tile is warm and so are a couple of places beneath it where I believe the shots hit, but I cannot find a bullet. The edges of the holes in the can are consistent with there being no physical bullet as well, as there is no bending back or tearing of the edges. It appears to be a clean hole like a laser might make, but I don't know of any lasers that powerful."

"I don't know that it's a laser Papi. In fact, I don't know anything about it except what ScOsh told me in order to shoot it. I can dial the power level up or down, I can turn it on or off, I can mostly read the power indicator, and I can tell you that this this weapon was completely drained this morning and recharged itself while I slept. And before you ask, yes, I was in a gun battle, kind of. I'm not hurt, but I'm the only survivor. Are there any other tests you would like to make to determine whether this is a thing that can be made anywhere on Earth?"

"Let me shoot it once, hija."

"Alright, watch me. I showed him how to shoot it, turn it on, squeezed off another shot of my own at the helpless can, which he'd set down on the lawn. I missed, again, sending up a tiny protrusion of displaced dirt and grass. I turned it off and handed it to him. He turned it back on, and shot, but Papi hit the can with his first shot. The indicator went from blue to gold briefly and then red. ScOsh wasn't kidding about high power drain while the weapon was powering up. I didn't know how much we'd burned, but that last shot had to be significant to change colors twice. Papi shot again. Hit the can again. The indicator stayed red, so the power up must have been complete. Mama was obviously upset almost to the point of rebellion, but then he turned the weapon off and handed it back to me. "I'm convinced, no real recoil, smooth mechanism with no difference between slack and pull range, and I am pretty certain nothing made on earth can do that kind of damage without weighing at least a hundred times what that thing does. Not to mention that the power indicator is completely different than anything I've seen from Earth engineers. But it looks like it was designed for a human hand?"
"Yes it was, Papi. The man who gave it to me was as human as we are. He just wasn't from Earth. Let me show you one more thing, even more unusual. But this we can do inside. We're done with gun discharges, I hope." With that, I put the gun away and pulled out the "pocket" while walking into the house, "I'm sorry I upset you Mama, and I'll replace the tile Papi, but I hope you can see why I needed to show you. You had to feel it for yourself."

"Yes, I did. What else do you have to show me?"
"ScOsh called it a pocket." I laid it out, cloth side up, on the kitchen table. "Feel." Mama and Papi both reached out and touched it. The material was like a cross between velvet and silk; light, but with a sturdy plush feel, pleasant to run your fingers over. I turned it over, and now they could see into it. Mama's mouth made the O of exclamation and she clapped her hands and said, "Ooh, I want one!" Papi's eyes got real big, but he reached his hand in, and pulled out ScOsh's original sword.

"Careful, Papi. I don't know how to use any of what's in there. I don't even know what anything else is, and I'm pretty sure some of it is dangerous. But is the container anything we can make here on Earth?"

"You know the answer to that, m'ija. If it were, would you women ruin your backs carrying around huge purses?" as he gestured at my large travelling bag. "I want to try something, though." He took a pen out of his pants pocket, put it inside the pocket, released it. It floated there. Evidently, gravity didn't exist inside. He put his hand into one of the side pockets that wasn't holding anything. "Sticky, like a Post-It, but stronger." Rubbing his fingers together, "It doesn't feel like the adhesive transfers, either. I can't feel a thing on them."

"Okay, m'ija, you've got me convinced. Tell me the story."

It was time for work, but my phone rang again. I didn't recognize the number, but it was long distance, so I gave it a chance on case a family member needed help. It was ScOsh, "Grace, I have two million dollars for you."

A statement like that does get your attention, especially when you're scrabbling for twelve bucks an hour so you can go to school part time. He'd already refused my virtue, such as it was, so I was pretty certain that wasn't his objective. What was? "Um, thanks, I think. Why?"

"I offered you compensation, and you accepted. You may not realize it, but you are running a risk by hosting me. What is your schedule today?"

