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Harrogye, Ausicaa

Kaz arrived in Ausicaa on a dark and dreary afternoon.

The journey from Levings took him three full days and two whole nights. Kaz spent the first day on a train and the second day jostling down long, winding back roads of the northern Levish coast. Some of the mountainous trails were too narrow and unkempt for modern vehicles to safely traverse, so Kaz was forced to ride on horseback. On the third day, he boarded a small, rickety, rather suspect-looking ferry to sail across Caelaernie Channel towards the Isle of Ausicaa.

Stormy skies greeted him at the Port of Harrogye. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, and a biting wind cut relentlessly across his flesh. When he stepped off the ferry, a heavy gray drizzle soaked him to the bone.

Kaz scanned his new surroundings. His vision was clouded by the rain, but he could make out the fuzzy outline for a small cluster of buildings several hundred feet away.

Was that supposed to be the Harrogye town center?

Not a single one of the buildings exceeded the height of two stories—three at most.

Kaz cursed inwardly.

The towering highrises in Reva and Levings had stretched to the skies. The stories were true, then. Ausicaa was indeed a hellish gray pit of rain, snow, sleet, and little else for as far as the eye could see.

Kaz ran for cover as the skies began to pour. He needed to get to the naval base, but there were no cabs or carriages in sight. The rain pummeled him like ocean water pounding against a rocky shoreline. He had never encountered such horrific weather back in humid, sun-kissed Reva or the comfortably cool, fog-ridden climate of Levings.

If this was how Ausicaa celebrated the season of spring, then he wasn't at all looking forward to their winters.

Levings, Levose

Before Kaz and the Grand-Consort said their goodbyes in Levings, she handed him a peculiar list enclosed with three rather vague instructions:

(1) Locate a boy of mixed Zan and Levish blood in Ausicaa. He will be around sixteen years of age.

(2) Do not involve anyone with your endeavors. You must work alone.

(3) Once you find him, escort him to me alive and unharmed.

Kaz pretended to obey even though he possessed no intent to carry out his mother's whims at present—not until she helped him re-enroll at the Academy, anyhow. Their motives weren't aligned. He simply needed something to use against the Grand-Consort. Leverage to bend her to his will. Then and only then could Kaz hope to return to the Academy.

Thus, Kaz began his mission to outmaneuver the Grand-Consort sixteen hours prior to departure for Harrogye. He paid his new friends at Precinct No. 561 a visit. Inspector Lasseve and Patrolman Silvan shared everything they knew—or claimed to know—about the dead woman's identity with Kaz.

Kaz learned the woman had been an out-of-town guest at the Garvine Inn near the outskirts of the city. Her name had been registered in their guest log as Dilla Witters, and, a week prior, she had checked in with an older male servant.

When Kaz pressed them for more information, the Inspector and his partner insisted that they didn't know where she had come from. The officers hadn't been able to confirm the servant's name, either. They were also unclear about what sort of business brought Lady Witters and her servant to Levings in the first place.

What was left unsaid in conversations like these, Kaz noted, often revealed more than what the other party spoke outright.

He found it to be odd for two mid-tier Ministry officers to remain so tight-lipped about a seemingly straightforward case. Streetside larceny and accidental manslaughter were hardly matters which threatened Imperial intelligence or security. Yet, the Inspector and the Patrolman acted as though they knew next to nothing about the case, which probably meant there were a great many things they didn't wish him to know about Lady Witters.

To complicate matters further, Inspector Lasseve and Patrolman Silvan were well aware by now that Kaz was the Commander Admiral's son. By withholding information from him, they made a conscious choice to potentially incite the displeasure of one of the most feared men in the Empire. These men were either imbeciles of the highest order. Or…

Someone even more fearsome than the Commander Admiral were tugging at their strings.

To Kaz, it seemed likely, then, the two officers were affiliated with his father's enemies, and Lady Witters was much more important to their superiors than they were letting on. Kaz's time spent in the precinct hadn't provided much new information, but, at least, it confirmed his mounting suspicions about Lady Witter's murder. Even his own mother, the Grand-Consort, was taking a perplexing interest in the whole affair. For all of these influential players to invest time and effort in a dead woman suggested that she must have surely wielded a very useful chess piece at some point in her life.

