My companions refused to clean themselves after the battle, triggering a long line of problems for me to deal with as we set out to meet with the councilman to be. They thought they would be better received if they wore some evidence of their conquests on their person. I tried to convince them that sweat, mud, and the blood of our enemies would not make for appropriate attire in the presence of a noble outside the arena, but they were beyond reason.
Of course Kathul’s house guard turned the party away at the sight of us, insisting that my companions take advantage of the public bath house down the road. I was at least allowed to wait for them inside, but the candidate would not see me alone. I stood awkwardly in the hall, watched carefully by one of the guards. The room was lavishly decorated, but not at all comfortable to spend too much time in. Maroon walls seemed to emphasize the disapproving stares of the men in a dozen paintings lining the walls. This was a family estate, meticulously decorated in tribute to the family line. I could find nothing personal to hint at the character of the man we were about to meet.
I was glad when my companions returned from the showers wet-haired and in the same dirty clothes they had been wearing before. Malakar grinned sheepishly at me, the closest thing to an apology I would get. Bronn looked even more uncomfortable than I was in the candidate’s home, and I wondered briefly why he had come at all. Once we were all gathered we were lead into the study to meet Kathul. We found him bent over his desk reading a book. He glanced up, revealing a stern face, and rose to meet us graciously.
“Ah, you must be the heroes from the arena” he droned, “I was quite impressed with your exploits.”
“You are very kind” I said quickly, before my companions could say something stupid, “we did what we had to in order to assist you in your campaign.”
“Of course, I am sorry about the cold welcome you received earlier” the man sneered, eyeing Bronn and Malakar with distain, “but the filthy half-breeds of this city’s slums will do anything to sabotage my chances.”
I am sure I would have gotten the same treatment as my dwarf and barbarian companions, had I not learned to hide the pointed ears that marked me as a half-elf behind my hair. I was quite used to such abuse, but my companions were not. They bristled defensively under Kathul’s stare. Even Howard, usually so apathetic, seemed to seethe in his neutrality.
I hated him for a different reason entirely as he waxed narcissistic about the particulars of his campaign. This man was by far the worst politician I had ever met. He talked down to his supporters and he spoke plainly of how little he cared for the lower class of this city. His entire agenda seemed to be based on condemning the barbarian tribes that served as powerful allies to the city’s defense, and slapping them with heavy regulations . He was woefully detached from the reality facing this city and its people. How a man of this ineptitude had ever managed to scrape himself into the running to become one of the most powerful leaders in the northern kingdoms was completely beyond my comprehension.
And yet he was perfect. A dumb, rich child just one step away from real power was just the push this city needed to be plunged into chaos. The man in black would be pleased. I wondered if he would allow me to remain in this city for the time it would take to watch Kathul bungle the place to ruins. Of course that was impossible. In order to keep my cover with the Brotherhood I would have to be far away when the initial stability the end of the campaigns would bring wore off.
“Now about what you adventurers can do to help” Kathul had said, jolting me from my daydreams of ruined cities, “my competitor’s spotless record is doing me no favors in this election. I’ve tried all I can think of to find some information to discredit him, to no avail. That’s where you come in”
He took an envelope off of his desk and held it out to me, “this is a letter in Soluth’s handwriting detailing his new plan to sever ties with his barbarian supporters. You will find a way to plant it in his offices and report back to me. When this is done I will call for a search of his premises and discredit his entire platform.”
I looked to my companions. The honorable lot was taking this plan as well as could be imagined. Kathul had not bothered to read any of their expressions before blurting out his scheme. He had just layed out a proposition of fraud in front of a paladin of all people! There was no way any of them were going to go along with this folly.
I snatched the letter out of his hands before he did something stupid, like hand it to Bronn. “Are you sure this is the best use of our talents?” I suggested politely, “None of us are exactly inclined towards stealth. Perhaps if you needed…”
The bastard cut me off. “I know exactly what a group of heroes for hire like you are good for” he sneered, “you have your assignment, come back to me when you have seen to it!”
Luckily for me, his guards entered the room and escorted us out before we could object. My companions were grumbling amongst themselves, shooting accusatory glances at me intermittently. They were doubting me again, making sure to leave me out of their decision making process this time. A wise choice, for what it was worth. I found myself following them back to the tavern.