"Nothing special. Work, then school tonight - Organic chem. There's an exam I haven't studied for"

"Can you call in sick to work today? There's a risk I have to show you how to minimize. You should be fine by tonight."

"For someone paying me 2 million dollars I can. When do I get it? And risk? What risk?" And what did you DO to earn two million dollars overnight? To myself.

"I'll explain when I see you. Stay in until then. I'll be there within an hour. An Earth hour."

So I called in to "Call Me George" Martinez and told him I'd caught a cold from all the rain. My first sick call in two years. He wasn't happy, but I'd finished the EPA report he needed, so he had to let me slide. If ScOsh was as good as his word - and he had been so far - I might never come back. Then I cracked the O-chem book.

I amazed myself. I had struggled with the differences between aldehydes and ketones, but it was a snap now. I not only understood, I was drawing connections the book wasn't making - at least not yet. Better yet, I was remembering them. I satisfied myself, pulled out my calculus book from last semester, and suddenly understood calculus for the first time in my life. Ditto my Tuesday night Molecular Biology class. I went back to O-chem. I remembered it all. I read three chapters ahead. It was dryer than hot desert sand thanks to the writer's pedantic text, but it wasn't hard.

I got the impression more time than an hour had passed, and I was right. It had been an hour and ten minutes. I couldn't have done it in less than four hours before. Then I remembered ScOsh was ten minutes overdue. The way he came and went was creepy, but he seemed to have it pretty well under control. Where was he?

He stepped out of the hall closet just then. God alone knows where he found the room, but he did. He wasn't carrying anything that looked like it could hold a million dollars, but I'd reserve judgment on that. He hadn't been carrying the sword I'd seen, or the other weapon, the one that killed the gangbangers, either. "Sorry I'm late," he said, "But exchanging the money turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I found out about your physical libraries last night after you went to bed, so I walked through first your local college library, then the Library of Congress. Then I went to Atlantic City, and went through all the casinos there. Then Las Vegas"

"You cheated the casinos?" I interrupted, incredulous, "You cheated the mob-owned casinos?"

"I did no such thing," he said, "It's not cheating to use skill. If they don't have rules posted that forbid it, it's not cheating. There were rules posted, but absolutely nothing about using any of the skills I employed. I borrowed a chip from someone for a few minutes, and used it to win. Then I gave the original chip back to the owner with interest. I went from casino to casino. Didn't win too much from any of them. When people started to take an interest in my winning, I lost a little, then changed tables and started winning again. I know how not to be noticed. Speaking of which, that applies right now. You're about to have visitors. I'm not here; don't expect them to find me no matter what they do, so act natural. Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Your planet doesn't have the technology or the wizardry to catch me. I want to keep it to a minimum because there's at least one person around who can." Then he simply disappeared right in front of me, just as there was a knock on my door.

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Price of Power Published

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For everything there is a price.

Grace has married into one of the most important families of the Empire. The Scimtars are wealthy and powerful in every sense of the term. Her five children will be among the Empire's elite when they are ready, and Grace herself is not without influence or importance despite her relative youth. But Imperial politics are deadly, and the more you have, the more your rivals want what you have.

There is no shelter from The Price of Power.

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The Price of Power, follow-up to The Invention of Motherhood, has been published. It is available through Amazon and all the various Books2Read sources (B&N, Kobo, etcetera and various library services such as Overdrive and Biblioteca) as an e-book, as well as through Amazon as a paperback. I hope to soon have all of my books available in paperback through the Books2Read outlets, but for the moment the paperbacks are Amazon only.

Since the most recent Grace novel is now with the beta readers and editor, I'm working on something else while I wait for the feedback. This is a crossover urban fantasy work. It has nothing to do with any of my published works.

I woke up the worst kind of alone.

The alarm went off, same as usual. My arm was across her as I woke up, my befuddled mind thinking Wow, guess that wasn't just a dream. I managed to reach over and hit snooze in order to cuddle up, just the way we used to before getting up to start our day, just a few minutes with each other, before I realized something was very wrong.

