Shortly after reaching a compromise with Dagmar, Armando found himself settled at a small table. Dagmar placed a salad before him and then sat down.
“Are you excited for the Gathering?” Dagmar asked, as he spread his linen napkin on his lap. “It won’t be much longer. I’ve heard many Nitelge and humans talking about it.”
“Would you be welcoming towards humans attending? I was under the impression that you were still working on your…tolerance for us.”
“Times change,” Dagmar said, shrugging nonchalantly. “As long as we have contingencies for the worst scenarios, we should adapt.”
Armando gave him a small smile and took a bite of salad.
“We should talk about your main reason for being here,” Dagmar stated. “I’m going to be straightforward about my concerns. I hope I can expect honesty from you.”
Armando took a deep breath and nodded.
“Then, tell me of the shield,” Dagmar began. “Why did you go to the statue?”
“It was around the anniversary of my accident. I somehow felt compelled.”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“I can’t quite explain it,” Armando replied, quietly. He purposefully left out the dream he’d had, shortly before he’d made the decision. “The fall was traumatizing for me. I wanted to get rid of my fears.”
“Was it your idea to go?”
“Of course. Izdahl wasn’t in support of it, if that’s what you believe.”
“How did you get the shield to drop?”
“Kelcho Havad, I sincerely do not know.”
Dagmar leaned back in his chair, as he stared intently at Armando. He wondered how forthcoming the architect was being. He didn’t sense any deception. Still, he wanted to make it clear how significant the situation was.
“I’m not going to subject you to a series of tests, at least not just yet,” Dagmar stated. “I will, however, ask you to stay away from the statue, until we do more analysis in the area. If you’re aren’t the cause of the problem, as you claim, then we need to learn what’s affecting that location.”
“Perhaps there were quakes deep in the earth and—”
“Unlikely.” Dagmar waved his hand dismissively. “That shield has withstood several hundred years of quakes.”
“Then, I really don’t know what to tell you. Even if you were to get me in front of the entire Kelcho Council, I’d be unable to give you more information.”
“I’m not going to belabor the issue,” Dagmar said. “I see no reason to ruin a perfectly good dinner. It would only build further distrust between the Havads and Amasis. No doubt, Xersa and Izdahl weren’t happy about me having you here.”
Armando chose not to offer a denial about Dagmar’s speculation, as doing so would have sounded hollow. Dagmar didn’t press for an answer. He wasn’t particularly interested in one, as there was a larger matter. As opposed to what he’d led Armando to believe, the shield wasn’t the reason he’d wanted the architect in his home.
While Dagmar humbly served the architect the second course of their meal, the Kelcho kept on gathering data that would take his project to the next level. Unaware of what Dagmar was doing, Armando slowly began to relax. Towards the end of their dinner, he agreed to a tour of one of the most important areas of the house.
“Given your expertise, you might be interested in my family’s architectural history,” Dagmar said. “I have paintings, photographs and other memorabilia of structures in the Havad Territories. My archives go back for thousands of years. Would you like to see my most treasured items?”
Armando nodded and smiled shyly.
“I don’t believe I could resist.”
“I promise you won’t regret it.”
Dagmar led the way to a massive room, where he held the cherished memorabilia for the Havads. Armando wasn’t sure what to expect. He knew he’d see different Nitelge structures and documents but the information displayed was stunning.
“Wander around, as you wish,” Dagmar encouraged him.
Armando focused on a section of the room that had three dimensional models of the Havad territories at the height of that clan’s power. The structures were enclosed in glass, with text on plaques that provided information about which Havad Kelcho commissioned their creation.
The architect had known that the Nitelge were technologically advanced. However, he’d had no idea of the longevity and the scope of their achievements. The complexity of the designs, even from 25,000 years ago was stunning, with electricity common throughout the buildings.
While Armando was spellbound by what he saw and read, Dagmar was gathering a different kind of data. The Kelcho had hidden the blood replica in an alcove of the room. He wanted to see how it would react in Armando’s presence.
For the first time since it’s creation, Armando’s blood replica felt fear. He hadn’t expected to see Armando, let alone be this close to him. The architect was just a short distance away, apparently unaware of his blood replica. Armando was listening intently to Dagmar, expressing interest as the Kelcho informed him about the Havads’ past.
“I have a map of our holdings, before the war with the Basheil.” Dagmar unfurled a tapestry that covered half of one wall of the room. Then he pulled down another tapestry, which showed the casualties of the Havads. “And, this is after.”
“Is that why you started hating humans?”
“Yes. The more I learned about the fight with the Basheil, the more I realized that humans were the main reason we lost. They were a drain on our resources. The Basheil had left us alone for centuries. Then, the humans came. Since we offered them refuge, the Basheil exploited that weakness. We felt duty-bound to protect the humans who we’d saved from wandering aimlessly through space.”
As a result, the Havads were gutted, taking the brunt of the damage to keep the planet safe. Most of the other clans were able to reshape their fortunes and rise to prominence. The Havads, however, had never regained the same level of power. At times, Dagmar felt that he was presiding over a dying empire. He refused to let that be his legacy.
“I’m sorry for the loss of lives,”Armando said. “I understand what it’s like.”