I sat quietly and listened to my friends as they argued over a pint. Bronn was adamant that we make no action to assist Kathul, and this time Malakar sided with him. I lost the fighter shortly thereafter. Malakar was raging on about how he would like to burn this city to the ground. I found the notion oddly comforting, I had the barbarian more on my side than he knew. I hoped his tribesmen would feel the same when the time came. I still had to deal with the problem at hand, however: how to plant this letter in the enemy candidate’s office without the aid of my companions. I excused myself quietly and went up to my room to think.
I layed in my bed in the dark for a few minutes, mulling over my limited options. I might be able to charm my way in through wit or magic, but thanks to the arena disaster I had become a well-known supporter of Kathul. There was no way Soluth would be stupid enough to let me rifle through his things. I played with the idea of sending a courier with the letter and hoping it got lost in the shuffle of paperwork, but of course that was just desperate. I imagined myself climbing through a window in the dead of night, making a spectacle of myself for all the sleeping world to see.
No no no. This simply was not my area of expertise. If I were a more accomplished sorcerer I could simply teleport myself in, plant the evidence, and teleport out. I kicked myself for my lack of dedication to my studies and rolled over onto my side in frustration. It was then that a familiar glint caught my eye.
The mirror that I used to contact the man in black had fallen out of my bag partially when I had set the thing down on the floor. It was reflecting the light of the moon outside of my window and it struck me with a hilariously simple solution. My employer had always been patient with me. He was a spellcaster of immense power, I assumed a wizard although I never had found out for sure. What’s more, he had the ability to travel through mirrors, of which there were sure to be many in the candidate’s office. Surely he would indulge me in completing such a simple task. I decided to take my chances in abusing my master’s good will.
I scooped up the mirror and sat up in my bed. I put my hand on the mirror’s surface and focused on reaching out to the man in black through our blood bond. Someday I would be able to do this instantly without a mirror as he did, but for now I would just have to hope he would notice my alert and come to me.
Within a few seconds the man in black appeared in the mirror where my own reflection had been. I recognized his face this time, he had not bothered to hide it from me. I hoped this was a sign of trust and not expendability.
“Agent Kepesk” he stated firmly, “I had not expected to hear from you for some time. Has something gone wrong?”
“No sir” I started with the positive, “in fact, much has already gone according to plan. Kathul is the perfect candidate for our purposes, a complete incompetent. With him in power the city will be in chaos sooner than I had hoped.” I waited for his approval before getting to the bad news.
“I am pleased to hear this” the man in black said patiently, though I could see exhaustion in his eyes.
“However, he may be too perfect” I explained, “honestly he’s the worst politician I have ever met. I would have already had my work cut out for me just getting him elected, but he has managed to personally offend each and every one of my companions. They won’t support him anymore.”
“I see, go on” the man in black said thoughtfully. He seemed to be more interested in helping then I had dared to hope.
“So he wants us to plant this letter in his opponent’s office” I said, producing the paper, “except I can’t think of a way to do it while my companions oppose me. If you could use your power over the mirror realm to take care of it, I could appease my companions and get on with my mission.”
“I can do this easily” he agreed, I slipped the letter through the mirror and it appeared in his hand, “I will return when it is finished.” He returned seconds later.
“It is finished” he told me, “but this news of your companions troubles me. How many oppose you?”
“The paladin opposes me in all things” I reported faithfully, suppressing a twinge of concern for my friends, “the barbarian is weak for his tribe, he opposes me only when he believes them to be in danger, and the fighter usually sides with him.”
“I see” the man in black answered, “I can do nothing for the barbarian tribes at this time, but I can help you deal with these companions of yours.”
Before I could ask what he meant I felt the mark on my collar bone spark to life with scorching heat as intense as it had been when it was fresh. Arcane magic more powerful than I normally experienced invaded my mind painfully and it took all of my self-control to stop myself from crying out in pain. When the torture receded I could feel a new presence in my mind. Something powerful and dangerous. I realized after a moment that the man in black was waiting patiently for me to adjust.
“A gift” he smiled, “I have given you a portion of my casting ability. For the next 24 hours you will be able to draw from my power to cast a powerful dominating spell three times. It should be more than enough to secure the cooperation of your companions.”