What I'd woken up with wasn't a living, breathing woman.

I bellowed an inarticulate cry of panic and scrambled backwards out of bed, stumbling over the blankets on my way out of bed, but also ripping them off what was in bed with me.

Once I was free of their entangling grasp, I looked at what was there on the bed: a dried, dessicated corpse, long dead, eyes shrunken in, skin sagging, pitted. Intact as far as I could tell, but dead for years. Only the honey-blonde hair was unchanged, still the young, wavy style it had been the previous evening.

I wasn't going to pretend I understood, but it was clear I had to do something, and once I got over my initial panic, I knew who to call.

"Hello, Larry!"

"Mark, what are you calling about at such an early hour? I don't get to the office before eight-thirty! You know that!"

"Yes, Larry, but this is different, and I need your help now. I woke up with a corpse in my bed this morning!"

"Mark, I must not be awake yet. I could have sworn you just told me you woke up with a corpse in your bed, and I know that can't be true!" I started to tell him it was true, and he talked over me, "I know it can't be true because you wouldn't have called a securities lawyer over a criminal matter that didn't happen. Are you understanding me, Mark?"

Home seems like an excellent idea. I've had as much of a break from being Mom as I needed, and now it seems like something I want to do again. Suiting actions to words, I headed for the portal just outside where Goronos' office had been - most viceroys wanted their offices as conveniently accessible as they could. It was a walk of less than two ifourths. You coming? I asked Ghost Uncle.

When we popped out of the portal serving the parking garage, I was well inside my 'public' energy limits, so I teleported straight to where I'd left my Starbird earlier.

Which was where Paulos was waiting for me.

I'd gotten sloppy. I realized in retrospect, I'd let myself be predictable. I'd kept using the same parking garage for my Starbird every time. It really wasn't difficult to track vessels travelling from Sondergard to Sumabad.

But recriminations would have to wait until later. After I survived his blitz.

The first thing I felt was the weird multiple sensation of him holding spak open and duplicating himself. If I hadn't encountered it already in analyzing the two murder scenes, he would have had me before I even realized what he was doing. Instead, I had an instant to harden my shields and start drawing power while grabbing my sword out of its pocket.

Just in time, as two strong mindbolts hit me, one from each of the duplicate Pauloses. Either one alone would have been difficult for me to handle a few years previous and the two together would have put me down immediately, but Fourth Order me had no issues absorbing them and returning fire. I noticed that Paulos number one was the one holding the Temporal Anchor, so he had less spare capacity. I hit him with a mindbolt I couldn't have absorbed as a Second Order Guardian, and it killed him - just like that.
Since the Temporal Anchor was no longer being held open, Paulos number two simply vanished. He became nothing, as the events leading to his creation had never happened, and he was dead earlier in his personal Event Line than his current point in time. It was no longer possible for the second version of Paulos to exist, and so he didn't. Anticlimactic, yes, and it illustrated why duplicating yourself with a Temporal Anchor was leaving yourself vulnerable to an opponent who recognized the gambit.

Shields! The warning from Ghost Uncle gave me just enough time to harden myself again before another mindbolt hit me.

Over the Climactic Scene Hump

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Just finished the climactic scene of WIP. Still have to do the denouement, but this scene was the hard one to do right. Should have the novel finished within a few more days.

Question: I've been using "The Price of Power" as the working title, but lately I've been thinking about changing it to "The Price of Prominence". I know the argument against long words when a short one will do, but Feedback back on how well each title would grab you would be welcome.

Why would someone capable of the standard brun masking be using a mindbomb instead? I asked Ghost Uncle, Do they want to be found - eventually?

Good question, and a reasonable hypothesis, if we are dealing with the same person. But do we know it is the same person?

There was no mental signature, so we had no evidence either way. Just one contact specialist's opinion that the signatures were 'similar.' We didn't even know that the signature he remembered was from the still open case. This case was teaching me about controlling frustration - it seemed like every clue we'd gotten thus far raised more questions than it answered. No we don't have any real information other than 'coincidence' and 'similarities' I replied, I know not to discount coincidence and similarity, but the idea of expecting a Primus to rule someone guilty of a murder based upon the evidence we have should fall under the category of 'wishful thinking'.