“I suppose I should be grateful that my clan had anything left. Everyone owes what we retained to the leadership of Kelcho Zaitis. The other clans forget that. At any rate, take your time looking at my clan’s history. I don’t want you to feel rushed.”
“I won’t be too long,” Armando promised. “But I am fascinated. Do you have records of the building that went on, when Zaitis ruled?”
“Naturally.” Dagmar pointed at a large, well-organized chest. “I hope to use some of the plans, when I begin recreating the Ymir Briger.”
“When are you scheduled to start?”
“I wanted to do it soon but it will have to wait, until after the Gathering. My priority has to be getting our territories ready for the festivities. Now, please do enjoy yourself. I have to make a quick call but you can stay here.”
Dagmar nodded and left the room. He went into his study, to see if what he suspected had happened. He reviewed the footage that he’d recorded of Armando in the room and was pleased with what he discovered.
Finally, Dagmar thought, I’m getting closer to the answer.
He’d long surmised that Rasmus hadn’t provided him with all the information he’d needed about the blood replica. He’d opted not to address the matter, feeling that the Teradas had basically run the course of their usefulness. There remained one thing he needed from that family. After that, he would completely cut ties. They were sufficiently entangled in over 30 years worth of misdeeds to be successful at extorting anything from him. If he ultimately failed at engineering the shift in power that he planned, he’d make sure they were eviscerated too.
Now, he watched the video of the blood replica reacting, while Armando was in the house. It was trying frantically to get his attention; shouting, banging its fists on the glass that encase it, throwing shoes and other objects.
Unbeknownst to the blood replica, Dagmar had put a spell on it, making sure that it couldn’t be seen or heard by Armando. Dagmar laughed, when he saw it finally realize that, as close as Armando was, he wouldn’t notice it. Once it figured out what was happening, the replica made an obscene hand gesture at the three cameras in the room.
Dagmar chuckled at the replica’s antics, as he switched the camera to be on Armando. A feeling of unease went through him, as he noticed that Armando had looked closely at the area where the replica was. Dagmar zoomed in on Armando’s face and saw the suspicion in the architect’s eyes. The Kelcho’s feeling of unease grew but he wasn’t sure why. He tried to shake off his speculation that Armando had somehow sensed the replica’s presence. He made up his mind that he’d find the rest of the information on how to control the replica. There was too much at stake not to succeed.
Dagmar returned to the room where Armando was.
“I’m sorry that call took longer than I expected,” Dagmar said smoothly.
“It wasn’t a bother at all, Kelcho.” Armando stifled a yawn and looked at his watch. He’d been there for almost two hours. “I hope it wouldn’t be rude for me to return home now. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”
“It’s been an interesting visit for me too,” Dagmar assured him. “It was a pleasure having you for dinner. Let me walk you to your car.”
Izdahl was playing solemnly on his cello, as he thought about Armando. He was wondering how the dinner with Dagmar was going. He wished there was more he could do, to protect Armando. On the other hand, he also understood that he needed to give Armando space to maneuver.
He was almost finished playing the cello piece, when the phone rang. The caller was Uldar Kivanch, a prominent guild master. A few weeks ago, he’d done as his great-grandmother suggested, contacting the head of a tight-knit group of information specialists. Uldar knew the official and unofficial histories of the Kelchos, their extended family, the guilds and a host of other entities. Fifteen years ago, Xersa had permitted Uldar access to the highly-restricted records of the Amasi clan, as well as granting Uldar’s guild a plot of land at a discounted price. In return, Uldar would provide rare information to Xersa and those to whom she granted the privilege. Izdahl was going to use that asset for Armando.
“Sir Amasi, I apologize for not updating you sooner,” Uldar began. “I ran into some unexpected circumstances and needed to clear an issue with Kelcho Amasi. My search triggered a few alerts and I was apprehended by the Kelcho’s security team.”
“It sounds like you’ve had an exciting time,” Izdahl murmured. His tone was light but, inside, he was nervous.
“I don’t have the exact information you wanted but there are some details you might find interesting. The night before Mr. Medina’s family was attacked, someone illegally accessed the most secure portion of the Amasi family archives. The individual left a file folder. It contained a message about Dagmar Havad. There’s also an image of the emblem that’s the same as what Armando drew. Volpe Terada was a mercenary with that tattoo. He hasn’t been seen for almost 30 years, since the night of the Nitelge battle.”
“Have you thought of why his mark might be there?” Izdahl asked.
“Another archivists reminded me of the rumor that Volpe might have killed the Medinas. This could have been a way of taunting the Amasi clan right beforehand. Then again, there’s a conflict. Everything I know of him shows an incredibly efficient, ruthless and discreet individual. Hacking into an archive under another Kelcho goes against all of that. It would be out-of-character for him.”
“If killing wasn’t beyond him, then it’s doubtful hacking would be.”
“I see your point but him accessing the archives before committing the murders would have been too risky.”
“Do you think this is someone else’s doing?”
“It’s either that or Volpe was trying to send a clue or some other type of message. This might not have been about bragging rights. We’ll explore several angles. I hope to have more details for you soon.”