Kaz thought of the stolen book and the girl named Brenna.

Lady Witters had been utterly fixated on them even as she lay dying. Death had a way of dragging out a person's deepest attachments and darkest secrets. Perhaps there was something significant tied to the book and the girl, after all. Perhaps the others wished to get their hands on the book and the girl as well.

If his theory proved true, then it would certainly make his mother's decision to relocate him to Harrogye a very convenient coincidence. The Grand-Consort had been unreasonably upset at Kaz for revealing the detail about the stolen book to the officers, even more so than the fact that he had been detained at a precinct and witnessed the death of another human being. Why did the book matter so much to her? And where could it have disappeared to at this point?

Kaz still hadn't told his mother about Brenna, but he wouldn't be surprised if she already knew something about the girl.

And yet, and yet…

The Grand-Consort was ordering him to seek out a boy in Ausicaa. Not a girl.

The inconsistencies tangled throughout this entire conspiracy made Kaz's temples ache.

Around midnight, he slipped into the Academy's grand library during the changing of the guards to find more answers. He looked into the Imperial Citizens' Records for females named "Dilla Witters." There were too many matches to narrow down the Lady Witters that he hoped to find.

He questioned whether the dead woman's name was truly "Dilla Witters." The popularity of such a name certainly would enable it to be a convenient alias for a woman who wished to mask her identity.

He then searched for a "Brenna Witters." Before Kaz could finish scouring the shelves, however, the sun was rising, and he was forced to return to his dormitory in defeat. Kaz had run out of time. The northbound train out of Levings was scheduled to leave within the hour, and Kaz didn't doubt that the Grand-Consort would likely murder him if he dared to miss it.

Harrogye, Ausicaa

The Harrogye Naval Station was a far cry from the state-of-the-art facilities at the Academy. It consisted only of three compact dormitories, two administrative offices, a large muddy field for training exercises, and a pitifully neglected dockyard with barely a dozen decades-old Striker-class patrol craft, the smallest class of vessel that could be classified as an Imperial warship.

After Kaz checked in with administration and settled into his new dormitory, he changed out of his wet clothes and into his navy uniform. A short while later, he joined the other recruits in the mess hall.

A tall Lieutenant with a cleanly shaven head and a bushy brown beard introduced Kaz to the platoon. The crowd of seventy or so brown-haired, brown-eyed Ausicaan males, mostly aged thirteen to their twenties, studied him with distrust and ill-intent burning in their eyes.

Kaz kept his expression pleasantly neutral. He wasn't planning to linger around long enough for the need to make allies, but he didn't wish to incite any unnecessary trouble from this rowdy-looking bunch either.

Lieutenant Orrenach spoke in loud, booming tones. "Listen up, maggots! This here is Cadet Ariss. He hails from Levings. I suppose he is one of us now. Let us sock him in the face with a proper Harrogye welcome, laddies!"

The platoon fired back in unison. "Harro-high! Harro-low! Brothers 'til we brekkin' die!"

Kaz straightened his stance and saluted back at them. "Cadet Ariss reporting for duty."

Then, he marched into the crowd to take his place between a thin rat-faced cadet and a burly giant of a boy whose identification patch read Pennelagh. Lieutenant Orrenach began to lead them in their afternoon drills.

"Your skin looks a bit toasted for these here parts," Cadet Pennelagh taunted in between push-ups.

Kaz ignored the brute and focused on his exercise.

In a louder whisper, Cadet Pennelagh lashed out again. "I think you may have landed yourself on the wrong side of the world, Sindo-laddie."

Without breaking a sweat, Kaz continued with their drills and murmured, "Do not worry, my friend. The feeling is mutual."

Cadet Pennlagh growled, "What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means I do not intend to stay long enough to cause you trouble. Leave me be, and I will be gone within a month or two."

The rat-faced boy, Cadet Rache, chimed in, "You are not welcome here, Sindo!"

Kaz sighed. He ignored the insult. They continued to taunt him, but Kaz simply focused on the Lieutenant's commands. He couldn't wait to leave this nonsense behind.

Kaz intended to locate the Zan-Levish boy as soon as possible. From there, he planned to hold the boy hostage as a bargaining chip to get out of Harrogye and back to where he belonged at the Academy.