Exactly. I'd remove a subordinate who thought our evidence thus far was sufficient, and the commentary I'd make in their file should make it impossible for them to work in government for squares.. And the Investigator who expected them to be satisfied with it as well. After half my life in the Empire, I was still adjusting to the notion that government service was more difficult and exacting than most private jobs. 'Why?' was a lengthy explanation, but it was true.

Isn't the traditional masking only a Category Green effect?

Yes, but you've got to be highly proficient with it to expect it to be effective. It's a direct contest of skill, and the Investigator gets as many tries as she needs, while the perpetrator only has one chance to get it perfect. Once again, being good enough to expect to stymie an Investigator would be a skill I would expect to find in a member or agent of a rival House. Which meant another pointer to the Game of Houses. This game of ghosts and ifs and maybes was frustrating. I was almost to the point where I'd rather deal with a straightforward assassination attempt on me instead.

The second message was from an Investigator named VarDossian di Gustos, "Varian di Gustos was my father. I would appreciate being made aware of any developments. Please contact me if you have any questions I can assist with."

So I messaged him via contact specialist, and when we were directly connected, explained the situation, and gave him the signature to compare with. "It is close," he admitted, "But not identical, and I don't think it's close enough to what I remember. Perhaps they were trained by the same person or went through some similar experiences, but compare to the signature we have," and he demonstrated by showing me the signature he remembered before mentally superimposing the signatures, "It's only been nine years. I wouldn't expect the drift between the two signatures to change that much, and I wouldn't expect the evolution to go in that direction. As you can see, prior focus was superior. Most operants' focus improves over time."

I thanked him for his information, and terminated contact. But it didn't appear to help. Thus far every attempt to narrow the focus of this needle in a haystack problem had been frustrated. Actually, it was worse than finding a needle in a haystack - the haystack was sixty times the size of any city on Earth, and this needle was skilled at hiding and evasion.

You are assuming VarDossian was being forthright and helpful, Ghost Uncle reminded me, and that his memory hasn't changed in critical ways since the events. Memory changes every time you access it unless you're a trained adept who is actively resisting those changes. Since it was wrapped up in the death of his father, I would expect he has revisited them often. And he may be a Guardian, but is he using the auros techniques for preserving memory faithfully? Notice he only showed you one copy of the signature, which is evidence he is not.

Leave it to Ghost Uncle to make unhelpful answers even less definite, but he had a point. If VarDossian was using anti-drift techniques, he should have had and demonstrated at least three different memories of the mental signature. Do you have any actual helpful hints about this needle in a haystack problem? I resisted the urge to add 'or are you just being difficult?' His most recent observation had given me a clearer picture of what I actually understood and didn't. The fact that it made that knowledge less definite and more subject to question might have been frustrating, but it had pointed out a set of facts I might have glossed over.

Interesting metaphor, Grace. What are the classic solutions to such problems?

Well, there was sitting my stupid backside in the haystack until the needle jabbed it, but I didn't care for the consequences of that method - this needle was deadly. But the other solution was a metaphorical magnet - the stronger the better. The difficult thing about this needle was finding it. Once I had it, it would be trivial to verify it was the correct needle.

So I needed a magnet to draw this needle out. What were the properties of this needle that would enable me to draw it out?

The most obvious potential magnetic leverage was our murderer had a limited amount of time and he had to know it. Every passing minute made it harder to shield his Event Line during the critical moments, and once I had those, I had him. Time was on our side. Eventually I - or my replacement if he managed to kill me - would hunt him down. Which led me to the obvious question: Why hadn't he realized this before killing Goronos?

Humanity: an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan. Ghost Uncle was brutal. One of the hardest things we have to do in training our children and agents is to break them of that unwillingness and make planning habitual.