“Thank you, sir” I managed, still reeling from the force of the magic. I knew that I probably couldn’t survive such a transfer regularly.
“I am well aware of your limits” the man answered, reading my mind, “I would say though that you could probably survive the process four or five times before the power began to boil your blood in your veins and leave you a mess on the floor.” His eyes were all amusement, but I could tell he was being truthful.
“I will not waste this opportunity, master” I made myself say.
“See that you don’t” he replied, “I will be watching.”
With that he was gone and I was sitting in bed holding a normal mirror once again. After the shock wore off I allowed myself to chuckle. The man in black truly had a wizard’s intellect. So much power, such mastery of the arcane arts, and no idea what to do with it. Only sorcerer such as myself, with magic flowing through my veins, to whom the arcane secrets were given freely, could grasp the enormity of the power he had gifted me with.
I would not waste this gift on my companions. In the morning I called them into my room and ripped up a piece of paper made to look like Kathul’s letter in front of them. I told them that there was no way we should have to put up with this man’s arrogance and that we should just go back to him claiming to have completed the deed. Who would know any different? They liked this idea, but when I mentioned that I would do it myself they insisted on accompanying me, ever the suspicious bunch. No matter, I could save Kathul for later. I left the business of lieing to the politician to them and struck out on my own.
I made my way straight to the office of Soluth, the other candidate. I knew the guards would not let a known supporter of Kathul in, so I worked my own charm on them. When I approached the front gate they both regarded me as a good friend and escorted me inside immediately to meet with the candidate.
He was a much older man with a kind face. He looked up at me from a desk crowded with files and papers. He squinted his eyes in confusion as I strode into his office, unannounced and flanked by two of his own guards.
“You…” he started, his voice was horse from old age, “what are you doing here?” I wasted no time bending the man’s will to my own.
“You are not qualified for this council position” I commanded, drawing on my master’s power, “you should withdraw from the race immediately and put all of your efforts behind Kathul’s campaign.”
“Y-yes” the man blinked in confusion, “yes you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I will start to put my affairs in order and withdraw at once.”
“Excellent” I said, turning to leave. As I walked out one of the guards fell into step with me.
“Kepesk… I’m confused. Why did Soluth change his mind so quickly?” the guard asked innocently.
“Well, I guess my logic just got through to him” I shrugged.
“I guess so…” the guard muttered to himself. That gave me an idea, I backtracked into the office where Soluth was packing up all of his papers.
“Oh, and I don’t think you trust the dwarves and the barbarians anymore” I smiled from the door way, “you know how savage they can be.”
I left the ex-candidate’s office in a fine mood. The man in black’s magic was much stronger than my own and I felt giddy with power. I began to whistle a little tune as I walked to Kathul’s office. On the way I happened to pass a group of nobles who were chattering about the leader of the mercantilist’s guild. He had just come into town and was currently in the guild hall preparing to unveil some new trade policy. I thought I might like to help with that, so I took a detour.
I picked out the man in question, a balding human fielding questions from a quickly growing mass of people. I got close enough to use the spell and whispered a telepathic message.
“You work for me now.”
I saw the man stop in the middle of a sentence a blink back his confusion.
“Carry on” I commanded, “but I have a new policy for you. The barbarian tribes are now your priority where trade is concerned. You will not associate with any group that opposes them.” When the man resumed talking to the crowd I left the guild hall. I had one more target to bend to my master’s ends.
Kathul’s guards let me in without question. Apparently my companions had been able to convince him that they had done what he asked without my help. I felt a surge of pride as I imagined Malakar or Bronn breaking with their oh-so-lofty senses of justice and coming down to my level to deceive this horrible little man. Perhaps when the man in black succeeded in joining the mirror realm with this world, they wouldn’t end up slaughtered quite as brutally as the rest. Perhaps by that time they might even be worthy of the renewed world.
Kathul was in his office pretending to read the same damn book as he had been the day before. We were alone, so I spoke plainly.
“You are the worst politician I have ever met” I announced to his surprise, “but I have use for you. A glorious purpose.” He opened his mouth to say something stupid.
“You work for me now” I said, using the last of the power the man in black had given me to shut him up, “and you are going to start acting like a real councilman, and then you are going to win and together we will run this city so far into the ground that even the dwarves won’t have use for it.”