Chapter 24

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"I must say, I'm flattered the Council saw fit to send three of the Twelve at the same time to see me in person," Victoria said with a chuckle. The three greying old women in gilded robes looked less than amused by the Queen's quip. They sat in bright red velvet chairs under several gemstone lined chandeliers that only accentuated the pallor of their wrinkled skin. Alex couldn't help but find it ironic that a Council supposedly in service to a Goddess of Heaven appeared to have avoided sunlight for years. Here, in the royal visiting room, their bland faces looked like stains in an otherwise vibrant room of color and luxury. Even the relatively plain, marble white walls glowed with life that seemed absent in the priestesses' skull-like faces.

"This isn't the time for jokes," the middle one said. She was the oldest, though it was somewhat hard to tell at first, and seemed to be the leader of the trio. "We are still no closer to uncovering just who is behind the death of our Sister. Murder of a member of the Twelve is by far one of the most serious crimes, tantamount to an assault on Your Majesty."

"I understand that High Priestess. I wouldn't have bothered meeting with you if I didn't agree. But, seeing as I'm not the revelator in the room, I was hoping one of you lot would have some suggestions."

"Now's not the time to play games," another priestess snapped.

"Oh, I'm not. But you see, many matters require a Queen's attentions. For example, this war with the Dans that was- shall we say precipitated by saboteurs and enemies of the state- has been keeping me up for many nights. Speaking of which, did you hear of our latest victory from Stutgar? Remind me what you did to help the RIC's spies or the Navy's pilots give us this desperately needed victory." Victoria sat tall on her gemstone laden gold throne, which towered several inches above the priestess's seat. Alex, who stood on the Queen's right hand side, had to hide a smirk as the old women grumbled and shrank back into their chairs.

"We've been a little preoccupied with the murder of one of our own," the eldest priestess said. "We were, in fact, wondering if your half blood servant here managed to scrounge up anything useful during his half witted investigation of the murder scene."

Alex's knuckles tightened. "Just a possible suspect I'd like to interview more thoroughly."

The Priestess's eyes remained fixed on the Queen, as if making eye contact with Alex was beneath them. "What does your pet want?" the eldest asked.

"Ask him yourself, my dear Priestesses," Victoria said.

"Isabella Connington. She seemed awfully nervous and antsy the entire time I was interviewing and combing the grounds," Alex said.

"Any other evidence half blood?"

"No. What about you? Care to share with your Queen any compelling new leads?"

With barely muffled snarls and eyes narrowed to slits, none of the Priestesses could verbalize an adequate response.

Alex instead deferred to the Queen. "Do I have your leave to interview Connington further?"

"Of course, since it's clear no one else has a clue what else to do," Victoria said.

***

It was late. The sun had set several hours ago but the city was flooded with light of every color from street lamps, neon signs, and lit windows scattered throughout. Isabella Connington's home, a lavish penthouse tower looming high above the already jagged city skyline, beamed at the epicenter of an already blinding menagerie of artificial light.

Alex walked up to the gate of the tall steel fence separating the penthouse from the rest of the city, alone. A pair of tall guards with assault rifles stood just behind the entrance, pointing their guns at Alex as he approached. He pulled out his Royal Seal to placate them. Though it got the two women to lower their guns, their angry, scrutinizing glares remained locked onto him. Alex opened the gate and bumped past both of them.

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