I got the strong impression he intentionally wasn't telling me the whole story. Which meant I either had to figure it out myself or wait for it to reveal itself in the fullness of time. I'd rather figure it out myself, but one problem at a time. Focus on this problem. Once solved, it was likely the rest of the puzzle to what Ghost Uncle wasn't telling me would become clear.

Potential magnetic leverage number two: I hadn't been able to find any commonality between Goronos and Adubra except that they were both Imperial viceroys in Sumabad. Adubra had been one of Goronos' subordinate Primuses, but I didn't see any of her recent cases motivating someone to murder. Neither was a strong Guardian or particularly well trained. In theory, you didn't need to be operant at all in order to be an Imperial viceroy, but the vast majority were Guardians. The operant ability of auros made the work and acquiring the skills for it so much easier, and while necris enabled natural state humans to live longer, it allowed operants to live indefinitely. The result? While operants were still outnumbered by natural state humans six to one, Guardians outnumbered natural state humans by at least forty to one among Primuses, and the ratio got more lopsided at each higher level of the government.

Suppose my brand new appointment as an Investigator hadn't been a factor. What would have happened when Imperial viceroys started turning up dead in the city that had been Scimtar's seat since the Restoration, and his home for much longer? Somebody from the family would have gotten involved - the murdered viceroys were all at some level their subordinates. Scimtar was the Nonus with jurisdiction, Anara was the Octus with jurisdiction and his direct subordinate, and the crimes were happening right under their metaphorical noses. Anana as family operations officer couldn't have her employees' and agents lives disrupted by their civil government losing continuity. The family as a whole could ill afford gaps in the government as damage was still being repaired in the aftermath of the House war. The viceroys were needed to adjudicate damages and disputes and formulate actions to restore the damaged areas to their formerly prosperous state.

The metaphorical elephant in the room was that I couldn't see the Scimtars not exercising close control over who was appointed to viceroy status everywhere in Indra System, but especially in Sumabad. They needn't be close allies of the family, but they couldn't allow agents of other Houses. Goronos had been an ally through two subordinate allied families - call them vassals if you want although the relationships were of mutual interest and friendship rather than explicit fealty. House Deltos and House Enolan and many others followed Scimtar's lead because their interests aligned with his and he had more resources to commit and they were friends or employees or contractors of long standing - and also because he stood by them or helped them when they had difficulty. The fealty or vassalage was implied rather than explicit or legal, but it was real. These allied or vassal families in turn had allies or vassals of their own. Unlike Goronos, Adubra was technically a neutral, but had loose ties to another allied family. She'd also been trained as a Guardian by Paladin, a long-time associate and ally of Scimtar. I'd met Paladin socially a couple of times - the man had no sense of humor but he had a sense of duty and honor and obligation that would have done credit to any legendary Knight of the Round Table. I sent him a request for any additional background he might have. I endorsed her nomination to Goronos. I would be pleased to offer any assistance that I can was the response I got, which meant I needed a follow-up question: Did you have any ties to Goronos I should be aware of?

Mutual interests in developing newly operant Guardians is the only thing I'm aware of.

Are there any of your students who closely match this mental signature? Or who might have had some issue with Goronos or Adubra?

No, I'm not familiar with that signature. The murderer? At my admission we suspected it was, I shall remember it then, should our paths cross. I would not have wanted to metaphorically cross swords with Paladin. He may have been officially Fourth Order, which I was in reality, but he made his living teaching people what I was still learning. As to people who would have interacted with both of them, just the obvious candidates I'm sure you have already interviewed. I never taught Goronos; our association was simple commonality of interest.

Which left me where I started.

Assuming his statements are true. You are an Investigator; you need to learn to verify what you can as a matter of habit. Your own culture has a saying on this point.

"If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." I quoted at him. My mother was long dead, but it was still a worthy sentiment. Do you have any reason to suspect he was less than truthful?

Paladin wouldn't lie about an ininth to save his life. At the very most, he would remain silent, and not for his own interests. But it's a habit you need to get into.

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