Ividay, Quintar 13. Early evening.
"Is it done?" Negost asked, somewhat impatiently.
"Not as such, your majesty." Tugruk tried not to stammer. "I went to the cell at the appropriate time, and she was not there." His queen was staring daggers, but said nothing, so he continued. "Not only that, but I think she may have frightened Janet on her way out. Our best lead is one of the hobs you put in charge of the inside patrols. We placed him into custody, but the only thing he remembers is detaining some wandering beer merchants who'd gotten lost in the woods
"LOST? In MY woods, this close to MY fortress? I don't know how they're involved, but this is no coincidence, Bonearm. Bring them to the torture chamber at once, so we can find out everything they know."
Tugruk hesitated. "My lady, they are gone, too. The same guard released them minutes after they were taken inside, but according to everyone's testimony, they never left the room they were held in. It could not have been them. I suspect the hob was under magical control. His testimony is flawed, and has too many holes, and I noticed he was behaving differently
"Then take him to the torture chamber and find out why he was so far from his post that she could hit him with a spell. I'll have the truth yet." Her voice was cold enough to grow frost on wine.
"Of course, but I doubt it's his fault, either. He mentioned blacking out on the staircase, which, frankly, is part of his patrol, so he may have been taken by surprise. Still, you're right, as always," he noted that her expression brightened slightly. "…and it always pays to be sure."
"And just where were you when you think she left?"
"Why, I was in the room you prepare for me every time I visit, my lady, biding my time to strike. That is, until the hob came to my door and told me that Janet was loose. The little nip almost turned me to salt in the storage room, but I came right back to my room after that scare and didn't go downstairs again until it was time."
"Then did you at least find Janet?"
"Yes, your majesty."
"Good. And at least we have several gobs and a hob that can provide testimony. See what you can get out of them in the torture chamber."
Tugruk smiled, remembering the guard he'd used to hold Seralyn's cell door open. The poor sap would need to corroborate his own story. "I'll see to it personally, my lady."
"Excellent. Why can't they all be as dependable as you, Tug? Now, I'm going to the Magic Room in a few minutes. Bring me her confiscated gear so that I may scry on her."
Tugruk nervously scratched at his nose. "About that, my lady…"
It took several goblins to scrub the scorch marks from the wall after Negost was done with her tantrum, but, to his endless relief, Tugruk was unharmed, save for a hole in his shirt from an errant spark, and she was out of magical energy for the day. He and Negost were down in the Magic Room now, and she was tapping on a pair of magic mirrors, trying to initiate conversation with Kellored and Palthanga. After a while, the mirror to Kellored swirled and the old warlord's face appeared.
"Why are you contacting me out of schedule? What emergency presents itself that I must interrupt my bathing?"
"We may have a problem with the Viridonians, my esteemed peer." Negost's voice reeked of sycophancy.
Kellored scowled. "What did you do, goblin?"
"We imprisoned a diplomat seeking to prevent war. The elf-witch from Whitefield, in fact."
"I see. Well, don't let her talk you out of the cause, heh heh. This could be good, even. We can use her as leverage to keep the humans at bay until we're ready to sack their villages and have our siege weapons built. Keep her locked down and don't call me again unless there's an emergency."
The mirror started to swirl again, but Negost had time to stop it. "She escaped!"
Kellored's scowl returned in greater force than before. "How could you let this happen? This could bring the war to us! Your job was to wait for my orders, occupy the larger settlements with your armies until they ran low on arrows, so that we, the hobs, and the idiot ogres could go in and do the real fighting! Perhaps you do not want the arcane secrets of the elves, after all."
"WAIT!" screamed Negost, genuine fear in her eyes. "I'll get her back! I'll send assassins! I'll do whatever you want! I need those scrolls, Kellored. I need them."
Tugruk startled. He hadn't been clear on why Negost had shown such support for the cause of the orcs. Up until now, he'd assumed there was some profit or glory in it for the goblin people, but a bribe that only Negost would see? This was not worth sacrificing so many of his people.
Kellored spoke with much deliberation. "You aren't going to handle this one. I'm going to call in some… outside help. I need you to be prepared six months earlier than we'd planned. We cannot give the humans time to launch an assault until our war machines are complete. Do NOT disappoint me." The mirror swirled once again, and Negost did not stop it. Tugruk was already writing his letter of resignation in his head. The other mirror swirled into focus, presenting a confused ogress.
"WHAT HAPPEN? WHY YOU TALK NOW?"
"I need you to send your son to take care of a problem. How well does he remember the elf-witch from the trial he went to?"
"I ASK HIM. YOU WANT ELF-WITCH DEAD?"
"Yes. And don't bother making it look like an accident. We need to send a message with this one. Peace is not an option."
Now, Tugruk had to interrupt. "My lady, wouldn't it make more sense to let the humans fall into complacency? If they think peace is not an option, our people will be needlessly slaughtered when we go to battle against a prepared army."
"You dare contradict me in front of her? I want the elf-witch dead and I don't care how! You couldn't get it done, so I'm asking for a professional!"
"Why not let Kellored's, er, friends, take care of it?"
"Because I want her dead yesterday, and I don't know what the hell the orc has planned. You're going to stay out of this until she's gone, do you hear me?"
Tugruk stopped writing the letter in his head. "You know, I really regret the last time I got involved in something like this, so I think I will stay out of it. Not only that, I'll be staying out of this pointless war with the humans, and so will my tribes until you come to your senses and stop playing with our lives on the off chance you get your hands on a bunch of dusty old elf-books. I don't care if you hire a dozen assassins and summon a demon, I'm leaving for the Gnest right now!"
"HAW HAW HAW! LITTLE GOBLIN-WOMAN CAN'T KEEP HER MAN IN LINE! THAT FUNNY!"
Seething with rage, Negost turned her attention back to Palthanga. "You'll have Burshuk bring me that elf-witch's head, or I'll summon enough demons to sew your mouth shut, and we'll see what's funny then!"
Now it was Palthanga's turn to be afraid. Ogres, for all their strength and swagger, only knew enough about magic to be afraid of it. A quick nod as her face turned pale was the last thing visible before the mirror swirled again. Tugruk was already out the door, leaving Negost alone to sob and kick furniture. She hated to admit it, but without Tugruk's contributions, the goblins of the region were greatly weakened. Kellored would not be happy, but she would deal with that later. To let the prisoner escape alive was to show weakness, and power could not be maintained if one showed weakness. Now, just in case, she'd need to look around for that book on demon summoning she kept hidden away….